OPINION: Reason Victoria’s lockdowns are failing
In 2002 the BBC ran a massive national poll asking citizens of the United Kingdom to vote for the 100 greatest Britons of all time. At the top of the list was Winston Churchill.
This was a pretty big deal. Among those Churchill beat were Charles Darwin, who literally defined what humans are, William Shakespeare, arguably the greatest writer of all time, and Elizabeth I, whose defeat of the Spanish Armada is probably the only reason everyone in Australia isn't currently speaking Español.
But it was a worthy win. For all Churchill's many mistakes, the one thing he got right - his steadfast and often unpopular opinion that Hitler was an evil monster who needed to be defeated at all costs - was the most important judgment call of the 20th century. Were the Nazis able to conquer Europe - as in actual Nazis, not just anyone who criticises Dan Andrews - it is unthinkable what the world would look like today.
And yet a mere two months after VE Day Churchill's Conservative party was booted out of office in the first general election he had ever faced as a leader.
That's politics for you. Sometimes even defeating Adolf Hitler and winning the mightiest struggle in human history isn't enough to get you elected.
This brings us to the somewhat more amorphic life and death crisis we are facing here and now. Much has been made of the stratospheric popularity of leaders of both political colours, but popularity and political success are two very different things.
The massive approval ratings enjoyed by Scott Morrison have been unseen in an Australian prime minister since Kevin Rudd swept to power in 2007. Rudd then became the first PM in post-war Australia not to last a single term.
Likewise Daniel Andrews was riding on near 90 per cent approval for his tough approach to the first wave of the coronavirus. Now that a second wave has hit as a result of his government's bizarre bungling of quarantine measures the Victorian Premier is at the back of the pack.
Andrews found out the hard way that tough talk and rousing speeches do nothing unless the apparatus of government is working the way it should and the citizenry is on side. This is why the subtler and smarter approach of other states appears to be faring better than Victoria's.
NSW, the most comparable jurisdiction with a higher initial outbreak, clearly has better contact tracing capabilities for COVID-19 and a citizenry more inclined to behaving responsibly. I suspect this is because NSW residents were allowed more personal responsibility in the first place and there was no confused messaging over certain large gatherings.
And while it is certainly true that NSW and federal officials made a horrendous mistake by allowing people off the Ruby Princess at least they weren't shagging disembarking passengers on the gangway.
To Andrews' credit his initial response to the second outbreak was targeted and even in the midst of the latest lockdown he is attempting to discover and mollify the reasons why people are breaching public health orders rather than simply slap down layer after layer of statewide restrictions. Seeking to identify and compensate vulnerable workers who are terrified of self-isolation because the loss of income would cripple them is a perfect example.
And yet there remains some strange ideological zeal behind some of the decision-making that has little or no basis in fact. Yet again the government has moved to stop children going to school despite the premier's prior admission there was no real evidence of the virus spreading within schools. It is as though a kind of Pavlovian response kicked in.
Indeed, the government's own data has now revealed that far from asymptomatic kids spreading the virus it is symptomatic adults working and circulating in the community even while awaiting test results.
Like the hotel quarantine fiasco, this is not the fault of eased restrictions. This is a mass violation of the basic protocols that every Australian is supposed to adhere to even in jurisdictions with next to no restrictions whatsoever yet is apparently rampant only in the locked down state of Victoria. Make of that what you will.
I also raised on Studio 10 this week the case of my quadriplegic best friend in a Melbourne hospital who was banned from having even a single hour a day with his support worker until he started refusing food and the hospital relented.
Later that day I was contacted by a highly distraught man whose father is dying in hospital and found out that with a stroke of the pen that he was banned from seeing him. The family is currently seeking an exemption so that his mother can at least see her dying husband for one hour a day.
As for the son, he has just been told that he will never lay eyes on his father again. Never be able to hold or touch him.
Remind me again how this is a reasoned and proportionate response. Remind me again how this is humane.
The initial breach by the Victorian authorities and the ongoing breaches by its citizens are clearly so catastrophically grotesque that strong measures must be taken but the response appears once more to be both excessively broad and blunt in some areas while in others it is excessively acute and cruel.
And as has been tragically demonstrated harder lockdowns do not necessarily lead to better results. Perversely, they may even lead to people simply shunning the rules altogether.
Meanwhile, there remains the ongoing question of whether the social and economic pain will end up being more severe than the impact of the disease and potentially cost even more and younger lives through poverty, despair and suicide.
There is a cynical old axiom in politics that you should never let a crisis go to waste but the problem with crises is that the leader people want in the middle of one often different to the leader they want once it's over - as Sir Winston learned the hard way.
This brings us back to the federal realm and Anthony Albanese. As noted, ScoMo is riding high in the approval ratings for his practical and proportionate response to the economic crisis and the Coalition has recently managed to convert this into a solid 53-47 two-party preferred advantage.
But this is hardly a black mark on Albo's leadership. Frankly, there is no place for opposition leaders in times of crisis. If they support the government they risk looking sycophantic, if they criticise it they risk looking unpatriotic.
This is why most state oppositions have remained largely invisible to the naked eye and the Victorian Liberal attacks on Andrews have often backfired. As Napoleon said, you should never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake.
And in peacetime politics you should also never interrupt him when he's doing well. Inviting comparisons with a hero rarely works out well for his rival.
And so Albanese has been reasonable and measured in his approach - despite the exhortations of hardliners to smash up ScoMo. This restraint is perhaps the most heartening sign of a mature and responsible ALP that is positioning itself as an alternative party of government instead of an eternal party of protest. It has already reaped the rewards for this in the once bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro.
Andrews has proven that playing hardball is high-risk. Albanese is proving himself as a solid and reliable pair of hands once the smoke clears. The fact that the worst his critics can call him is "Each-Way Albo" should be worn as a badge of honour. Every punter knows that an each-way bet is always the safest.
Albo may not be a Winston Churchill but with patience and pragmatism he may just be a Clement Attlee.
That, by the way, is the name of the bloke who beat him.
Joe Hildebrand is a columnist for news.com.au and co-host of Studio 10, 8am-noon weekdays on Channel 10.