By John Stapleton
For more than 100 days in a row Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has held lengthy press conferences where he details the latest Covid stats and answers questions from a tame media pack.
This daily piece of theatre, where young and inexperienced journalists have acted as little more than channels for the state government’s propaganda machine, has placed Daniel Andrews front and centre of Australia’s Covid Fiasco.
Millions of Victorians remain under virtual house arrest. There have been shocking scenes on Melbourne’s streets of police smashing windows, dragging people out of cars, aggressively arresting pregnant women and violent harassment of any citizen who dares to protest Daniel Andrews’ rules. Many thousands of businesses face bankruptcy.
Despite all this Daniel Andrews has remained popular.
To the bemusement of the rest of the country, those daily press conferences worked for a self-aggrandising Premier, creating a sense of authority and an illusion of accountability.
It all worked, until one day it didn’t.
The arrival at those daily briefings of the formidable Peta Credlin, once Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and now one of Sky News most outspoken and popular anchors, has turned Daniel Andrews’ cosy little pressers into an instant nightmare.
At the same time Credlin’s aggressive questioning of the Premier has created spectacular footage and free publicity for Sky News, who have been vociferous critics of the Victorian lockdowns, the most draconian in the world.
There’s now an adult in the room. The take down has been sustained, vicious and forensic. There’s nothing Credlin doesn’t know about government processes.
As one punter observed: “Dan looks extremely uncomfortable when questioned by anyone older than 25.”
Credlin has predicted that Daniel Andrews will be gone by Christmas. He won’t last that long if she has anything to do with it.
Casualties already include Victoria’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and the state’s most senior bureaucrat Chris Eccles, both of whom have resigned in recent days under cloudy circumstances.
This week, after sustained questioning at Andrews’ press conference, Peta Credlin declared that the Victorian government has shown why truth matters, as without it, all that is left is a “gaggle of highly paid people with amnesia” running from responsibility.
Ms Credlin said she knows she speaks for “millions of Victorians tonight” when she says enough is enough.
“Without the truth, we the voters don’t get good government. We just get this gaggle of highly paid people with amnesia who run from responsibility when their bad decisions turn deadly”.
Credlin grilled Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over why Mr Andrews’ Chief of Staff had not given evidence to the inquiry into Melbourne’s hotel quarantine debacle, from where most of the state’s Covid deaths can be traced.
“You say you set the inquiry up for transparency to get to the bottom of this, this would seem at odds with transparency, should your Chief of Staff provide evidence to the inquiry,” Ms Credlin asked the premier in the press conference.
She said the premier in trying to “wriggle out of responsibility” accused her of failing to read the next sentence in his press conference transcript when he announced private security guards would handle hotel quarantine.
“He claimed it showed no decision had been made,” Ms Credlin said. “No, Premier. Wrong. Your statement, ‘I’ll give you a fuller update tomorrow’ in no way shows that no decision had been made. “Cut the spin, tell the truth, cut the spin or go.”
The disintegration of Premier Daniel Andrews’ reputation demonstrates an old truism of Australian politics, you take on media mogul Rupert Murdoch at your peril.
We are witnessing an unmistakable power play.
All the considerable resources of News Limited are being brought to bear. Murdoch has 70% of Australia’s newspaper readership, and Credlin’s attacks have been accompanied by hard hitting columns in the nation’s mass readership tabloids.
She says she decided to take matters into her own hands and attend the press conferences herself because she couldn’t stand the spin a second longer.
Her influence is extended by the Sky News channel on YouTube and her professionally maintained Facebook page.
One typical comment from her fan base: “Peta Credlin you are simply THE best! A true heroine who with just one question has exposed the web of lies and flaws within the State government. Thank God for you.”
The recriminations over the mismanagement of Covid and the destruction of Australia’s economy have already begun.
Like her politics or not, and Credlin is unabashedly a Liberal Party insider, she has turned Daniel Andrews’ long and boring press conferences into must watch TV. Another Australian politician faces political extinction in a welter of scandal, and it makes fascinating viewing.
All of this comes as the entire Covid scare unravels, with senior epidemiologists around the world calling for lockdowns to stop. The only one not hearing their call is Daniel Andrews.