When medicine can’t save you, all you have is ‘the message’

So if you’re wondering why Victoria has some of the toughest lockdown measures in Australia, then there’s your answer.

It’s about the message.

It sounds simple enough, but the Victorian government, and Sutton himself, haven’t always articulated clearly enough that the message is often more important than the medicine.

The task hasn’t been made easier by crosswinds from Canberra as Scott Morrison and his government – which don’t, ahem, see eye-to-eye with Sutton – pumped out its own messages, especially on schools.

Sutton has been criticised for saying he believes, on balance, that schools are safe places and then refusing to advise Premier Daniel Andrews to open up classrooms for all students.


But he has also been clear that he is far from convinced that it would be safe to put a million schoolchildren, their parents and carers – to say nothing of tens of thousands of teachers and other school workers – on the road, or on public transport, twice a day.

Wouldn’t be much of a lockdown then, would it?

As for golf – a huge issue in this pandemic – Sutton doesn’t think you’d catch COVID-19 on the eighteenth fairway.

But he knows that it’s hard for a suburban dad, or mum, who is allowed to wander around a golf course swinging a stick at a ball, to tell their teenager that they can’t go down to the skate park for a grind, or their four-year-old that the swings at the park are off limits.

Fishing? Nobody thinks you’d catch your death of coronavirus floating in your tinny a kilometre off Frankston Pier.

But when you’ve got 30 boaties with their off-roaders milling about the ramp, because they got an exception for fishing, that’s not very Stay At Home.

Andrews, who loves a clear simple message, has arguably prosecuted the case better than his medical chief, repeatedly delivering the line that if you have 500 exceptions, then you don’t have rules anymore.

The Premier’s strategy of ramming home the point that this is for keeps, that the rules are for everyone or people will die, has rubbed some people the wrong way, prompting criticism that Andrews’ rhetoric is over the top.

Maybe. But there’s no arguing with the figures. Victoria has had Australia’s second-worst outbreak of this terrible illness, but has lost just 18 lives.

Ninety-seven per cent of parents have kept their children home from school, while 127,000 Victorians have come forward for testing.

So you can have reasonable criticisms of Sutton, although plenty of the flak he has copped has been unfair, and Andrews too.

But you can’t say that what they have done hasn’t worked.

That’s one of the things that has allowed the Premier to shrug off the efforts of the Morrison government to pressure him on schools, and he won’t feel unduly hurried by Friday’s announcement from the Prime Minister of a timetable for an exit from COVID-19 restrictions.

So when changes to Victoria’s lockdown regime are finally announced next week, expect it to be done Sutton and Andrews’ way, not Morrison’s.

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