Berejiklian and Andrews: A tale of two crises

Berejiklian and Andrews: A tale of two crises, by Henry Ergas.

Not least because they were entirely unexpected, Berejiklian’s woes caused the profoundest shock. It is a law of life, harsh as it is just, that the fall from grace is greater, the higher the altitude from which it begins. And in Berejiklian’s case, those heights had reached enviable peaks. …

The crucial question … is not whether Berejiklian’s conduct was ethically commendable or even vaguely sensible; it is ­whether she breached the standards we impose on our political leaders — standards which, above and beyond the obligation to respect the law, include duties of prudence and integrity.

At least so far, the evidence points to an almost bewildering lack of judgment, rather than to those standards being breached. …

There is, to begin with, the ever starker tension between the emerging factual record and the Premier’s daily press conference, at which Dan Andrews routinely denies any involvement in, or even knowledge of, the fateful decisions. It may be that candour has never been a requirement for high office; it is, however, one thing to equivocate for reasons of state, and quite another to do so out of base self-preservation. Compounding the doubts about the Premier’s sincerity are the equally routine apologies. Forever wearily aggrieved, he presents himself as always more sinned against than sinning, yet unceasingly willing to bear the cross — but never to the point of resigning.

Listening to his statements of contrition, it is hard not to be reminded of Claudius, the fraudulent repenter in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who, in seeking absolution without offering to incur any of its pain, asks, as if entirely innocently, “may one be pardoned and retain the (fruits of the) offence?”

However, the most troubling feature of the Victorian situation, and the one which most sharply distinguishes it from the turmoil in NSW, is the systemic nature of the moral gangrene the crisis has uncovered.

In effect, it is not merely the Premier who has denied culpability; it is literally each and every minister, department head and department, with the final submissions that have now been made to the inquiry abjuring ultimate responsibility for the errors that cost hundreds of lives. …

The likely outcomes are the wrong way around:

There is, consequently, a real risk that the system of power ­Andrews has built up will emerge fundamentally unscathed.

In contrast, Berejiklian, whose errors pale by comparison, looks increasingly likely to be crushed, as were Nick Greiner and Barry O’Farrell before her, in NSW’s far more ­intrusive anti-corruption process — a process which seems designed to catch the guilty by flaying the innocent.

At the beginning of the year the Wentworth Report was calling for this pair to resign because of their calamitous mishandling of their states’ forests (aka fireplaces). But they blamed climate change and the forests continue to be mismanaged, while their own careers are spiraling downwards anyway.

If they had resigned, the states’ forests would never be so fire-prone again, because politicians would know the mismanagement was a sacking offense. Berejiklian and Andrews could have taken a year or two in the sin-bin, and re-emerged as leaders later.