The politics of the pandemic (and indeed 2020) are ramping up, and Australia’s Premiers are finding themselves increasingly under siege to fend the flames.
Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews has been easy prey for weeks now, facing repeated criticism for his decision to extend the state’s strict, stage four lockdown following a horror escalation in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Nicknamed ‘Dictator Dan’, by the opposition, political commentators and certain celebrities, he’s held strong to his approach in spite of mounting pressure. Despite the backlash, his strategy could be paying off with positive news this morning that Victoria’s cases have dropped to 35 overnight.
For Australia’s two female Premiers– NSW’s Gladys Berejiklian and Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk– the pressure has been just as, if not more, acute.
While Berejiklian has been widely commended for her leadership this year by Australians, it seems satisfaction with her decisions within the NSW coalition is less certain. Last week, she went head to head with NSW Nationals’ Leader John Barilaro when he and his party threatened to stop supporting government legislation and have four members move to the crossbench.
The stoush erupted following a proposed policy disagreement regarding the protection of koalas, but in reality the feud has been simmering for months. But in Barilaro’s attempt to flex muscles and push the Premier to backdown, the exact opposite happened. An unflappable Berejiklian stared down his hollow barrel and issued an ultimatum: “back me up, or step aside”.
The bizarre situation left Barilaro with egg on his face as he inevitably capitulated. His future as the Nationals’ leader likewise looks uncertain, with calls for him to step down after handling the disagreement so poorly.
“I believe this Deputy Premier, while he remains as leader of the Nationals and as second in charge of this state, will continue to undermine the Government at a time when we need stability and where we need competent decision making”, said the state’s opposition leader, Jodi McKay.
Berejiklian’s leadership on the other hand, has never looked more secure. She calmly declared she’d continue to work with all coalition colleagues– so long as unity prevailed– and suggested Barilaro’s fate now lay with his party. Bully boy tactics had failed to shake her.
Such tactics are failing to squash Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk either, as she continues to fight against ongoing abuse.
Branded as ‘nasty’, ‘cold-hearted’ ‘loopy’ ‘calculated’ and ‘callous’, by the Prime Minister and members of the NSW government, and subjected to sickening comments and taunts across social media, Palaszczuk has refused to backdown– though she conceded last week that the situation had taken its toll on her.
“I’m human just like everyone else”, said a visibly emotional Palaszczuk following her daily coronavirus briefing on Friday. “These are difficult decisions and they’re heartbreaking.”
“These issues hurt me deeply. They hurt me deeply because during this pandemic I have lost loved ones as well. I know exactly what people are going through.”
Polling has repeatedly indicated widespread support for the Palaszczuk government’s “Queensland first” pandemic response and the Premier is unapologetic about her decision to prioritise her state’s wishes. A decision, it should be noted, that the Liberal National party opposition supports.
But whether you agree with the politics or not, the level of vitriol has escalated to a point that is surely indefensible with Palaszcsuk’s chief medical adviser and state Health Officer Jeannette Young even being placed under police protection this morning after receiving death threats.
While we can be thankful we have leaders like Berejiklian and Palaszcsuk who are strong enough to stick to their guns and stand tall and teflon against intimidation, the real issue remains why they have to.
2020 is throwing up more unprecedented obstacles than we’ve ever faced as a country. There’s no set agenda or rule book for how decisions should be made or what leaders should do. But we need unity within government and outside of it. Anyone’s who’s not prepared to work to that? Well, they deserve the blame.