Sunday, December 5

State vs. State: The War of Words Intensifies Over the Sydney and Melbourne Lockdowns | Coronavirus


TOUstralia was hit by the pandemic in what seemed like a moment of national unity. Vast stretches of the east coast had been ablaze all summer and the nation had rallied to help. Volunteers, from firefighters to helicopter pilots to fence repairmen, crossed state lines into areas of greatest need.

Eighteen months later, the nation, or at least its two largest cities, appears to be breaking up. Requests for additional vaccines, first from Victoria, then from New South Wales, were rejected. Political rhetoric is pernicious.

On Twitter the debate has turned toxic. Friends and colleagues in different states are in an open discussion. Beloved broadcasters have joined the fray. The reactions, both the frustration of the Victorians and the unease of their counterparts in New South Wales, are being controlled. No other state can get an inspection.

Many Victorians hit by a 15-week lockdown in 2020 are furious that NSW was slow to lockdown against an outbreak of the Delta variant.

The New South Wales government has rejected suggestions that it mishandled the outbreak by failing to introduce a quick lockdown and dismissed calls to copy Victorian rules, citing a lack of evidence that measures such as a curfew slowed the spread of the virus.

This week, Victoria’s Prime Minister Daniel Andrews urged New South Wales to learn from Victoria’s “bitter experience” and fully introduce the tough measures imposed in the tough Melbourne blockade, ignoring questions about effectiveness. of the individual rules saying they worked as a package: “All I am doing is telling others what worked here and it is through a painful, tragic and bitter experience that we can advise what really works.”

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday that the new rules she had introduced “are the toughest measures anywhere in Australia has ever faced,” despite being less restrictive than those imposed in the second wave. of Victoria.

It’s only when the federal government’s vaccine launch failures are discussed that Andrews and Berejiklian, and their supporters, agree.

Cracks are not new

The animosity between Australia’s two largest states is not new. The six independent colonies of Australia’s settlers may have formed a federation, but the cracks remain.

“The pandemic is exposing the nature of Australia’s social fabric,” says lead researcher Mark Duckworth.

“There has been this semblance of a unique set of Australian values, which works in certain moments of sporting triumph or something like that. But underneath that are these divisions that have been around for the last 150 years. “

They existed in the wildfires, leaving communities along the NSW-Victoria border in jeopardy because state emergency management information and radio networks did not extend beyond the borders.

And the pandemic has forced a significant improvement in interstate cooperation and effective national coordination, even as the feeling of national solidarity has disappeared.

“In many ways, a pandemic is the only truly national emergency Australia is likely to face,” says Duckworth. “Every part of Australia, to one degree or another, has to work to prevent, respond to or recover from an outbreak.”

Like a forest fire, the communities have come together.

“But one of the paradoxes of that process where people turn to wagons is that they look inward,” says Duckworth. “In a pandemic where the impact is much broader, that can be accompanied by scapegoating and other processes.”

The wagons circled Victoria during the second wave and have not yet broken formation.

In October of last year, around week 11 of the 15-week lockdown, Melbourne writer Dave Milner wrote: “I have never felt more Victorian and less Australian.”

There is a strong feeling in Victoria that the federal government distanced itself from the Melbourne crisis.

Victorians have not forgotten that Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the Melbourne outbreak as the “Victorian wave” last year and praised the NSW government contact tracing system as the “gold standard”. The #PMforSydney hashtag is now trending every time Morrison gives a press conference.

Nor have they forgotten the headline of the Sydney Daily Telegraph after New South Wales closed its border with Victoria, which read “Mexicans blocked”, or the Australian Financial Review magazine cover story, too, like most of the media. Australian nationals, based in Sydney, who called Berejiklian “The woman who saved Australia.”

It was an arrogant portrait. It is not surprising that on Twitter a Greek choir awaited his downfall.

NSW remained open and economically active for much of 2020, which is why both AFR and Morrison rated Berejiklian a savior, and NSW’s contact tracing system set the standard. Victoria based many of the changes to her contact tracing system, which helped the state close two outbreaks in two months, on the New South Wales model.

