COVID, the media, New South Wales. pending international outrage and what else comes next.

Today New South Wales recorded 466 new cases of COVID. I heard the “press conference” (I will come back to those scare quotes) with the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian a while ago and a couple of things struck me, which are probably old hat to most folks, but I’ve seen them written anywhere else, so here is as good a place as any.

The key thing is that the virus is now properly out and about in regional New South Wales. Bererejiklian , said ‘yay, vaccines now arriving there.’ Hmm. This was shortly before or after she emphasised that vaccines take three weeks to begin to work. No journo picked her up on this, that I heard (we will come back to this).

First. Assuming that the lockdowns in regional NSW don’t work, and assuming it rips through indigenous communities, under-vaccinated, with chronic health inequalities and crowded housing etc then pretty soon the death rate is gonna spike, because there just are not the ICU beds in regional hospitals and the Sydney ones are filling up, the staff knackered. So, we’re gonna see lots of photos of Aboriginal people who were smiling at the camera in happier times, their tearful relatives recounting how the help was simply not available. Entire families wiped out etc. And internationally, there will be plentiful stories about Australia’s appalling record on indigenous health, education, imprisonment, life chances etc. How it all plays out in Australia, I can’t guess. The Uluru Statement from the Heart folks must be so exhausted (though I guess they are used to whitefellas being assholes).

Next up – who is gonna pay for all this, for all these lockdowns? What happens if/when China decides to stop buying iron ore from Western Australia, and met coal from Queensland? Does that actually tank the Australian economy, saddled with governmental debt? I have no idea. Do we become like Argentina was after their agricultural boom busted in the 1920s or thereabouts (my history is pitifully hazy).

Finally, on the question of “press conferences”. Berejiklian was keen on war imagery and heavy on new fines and additional Australian Defence Force personnel (aka “soldiers”, though the word doesn’t get used) on the streets. So far, so normal – it would be a strange politician who did not reach for macho rhetoric and posturing in a crisis, especially one for which she bears so much responsibility. But what struck me about it was that a female journo asked twice along the lines of “well, if you’ve known this was a war for so long, why seven weeks ago didn’t you lockdown harder and faster?”
Now, Berejiklian went off on an incredibly long and rambling non-answer reply. Again, so far so normal. Lots more chest-beating and shout-outs, a determined effort to both talk out the clock and just make journalists despair. Just keep lowering expectations that you will ever actually answer a question so they don’t even bother. It’s the cousin of making it uncertain that Australian citizens will even be able to leave Australia if they visit – helps to stop them even trying to get back. Cut the problem off at the source – it’s sound strategic thinking (best general wins etc etc).

The journalist had another attempt at the same question but was ignored. What Berejiklian was counting on (rightly) was that the rest of the press corps (or is that corpse?) would not all simply repeat the question in solidarity. She knows that each of them came with a bunch of questions, and need their own angles, to keep editors, readers and advertisers (not necessarily in that order, obviously) happy. The chance of a united front by the media against a particular politician – the only thing I can think of within the current set up that might work – is vanishingly small. The politician would just say “well, it seems there are no more questions, so this press conference is over” and walk. The journalists’ editors would all tear them a new arsehole and there would never again be an effort at actually trying to get a politician to answer an actual question, rather than waffle.

So, we are stuck. We have multiple crises (and note, I’ve not even mentioned the pending ecological debacle). Our Lords and Masters have figured out how to insulate themselves from policy danger, from media putative danger. They are becoming adept at deploying and normalising military rhetoric and assets for non-military shituations.

This is an exceptionally dangerous time, and pretty soon the consequences of our failures over the last [insert your preferred time period – mine would be in the 50 years mark, not that stuff was grand before!] are going to become apparent even to those of us who have been, relatively speaking, cossetted and served by the system, rather than on the pointy end all along.

What is needed is some magical awakening of civil society, of prolonged intelligent resistance to further depredations, and building of alternative institutions and organisations that propose and implement better systems, dealing with the coming climate-based catastrophes in ways that strengthen solidarities between people(s), generations and species.

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Who is going to bell the cat?

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