The real plot of this year is important people failing everyone else

The best thing about life in Melbourne right now is that the news matters less. The lives on screen are not ours. We can observe as we once did, with the privilege of ignoring it. Tomorrow’s episode will not send us back inside, and it will not be about how many of us are dying. That is a devastatingly rare luxury around this exhausted planet. To a degree, it’s not even true in Sydney right now. 

Melbourne did not have a globally unusual pandemic experience. The rest of the country did. 

The people of the Harbour City will beat this, clearly. But in the same way Sydney won’t ever really understand Melbourne’s blurry eight months of terror and sadness and leperdom and boredom and ultimately triumph, Melbourne won’t ever understand this properly. 

Christmas, Hanukkah, and the equally sacred non-denominational chillax period is quite a big deal. Not the biggest, but it matters on a deeply personal, even spiritual level. And unexpectedly having that upended could be crushing.

Most of the world’s holidays will not be what anyone wanted them to be. And the reason for that is we do not, as a collective, do things very well at the moment. 

In hundreds of years, if we are lucky enough to still have people resembling historians, they will view our epoch in the same light they currently view the Dark Ages. They will look upon the decisions we are making during this period as – to put it mildly – a bit of a low point. We are living through the Dumb Ages, and the sooner we accept that the sooner we can cope with it. 

Coronavirus is clearly a binary affliction. It is an on/off switch. You either have none of it, or you have lots of it. There are waves and there are peaks, and occasionally – like right now in Sydney and for a huge chunk of this year in Melbourne – it tries to flare up again even if you beat it down. But the longer-term trajectory is that a region has it, or it does not. 

If you need evidence for this just look at every single place in the world. 

There is no version of reality where an ideal amount of the virus is maintained and nurtured, the economy sputters along heroically and stupidly, and a certain amount of death is deemed good because sociopaths at newspapers say so. 

Right from the very start we were presented with a false choice. We had the wrong conversations about the virus. There is no ideal balance between economy and health: you fix the health problem, and then you fare better through the economic problem. Or you don’t.  

It is impossible “to live with the virus”. It is not possible to be down with this sickness. To attempt to do so unravels everything. Doubly so if the de-spooling process is well underway. America and the United Kingdom are not currently the picture of aspirational societies – and we typically treat them as such. One of them is about to get a little bit better (but not enough) and the other is about to get much worse. 

Puttering along, singing and dancing in harmony with the virus while we keep the machine rolling, does not work, the costs are too high, and it should never have been presented as the sensible, rational option. The big boy pants option. Not only is it indefensible morally, it is incorrect factually.

In times long past the spouters of such ideas would have been driven from the village with pointy sticks, made to spend their nights in the cold, surrounded by wolves and ice. Instead, we elevated them to prominence and cast our most unfortunate to the baying, howling herd beyond the gates.

Victoria has escaped its self-inflicted nightmare because it rejected the “just hang onto a bit of the virus” philosophy entirely. It had to pretend it didn’t do that, because the established wisdom – and I use that phrase as loosely as is possible – wouldn’t allow it. 

On the 7th of September, Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of NSW, said, “The plan that was outlined yesterday, I hope, is a worst-case scenario… I see it as a starting point in terms of how this issue will be managed in the weeks and months ahead in Victoria.”

The thing he is so clearly not thrilled about in this media release is the plan that worked phenomenally well. The successful plan that ordinary people bought into, embraced, and nailed the landing of. This is not the only time he urged our bruised state to open prematurely; it is effectively the sum of his non-photo-op contributions during Victoria’s second wave.

In order for people in Melbourne to win back a semblance of normal life, we had to ignore the Prime Minister of Australia. And that is remarkable. 

He is meant to be our Prime Minister too.

To claw back the ability to care about trivial things again. To earn the privilege of bawling inside the fucking Legoland Discovery Centre because your toddler is so much taller than the last time he was allowed to be there. To reclaim the mental bandwidth to deeply give a shit about inconsequential things like The Mandalorian – a significantly better TV show than 120 back-to-back episodes of a press conference about our lives and our deaths – we had to ignore a Prime Minister that got it horrendously wrong.

He’s in good company. 

We also needed to ignore the Federal Treasurer. The Health Minister. The Victorian Opposition. Neo-Nazi chefs. Our most concussed footballers. Rich people with megaphones. Conspiracy theorists. The dying wasteland of mediocrity we call the Australian mainstream media. 

All of this needed to be tuned out so we could pay attention to the things that actually helped us: our local communities, our family and friends, and the rare leaders setting good, science-backed examples for us to follow. 

Ordinary people are capable of beating this virus when shown how, and when given help. New Zealand did it from the very start. Victoria did it eventually. Melbourne provides a globally significant piece of evidence: it’s possible to recover from a bad place, from a cock-up, but you need the right approach, the right leadership, and more importantly you need millions of ordinary people to buy in. That is not automatic; it needs to be earned, and it will be constantly undermined in the moment. 

