We expect politicians to solve problems.
We needed them to do two things: prevent the virus from spreading and inoculate as many people as possible with vaccines. They bungled both. States repeatedly called lockdowns too late. The feds didn't bother to queue up for Pfizer when they could. They cherry-picked the medical advice that suited them, while discarding anything that risked upsetting their constituencies. They gave handouts to everybody, but bigger ones to the big end of town. There is, however, one field in which governments have excelled.
The single skill our politicians have consistently demonstrated a complete mastery of is the ability to frame issues so as to escape blame.
Not enough vaccine to go round? Blame so-called "hesitancy". Invent a shock advertisement to make it look as if the reason for the slow rollout is because people are somehow hanging back and refusing to bare their arms. It's rubbish, of course. Anyone as young as the woman struggling for breath in the latest ad wouldn't be eligible to get a shot - the government forgot to order it. The campaign's simply a not-so-subtle attempt at blame-shifting and evading responsibility. We're being told it's not the government's fault that people aren't inoculated - individuals are the problem because they didn't line up earlier.
It's rubbish, but simply the most recent in a long line of instances where the sound and fury of public debate bears little relevance to what's occurring in the real world. To understand what's really going on, what we need to do is stand back, pause and think. Ignore the fairy dust being distributed by Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian as they repeat their magic formula - "medical advice" - and strive for their moment of magic when they manage to transform the issues from a simple political question into something else entirely.
Politicians have successfully securitised the crisis, making it one of hesitancy and policing instead of policy and governance. They deployed police so they could slip off the hook and avoid responsibility. Instead of being condemned for their failure to recognise the extent of the crisis, they've been able to evade responsibility by changing the problem into one of policing.
The reality for months now has been that there isn't enough good vaccine to go round. But what do we end up with? A huge public advertising blitz to overcome supposed "vaccine hesitancy", and the appointment of generals and commodores to ensure the militarisation of the problem.
The message coming from The Lodge relies on exactly the same techniques as those emanating from Macquarie Street: distraction, division, and dispersion. Government's not big on solving problems and accepting responsibility any more, but it's getting very good at laying the blame elsewhere.
- Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer and a regular columnist.