In any Anglo-phonic democracy, particularly those based on the Westminster system, the role of the loyal Opposition is important. It is there to scrutinise the behaviour of the government of the day and to constructively criticise it’s policies.
If it does a good job of that, and the government of the day does a poor job of governing, then it may be rewarded at the next polls by being elected as the new government.
At times of crisis, usually those of war, there is greater bi-partisan behaviour in the Westminster system. Take for example the classic partnership in the Second World War between Churchill and his rival (and yet friend) Clement Attlee. Times like now, where we have a pandemic, are rather unprecedented. The First World is enduring something which is definitely NOT a First World Problem.
Where an Opposition ceases to exist, due to it becoming part of a government of crisis unity, this can work to it’s advantage, as Attlee found after the War, as the voters can come to identify the Opposition with the successes of the unity government.
But the bipartisanship of political action in the time of crisis can also leave an Opposition struggling very hard to remain relevant. Right now, the nation is being led by a bipartisan National Cabinet, consisting of the Prime Minister, the State Premiers, and the Territory Chief Ministers. They achieve consensus, albeit with some ambiguity, regardless of what colour of the political beliefs they hold.
What this has achieved so far appears to be quite good for the community. Only 70 deaths and 6500 or so infections, whereas the pandemic is continuing to escalate in severity in most other countries, particularly those also in the First World like the USA, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the UK. So far, only about one Australian in 4000 has contracted the disease, whereas in the USA, this is more like one person in every 500, and Spain one in every 250!
Things are worse in the Third World. In Nigeria, where the pandemic has not yet gotten out of first gear, at least 18 people have been killed by security forces trying to enforce social isolation policies (those are victims of the pandemic, but ones who are not going to be counted in the pandemic’s official fatality count).
Which is a sober reminder, like it or not, that our political leaders in Australia are doing a fairly good job of using the emergency powers they have been given with moderation, and that the police forces have not been excessively heavy handed in their behaviour.
So this does leave the Oppositions, both federally and at a state level, regardless of which side of politics they are, struggling to find a role to keep them in the picture.
What they then do in that struggle can make them either look sensible, or like whining little bitches (if you pardon the phrase).
I can’t play golf. That is not something to do with the current lockdown rules. I just lack the coordination to swing that club in a way which connects properly with the ball. I doubt that spending a more few hours at the driving range in Ascot Vale is going to fix that.
Some people can’t play golf because the current social distancing rules in Victoria are forbidding it (as well as fishing – another activity I have yet to master). And they are pissed.
A Victorian State Opposition front bencher has taken up his cudgels on behalf of those frustrated weekend golfers:
Obviously, this is a burning issue for some people. I expect that if you are a member of a country club or a private golf club, or some such more exclusive social organisation dedicated to wealth and privilege, you can worry about this. More people are probably worried about paying the mortgage or the rent, or keeping employed, or either themselves or an elderly parent getting infected.
And this is why I expect that objecting to the interpretation of social distancing rules in a way as to prohibit solo golfing is not going to find much traction for the state opposition. It is very much a First World Problem at a time when we expect our political leaders and senior health officials to be focused on keeping the community safe, not on lowering the average golfer’s handicap.
I mentioned the 18 dead in Nigeria as victims of the pandemic who will not be counted as such in the fatality totals. The bans on elective surgery could result in indirect victims of the pandemic here, as preventative procedures such as colonoscopies are in pause, increasing the risk of bowel cancer to those awaiting those operations. Rather than complaining about not being able to golf, saying something constructive about looking at what sort of elective surgery should be allowed to resume would resonate more loudly with voters.