The Daniel Andrews Victorian Government should have been better. There are understandable, structural reasons for why it was not, but that doesn’t matter, ultimately. The final report into the hotel quarantine failure has been handed down this week. Andrews has accepted all recommendations and acknowledged that this mistake, a mistake which led to 801 lost Victorian lives – 655 of them in federally overseen aged care centres – should not have happened. 

The crucial difference between Andrews and Morrison, though, is that once this became an irreversible fact, Andrews sought to address it tirelessly. And the Victorian people backed his approach, followed the plan, more successfully than anyone anywhere, and now we’re allowed to cry inside Legoland again. 

This pattern continues across the entire world. It is not a uniquely Australian phenomenon, but there are universal elements.  

Rupert Murdoch is the very last person deserving of the coronavirus vaccine. And yet he was first in line this week, because our collective priorities are further disconnected from what is actually good for us than at any other point in human civilization. 

With every summer of catastrophic fire, with every bungled pandemic response, with every flood, with every billionaire hoarding obscenely while their workforce is driven deeper into poverty, deeper into misery, this becomes more undeniable. 

Our 89-year-old Adelaide-via-Mordor influence peddler received his vaccination for free, courtesy of the UK’s NHS. This is a state-run health service that Murdoch’s newspapers have spent decades trying to destroy. They have done so by helping elect conservative governments with ideological hard-ons for the cruellest strain of the austerity virus, and the most irrational obsession with selling things governments should own.  

The pseudo-media outlets that convey what Rupert Murdoch thinks – Fox News in particular, but the rest as well – have killed people this year. They are responsible for unnecessary death. It is impossible to know how much, but it is also impossible to deny. 

Fox News weaponised innocuous pieces of fabric we’d ideally just shut up about and wear over the lower portions of our faces. Fox News demonised mask-wearing amongst a cluster of vulnerable people who deserve better information about everything. 

President Donald Trump is the most responsible person for the catastrophic failures of the American state, and he bears most of the weight of 330,000 lost souls, but Fox News amplified his dereliction. The result: “masks are for liberal cucks” and don’t you dare steal my freedom, etc. It’s even reasonable to argue Fox News had a game-changing role in Trump originally winning the job he was so clearly dangerously unqualified for. 

In the UK, the same pattern wreaks havoc. Like Trump, Brexit, in advance, was an obvious clusterfuck of the highest order waiting to happen. This was clear when it still mattered, and yet here we are. 

Boris Johnson, a man equally ill-equipped for responsibility, particularly at such a historic tipping point – but basically always – sits in 10 Downing St. He does this because Rupert Murdoch wanted the UK to leave the European Union. 

Since 2016, the Conservative Party has torn itself apart failing to complete the impossible task of making Brexit a sensible thing to happen. They have now pinned all their hopes on scruffled ineptitude, and it’s going as well as you’d expect. 

Boris Johnston is not as stupid as he wants people to think he is – there is some pageantry to his oafishness – but he is still clearly too stupid for this very important job right now. 

He is the leader of a nation that spent the entirety of its political capital over the last four years on the right to regain some sovereignty from Europe. And then, during the one moment when it actually would have helped to close borders with the continent, he did not. This is what the weaponised dreams of a post-rot empire have wrought. 70,000 deaths and many more to come on an island with all the natural advantages of Australia and New Zealand.  

We have stupid conversations about everything important. We don’t say things like “which approach to fixing the climate crisis should we take?” We say a select few of us are making too much money right now and oh gee it’s going to be a lot of work. 

We have a well established pattern of listening to the wrong advice, from the wrong people, and making catastrophic decisions. 

We could probably do better than this, but we have set ourselves a staggeringly low bar. 

This is yet another burden of being an ordinary person in 2020: witnessing up close how many important people, how many accepted ideologies, and how many societal structures have failed us when we needed them not to.

Ideally we’d get more help than this. Americans would receive more support from the richest Government in the world. They’d have better health care, and their leaders would be willing to fix their decayed, failing state. The UK would have competence and compassion at its core, not bumbling cruelty. And Australia would reject the world’s most incorrect economists, the world’s most self-interested media banshees, the world’s most vacuous, useless politicians.  

Across the world, during the coronavirus pandemic, ordinary people nailed it if they were given the opportunity. If they were given the right advice, the right rules, and, crucially, if their leaders had earned their trust and compliance. 

The overarching lesson from this horrendous year is that when we work for each other – when a neighbours’ right to live is valued above our own right to see a movie without a mask on – not only are we on sounder ground morally, we are more effective. We are more successful. We are better able to deal with the deluge of shit flung our way. 

Our ever-bubbling ire should not be targeted at ordinary people from elsewhere, with less money and less opportunity than us. It should be reserved exclusively for the people and institutions that seek to divide us and make us weaker. And it should be unleashed on them with fury. 

We are a better species when we cast aside every single thing these people stand for. 


By David Milner


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