In the lower house of Victoria’s parliament on June 20, 2023, Daniel Andrews did what he does best, which is to bring any institution he or his minions oversee into disrepute. In this instance it was the parliament itself, whose members were treated to the Premier’s appraisal of a female member of the opposition as “a halfwit grub”, a remark he subsequently withdrew at the Speaker’s insistence but which, characteristically, he has since defended while point-blank rejecting any possibility of apology. Low as that insult was, it was slightly more civil than a foul wisecrack about “shitting in a plastic bag” allegedly directed at another female Liberal who happened to be battling bowel cancer. Andrews denies ever saying that, and with tears no less. But then, having had plenty of practice since his ascension to the premier’s office in 2014, he is an accomplished denier of everything and anything when confronted by accusation, evidence and his own purported words.
Why should he apologise for the most recent eruption of Danism? Andrews, as admirers and apparatchiks note with some glee, is Victoria’s supreme and absolute power. Not the courts, not royal commissioners, not the Governor and certainly not the rule of law. Down here beside the Yarra, the law is what Daniel Andrews says it is at any given moment. Underlings and other beneficiaries of his patronage know it too, and as far as outside observers can discern, they act accordingly. Consider as but one example the inquiry into the hotel quarantine mess conducted by retired coroner Jenny Coate, a solid party girl and onetime member of the Monash University Labor Club, of which Andrews was president. That investigation struck many as an exercise in suppressed curiosity; indeed, it wasn’t until Peta Credlin began turning up at the Premier’s daily COVID press conferences, a rare inquiring mind amongst the stenographers, that the full extent of the debacle’s cost (and who bagged those lucrative security contracts) could be dragged out into the sunlight.
Such is Andrews’ suzerainity that even the most penetrating sunlight, supposedly the great disinfectant, now elicits no more than the public-stage equivalent of a ‘get lost’ shrug. It is the template for a familiar response, the contempt near palpable. The confirmation that Labor’s electoral operatives had plundered the public purse for partisan gain, the so-called Red Shirts scandal, was exposed in all its cheap tawdriness, yet no charges were laid and nobody was called upon to make recompense for the roughly half a million dollars stolen from taxpayers.
The latest injury to public trust and symptom of Andrews-style governance came today with the announcement by former High Court justice Geoffrey Nettle that he could see no point in continuing as the Special Investigator appointed to determine if charges should be laid against current and former senior police officers implicated in the Lawyer X affair. And the reason he can see no point? Well, let Mr Nettle explain (emphasis added):
In light of the [Director of Public Prosecutions’] past refusal of permission for OSI [Office of the Special Investigator] to file charges of relevant offences, and the Director’s recent identification of considerations likely to result in her refusing to permit OSI to file any other charges of relevant offences, I consider that there is no longer any point in OSI persisting with investigating and determining whether there is sufficient evidence to establish the commission of relevant offences.
The Nettle Report in Word format, can be read in full here
He also had this to say:
I had concluded that the chances of Director approving Charlie [the investigation of multiple police] or any other charges that OSI might submit were now effectively nil, which made it a waste of time and money for OSI to persist.
Those who appreciate courtroom dramas will be disappointed that no hearings are in the offing, as we can safely assume the spectacle of senior police in the dock would have been most entertaining. Lockdown protesters beaten and/or hit by VicPol’s rubber bullets under the Andrews government’s iron-fist policies during the COVID panicdemic, not to mention those arrested in their homes for daring to dissent via Facebook posts, would have particularly enjoyed it. And so, one intuits, would Mr Nettle, who concludes his report thus:
…it has become clear that my assessment of the strength of the evidence necessary to establish the commission of relevant offences and the Director’s approach to the matter stand considerably apart and are unlikely to coalesce. If, therefore, the Government or Parliament decides that OSI should continue to investigate and analyse evidence of relevant offences, it will cease to be appropriate for me to remain as Special Investigator. In that event, I shall resign…
It is easy to grasp why he is miffed. His report begins by detailing the case, blocked by the OPP, for perjury charges against an unnamed former senior officer. To his regret, after repeated efforts to launch the case were scotched and fruitless rounds of correspondence with the OPP
…the suspected offender departed the jurisdiction making it pointless to proceed with the brief.
Victorians have grown accustomed to much that is disquieting over the past few years, not least the Premier’s autocratic style and what many see as his propensity to punish enemies. The Ombudsman and the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) each completed reports (follow the links) Andrews & Co did not like one little bit. In the recently tabled state budget, neither agency received more than pennies by way of increases to their operating budgets. As for the media, Victoria’s two mainstream news organs, The Age and Herald Sun, were recently floored to learn the state government would no longer be buying advertising space in their pages. The idea, though, that a policeman might have perjured himself and that a prosecution brief to the effect was filed in the OPP’s rubbish bin breaks new and deeply worrying ground.
Policing is supposed to be done by men and women of upright character, the standards of honesty and behaviour to which they are expected to subscribe significantly higher than those of garden-variety citizens. If Fred Nerk is thought to have perjured himself in, say, an insurance claim, it might be reasonable to accept that the sheer cost of prosecuting such a relatively trivial matter argues against launching proceedings. But to let a cop off the hook, to investigate and have the charges spiked, because expense is deemed a major factor in that decision, as Mr Nettle’s report notes and quotes, is deeply shocking. All very well and good for Caesar’s wife to be immune to reproach, but the benefit of the doubt simply cannot be extended to his Praetorian Guards. To do so speaks of a cancer in the polity that is eating away at integrity and, if history is any guide, apt to spread into all branches of government. Many will share their suspicions that in Victoria under Daniel Andrews corruption has metastasized.
The classic antidote for a toxic government is a vigorous parliamentary opposition. In Victoria we have the Liberals led by John Pesutto. He is better than nothing but not by much.
To see how bad things are in the Garden State, long ago the Liberals’ heartland and homeland, read Geoffrey Nettles’ report. Outside Victoria it might amuse. Inside Victoria the appropriate reaction should be fury.