It's Not Petty, Just Let Journalist Do Their Job
Updated: Feb 16
Much has happened in the last week with Victoria and I did watch the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry. I now think the damage is mostly done and you know my views on the situation. So much so that I abandoned writing a post on the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry and the sudden resignation of the State's Health Minister. Personally, the wheels are starting to spin off now and even with the 'Kangaroo Court' of an Inquiry there is more than enough evidence that raises further questions at a massive government failure. What is even more disgusting is the sudden cases of amnesia that all the bureaucrats and Ministers, including the Premier have now.
Today I was in the processing of finalising a post about something else dear to my heart. However, in the last 24hrs, something else has come to my attention that I feel I need to get off my chest. That's the treatment of a reporter by the name of Rachel Baxendale. Rachel is the Victorian Political correspondent for 'The Australian' newspaper. Yeah, that's right, the evil Murdoch empire.
Throughout the entire pandemic, she has faced a lot of criticism, including death threats for her questioning of Daniel Andrews. This is what the Twitter-verse is now. In fact, Body Language experts are even now "reading" Andrews and you can see how he instantly changes tact when Rachel askes a question. Back in August Rachel even received death threats for simply doing her job.
The majority of her questions are exactly what many, who have common sense at least want to know. When she questions Andrews she provides facts to her questions. When I hear her in a Press Conference her questions remind me of what an Opposition MP would do in Parliament House. Now if Rachel is planning a political career then so be it. But having members of the media ask these styles of questions are vital in a period where the Victorian Parliament has been shut for the majority of it's sitting year. Unlike other States and Territories as too the Federal Government, they found a way to continue Parliament in a COVID safe way, but Victoria used it as an excuse to shut it down as much as possible. Therefore, without a Parliament to keep our leaders in check then it's left to the media to hold accountability of the Government.
Andrews himself is a master at deflection and managing the media throughout his entire political career. He has always known how to tackle or shut down any reporter/interviewer that might be "hostile". He had these skills even before he became Premier. The thing though is that Andrews wants to deflect questions and change the topic as much as possible if it's a subject he either, doesn't know or doesn't want to answer. He now has the opportunity to control the narrative and isn't under a time limit like he would be in the Parliament. Baxendale and only a few others in the Victorian Press Gallery are the ones who call him out on this. If he is trying to change the question or avoid a direct answer they are pulling him back to the topic, just as an MP would do in Parliament on a "point of order." If people are thinking that these questions not just by Rachel but other members of the press gallery are "petty" then you probably should watch a Parliamentary Question time in full.
Yesterday was another case where Rachel has received another barrage of attacks on Twitter yet again.
It started with a Regional MP, Bill Tilley who posted to his Facebook how he was disappointed that with the lifting of restrictions for Metropolitan Melbourne, lifting is a loose term, that the regional communities didn't also get a reward. The key issue for the MP was those in Regional Victoria are required to wear masks as per those in Metropolitan Melbourne. In Victoria, the police are permitted to give on the spot fines of $200 for not wearing a mask. Neighbours are even encouraged now to report people who breach any COVID rules. With how the Twitter-verse is starting to enter real life then it's unlikely going to be "hey mate where's your mask?" but take a photo secretly and send it to the police. Personally myself it was only the other day that I got into the Elevator and the two people there were looking at me. As we got halfway down to the lobby they heard me under my breath go "damn it" those in the elevator with a smile went . . .
I had forgotten to mask up. I apologised and went back upstairs to mask up. It's as simple as that, I shudder at the thought that if in Victoria my neighbours could've reported me to the authorities for a simple mistake. I'm also amazed that its the first time I've forgotten to mask up too, a pretty good run.
Bill Tilley is an MP that represents a large area of regional Victoria, with many localities in that electorate not even having the virus either at all or in yonks. Tilley rightly so was voicing his concern for his constituency. If he can't do it in Parliament he did it on Facebook. He voiced his question as to why they were being treated as if they lived in heavy populated Melbourne. Andrew Lund of Chanel 9 asked for the Premier's thoughts on Bill Tilley's comment and he responded with:
“I am here to comment on health advice. I have gone further. I’ve been clear in my judgment, significant benefit – very low cost. I know they are not pleasant to wear. If you are like you or I who wear glasses, it is challenging. Really? I mean … like … compared to everyone being locked in their homes and people needing machines to breathe? I reckon I can deal with foggy glasses. I reckon you can too. I think that Bill needs to just have a look at the broadest context and it is a significant benefit, low cost.”
Now, this might be a shock to you. I have nothing wrong with what Andrews said here. I am tired of the constant "doomsday" scenario that has always been played by this guy like "if you see mum on Mother's day you will kill her" however if a society has to wear masks in order to get back to normal then so be it. Just like the majority of states here in the US. When it comes to Victoria there is an issue in that it's an on the spot fine of $200 for not wearing a mask. There were also rule changes in that a mask must now be an approved one, almost surgical masks only now. So, in my opinion, Rachel rightly asked a question that I'm sure Bill Tilley would've asked in the Parliament if he could off. The question was:
“Is someone by themselves in regional Victoria going for a walk, you know, and there is no one else in the same square kilometre as them, is it silly for them to have to wear a mask?”
To which she was instantly attacked by Andrews and then the Twitter-verse:
“What’s the issue, Rachel? What is . . . Seriously, what’s the issue? Why is it such a massive issue?”
To which she added:
“The fact it serves no health purpose if . . .”
To which she was cut off by Andrews:
“That’s kind of … that’s an esoteric debate, isn’t it? That isn’t really like. Maybe there will be a time when we have the luxury of having those sorts of debates. You wear a mask because it’s of some benefit. How much benefit? Always difficult to – as I’ve said to break down all the things we’ve done and have an absolute percentage benefit that’s attributed to each one."
