Andrews still running the show

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Given how much we’ve relied on streaming services in the 18 months since we first started going in and out of lockdown, it seems fitting that here in Melbourne we now seem to be living inside the type of dystopian drama that’s the bread-and-butter of Stan and the like.

A deadly virus that mutates into something more sinister closes borders, commerce and schools, and takes lives. Social unrest, boredom, conspiracy-mongering and testosterone-fuelled stupidity combine with greed and selfishness disguised as libertarian ideology and erupt into regular mob violence.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Credit:Darrian Traynor.

And then, of course, an earthquake.

At the centre is a local political leader, who’s just about the most unprepossessing-looking individual you can find. He delivers media updates day after day, week after week, month after month, beamed into every home.

Early on, his government makes awful mistakes in protecting people from the virus. Hundreds die. The city centre becomes a ghost town. Surely, he is done for – after all, millions hate him, call him a dictator. But no, he survives as leader and maintains the confidence of most of his people after ruthlessly sacrificing several trusted adjutants.

Plot twist: he breaks his back and doesn’t want to share the circumstances of where and how it happened. Rumours fly. His political opponents and large sections of the media who’ve been apoplectic ever since he arrived on the scene try to take advantage of the rumours. It doesn’t work.

After months of recovery, he returns and picks up where he left off. Cue more infections, lockdowns, hate, the pointless rioting – anyway, you get the gist. If only it weren’t based on real events. That’s been life in Victoria, and it’s cost us more than just a monthly subscription fee.

For me, the craziest and most disturbing manifestations of Victoria’s pandemic predicament have been this week’s riots, or whatever you want to call them. Are the rioters like the street thugs in Netflix’s Babylon Berlin, who were fascists masquerading as communists? There’s no leader. No one knows how many of them are genuine building workers. How apt for these confusing times.

As a former industrial reporter who started covering that area in 1980, the mob’s attack on the CFMEU offices on Monday was a first for me; I’d never seen or heard of anything like it. I wonder if the union’s officials have concluded that they might have eased the way for some of the madness by not getting solidly and very publicly behind vaccine mandates for their members at the start.

Construction is one of the last sectors of private industry that is still strongly unionised, at least on big sites. The strength of the building unions has its foundation on their dedication to ensuring workers’ safety and their willingness to impose universal conditions wherever their members work.

Protesters gather at the Shrine of Remembrance on Wednesday.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Even in an age in which the laws work against the closed shop, the no-ticket, no-start principle still applies, as does the old Builders Labourers Federation slogan of Touch One, Touch All. No subtlety there. But on the COVID-19 vaccine, they tried to be masters of nuance and supporters of personal “informed choice”. In the context of a government-ordered industry shutdown, that just played into the hands of the anti-vax cranks.

It hasn’t ended up too well for the union or the community. In the public mind, the CFMEU is likely to get the blame for the chaos, much more than Daniel Andrews or his government.

The durability of Andrews’ public support continues to be an enormous frustration for his political opponents. As per the dystopian drama pitch cited earlier, Andrews has regularly been declared as on the ropes – all but finished – because he’s heavy-handed, annoying, inflexible and incompetent.

At times, he has been all those things, but he keeps surviving and even prospering. In this week’s Newspoll, his satisfaction rating was 65 per cent and his dissatisfaction score was 35, giving him a higher net approval than this time last year.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy. Credit:

He is constantly helped by his detractors in the Liberal Party and business, who continue to kid themselves that if they keep looking for a political angle during the pandemic, they’ll secure an advantage. What do they not get? During the craziness of this week’s riots, they worked hard to lay the blame at Andrews’ feet and began by soft-pedalling on the rioters’ behaviour. They’re only hurting themselves and their supporters with that approach.

The government’s two-week shutdown of construction was drastic and costly for that industry, but I’d bet that most Victorians can see why it was necessary and that they know that Andrews has pumped more money into construction than any other Victorian premier.

Voters, especially women, the polls suggest, are still cautious, if not frightened, by Delta and they don’t want to see that sort of politicking. Not yet. When we’ve hit the 80 per cent vax mark that might change.

Sure, it’s not much fun being a cast member of Dan’s show but it beats being cancelled altogether.

Shaun Carney is a regular columnist.

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