Still, as the state that to date has sacrificed the most to keep outbreaks contained, is it any wonder that Victorians felt a sense of vindication when NSW stumbled?

Andrews, the nation’s most ruthless and effective political communicator, has responded to some of the criticism he received in the past year. On Thursday it leveled off from the gold standard to describe Covid PCR tests as the “diamond standard” compared to rapid antigen tests, in response to NSW’s announcement that it can use it to test year 12 students for that they can go back to school.

The Victorian government has paid for radio and television advertisements on New South Wales channels warning people not to travel between states, in a campaign that has drawn comparisons to national campaigns against asylum seekers.

Bill Bowes of the Australia Institute says that as provincialism has increased during the pandemic, it has been driven by politicians.

“The federal government, if it is concerned with provincialism, could do much more to create a national spirit,” he says.

When Queensland entered a sudden lockdown in April, Queenslander and Defense Minister Peter Dutton accused Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk of be a panic. South Australia’s liberal Prime Minister Steven Marshall was not accused of panicking in response to its sudden shutdown this month.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan called the second wave a “disaster caused by Dan”.

When Victoria entered its fourth lockdown in May, the federal government initially resisted providing revenue support, saying it did not want to incentivize lockdowns. Under pressure from the Victorian government, it announced a Covid disaster payment of $ 500 a week, which was raised to $ 600 in a negotiated settlement with NSW. He increased that to $ 750 a week on Wednesday.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, whose constituency is in Melbourne, last year described Victoria’s protracted blockade as “the biggest public policy failure of a state government in living memory.” She didn’t bite when she was asked this week by Melbourne ABC presenter Patricia Karvelas if that mistake now rivaled what NSW was doing, and if Victoria was now the gold standard.

“You need to quickly lock in when the Delta variant outbreak occurs,” Frydenberg said. “Victoria has done that.”

Bowes says it is “difficult to imagine a circumstance in which the federal government would identify Dan Andrews’s Victoria as the gold standard, regardless of the type of approach they took.”

Backing up your prime ministers

Surveys by the Australian Institute show that 42% of Australians think their state or territory government is responding better to the pandemic than the federal government, with the gap narrower in Victoria.

“It is not simply the case that people are backing their own state, but people in general support prime ministers ‘approaches, and prime ministers’ approaches have been pretty consistent, at least, compared to what I would prefer the federal government, “Bowes. He says. “The states have had a popular authority that comes from the pandemic.”

State and territorial governments took control of the pandemic response during a single weekend in March last year when Andrews and Berejiklian lobbied the federal government to implement a nationwide lockdown by publishing coordinated statements in favor of more restrictions. strict, and the leaders of five other states, led by Tasmania, closed their borders.

They have maintained that control in the absence of stronger federal leadership.

The federal government had a chance to revive the narrative with a successful vaccine launch, Bowes says, but that failed. Instead, it was again the states that were successful, with mass vaccination centers delivering most of the doses.

But the rise of state governments does not explain why New South Wales and Victoria are falling apart, while the other states and territories remain undisturbed.

The perception in Victoria that New South Wales is the federal favorite has some truth that goes beyond the prime minister’s political loyalty and constituency, Duckworth says.

“Going back to my days working in government relations, there was a basic view which is that the interests of New South Wales and the national interest are always the same,” he says.

Sydney was the largest city, the international city. But Melbourne has caught up.

“Sydney and Melbourne are basically the same size cities, if it weren’t for the statistical anomaly that I think Gosford is included in the Sydney size statistics,” he says. “Sydney and its role will obviously continue to be very important, but compared to other parts of Australia, it is not as important as it used to be, and I don’t think the federal government has really caught up with that.”

Part of that bias is geographic: Canberra picks up broadcasts from NSW.

“If you work in Canberra, you get a lot of news from Sydney,” says Duckworth. “So what’s happening in Sydney tends to be your opinion of what’s happening in Australia.”


www.theguardian.com

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