Was this Rachel's finest question? No, I don't think so, but I think it's valid. If Andrews wants to talk the broader scheme then answer this.
If someone running in Metropolitan Melbourne is exempt from a mask (rightly so) then why does a farmer working by himself in a field have to wear one? Where is the threat of the virus being spread to anyone else if that person is by themselves outside in a field? Whilst running, people perspire and even spit, isn't this more of a risk to others?
In this situation people, Andrew Lund asked a question. Daniel Andrews, I'll give him credit gave a decent answer. Rachel provided an example as a hypothetical and got attacked? Quite simply Andrews didn't need to go on the attack, he could've just responded with "I would hope that in your hypothetical that common sense would prevail. In that, the person you speak off has a mask on themselves at least so if anyone did come up, even if it was a passing police officer then I hope they would wear in that circumstance." As I say he went on the attack and Twitter has followed.
Common sense seems to be a rare thing now yes, but when there is an atmosphere now in Victoria that "you're with us or against us" and people are encouraged to dob in neighbours. I think it was a legitimate question but poorly worded and the response was unbecoming of a political leader.
Everyone, it's simple, just wear a mask. It's annoying yes, but hopefully, people show common sense. I think it is wrong that an on the spot fine applies if you don't wear one. Here in the US, there are mask laws but they have to do with services. Majority of people, just for the convenience wear it at all times whilst outside but I do see people walking by themselves without one, or under their chin, or not worn correctly but as they approach others they put it on correctly. If you go into a supermarket, cafe, restaurant etc. and don't wear one then you are asked to leave. It's at this point that if you fail to comply then Police are permitted to intervene. Yet in Victoria, it's a case of Police approaching all people who don't have one and issuing fines. Even if it is a case that the person was by themselves. That's the issue that needs to change, it is pathetic that Victorians now face fines for not wearing a mask in a circumstance that might not even require it. As for the regional centres, I'm sure they are wearing one when they head into town or are in circumstances where they aren't by themselves. But guys, just lighten up on journalists doing their jobs.
Addition: A couple of hours after publishing this post. The daily presser for Tuesday went ahead and Andrews once again zeroed in on targeting The Australian's Rachel Baxendale.
Baxendale asked the Premier about whether he could continue to support his Ministers and indeed the public servants that fronted the Hotel Quarantine Inquiry considering that on the closing day the counsel lay a scathing report to Justice Coate during their closing submissions.
The question asked by Ms Baxendale was:
"Counsel assisting told that she [Justice Coate] should find that your public service chiefs failed to keep you and key ministers informed about major problems in Hotel Quarantine that have claimed 768 lives and more than 18,000 to become infected. Given those findings is it appropriate to have confidence in those people for another six weeks?"
A fair question. But Mr Andrews stated:
"I want to be respectful as I can. You just put to me that findings have been made, no findings have been made."
To which Baxendale stated that she made no such claim. Andrews replied:
"It is my practice to listen very carefully and what you just put to me was that Judge Coate had told . . . she said nothing. She said nothing. You just put it to me . . . and I'm happy to, if I have interpreted your question incorrectly or that it needs to be rephrased we can go from there."
Whilst being interrupted by Andrews, Baxendale repeated that she was stating that Justice Coate was advised that "she should find". To which Andrews returned fire with:
"Well, you didn't actually say that. Let me go back to the first point. Well Rachel you did, if you're going to put something to me then I'm entitled to respond to it the way that it's put to me. To do otherwise is one of these games wherein a couple of hours I'm having all my words put back to me that I have somehow answered a question wrongly or being inconsistent. Accuracy matters. No findings have been made! Submissions have been made. No findings have been made. It is not for me to tell Judge Coate what she should find. That is the role of counsel, but no findings have been made. So we will respond to the findings when they are made. And that will be made . . . and if they are made for Judge Coate, as I've said a few times I will wait for the report. You don't set up an Inquiry to then essentially preempt or put yourself in the place of that Inquiry. I am not acting that way and I am not going to start now. We will wait and see those findings. Whatever recommendations are made, whatever they may be. We will deal with those when they come forward.
So this is where I have the issue. Andrews no doubt zeroed in on the "given those findings" part of the question and instead used it to discredit the journalist as much as possible. You could even see that when Baxendale used those words the lightbulb went off in his head as if it was a "gotcha" moment. He had the narrative he could use now. This returns back to the master deflector that this guy is. Finally, when he returned to the question he waffled on. Just go straight to the point. You could've easily have said and in a brief couple of seconds. "Well, Rachel no official findings have been made. I admit that the closing arguments weren't great and certainly, I have directed all departments to be more forthcoming with everything at this point in time. But until the findings and recommendations are official then I don't think it's right to completely change the ball game in the middle of a pandemic by firing entire departments. If someone wants to resign or move on, then that's their personal decision."
Instead, Andrews turned the question around on a journalist for bad wording and thus used it for discrediting purposes. If you are constantly looking for a keyword in a question for discrediting purposes and start carefully wording answers even stating that you are afraid of words being put back to you then it clearly states that you are concerned and have many things to hide. After all, no one would want to put words back on you would they? Even if they are your own words. Such as . . .
"I don't believe ADF support was on offer."
When earlier you had stated:
"We will utilise Private Security. We will utilise members of Victoria Police and I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for his offer of support from the Australian Defence Force."
"A true partnership between Victoria Police, our health officials as well as Australian Defence Force"
To listen carefully? Accuracy matters? Well, it seems not when it comes from your own mouth. So if the Twitter-verse wants to play with the "not journalism" hashtag or if Mr Andrews wants to play the discrediting game then Mr Andrews also needs to at least stand by his own statements before you opt to have the nerve at correcting others for theirs.