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MELBOURNE, Australia — Last weekend, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews surpassed a rather astonishing milestone: 100 consecutive daily news conferences, many of them lasting hours, to address the state’s coronavirus response and what has become one of the world’s longest pandemic-related lockdowns.
News conferences from state-level politicians are often bigger news in Australia than they might be elsewhere — maybe it reflects voter engagement or just a slower news cycle. But because most of metropolitan Melbourne’s five million residents are stuck at home, and because Andrews’ remarks serve as the best and most reliable update on the circumstances of our lives, these daily events have become a kind of communal spectacle.
It is now a ritual for many of us to wake up, wait for the daily tally of new cases to be released, and then wait to hear when Andrews’ news conference will take place. There’s even a Twitter account dedicated to answering that question, with the handle @WhatTimeIsDansPresser.
His daily briefings range from the dramatic — like the day he announced that thousands of people in nine public housing towers would effectively and immediately be put under house arrest — to the mundane. They inspire viral moments, hashtags (#dictatordan, #istandwithdan, #getonthebeers) and memes, and we are all there to watch these cultural curiosities unfold in real time.
Mr. Andrews, who has been Victoria’s premier since 2014, has a policy of staying through every single question from the press gallery, and much of the recent Australian media coverage of his pandemic marathon has focused on what these 100 days of conferences tell us about journalism, and also about the online abuse many participating journalists face from the pro and anti-Andrews camps.
It’s true that this situation has allowed the public to see the minutiae of certain forms of journalism play out in ways that are usually not broadcast to a wide audience (if at all), but to me it is Andrews himself — and our relationship to him — that is so fascinating.
During the worst days of the pandemic, when it was clear that the premier was barely sleeping, the daily conferences presented him in an almost Shakespearean light, and I was afraid we were watching the psychological crumbling of a man in real time. Despite the partisan hashtags populating Twitter, most of the people I know were simply worried for Andrews’ health and well-being — along with the health and well-being of our other fellow Victorians.
If this has been a Herculean act of stamina, it has also been an impressive — and sometimes frustrating — political performance. Andrews may stay for every question, but he certainly does not give answers beyond his own predetermined message: Stay the course; get tested; this is hard; it is also neccessary.
But that’s part of what has made these news conferences so compelling — it’s rare to see a politician be so human, and in turn observe how a regular human could be so viscerally political. I feel I know Andrews as well as I’ve ever known any politician in my lifetime. I’ve certainly spent more (virtual) time with him.
And like so many others, I’m ready for the relationship and the sense of crisis to fade. With Melbourne’s coronavirus numbers today as low as they’ve been since the beginning of the pandemic, here’s hoping this test of endurance — for the city and for the premier — will be over soon.
I’ll be tuning in on Sunday, when Andrews is set to announce the next steps out of lockdown — along with everyone else.
Have you been watching Andrews’ daily news conferences? What stands out to you? Let us know at nytaustr[email protected].
Here are this week’s stories: