Like father, like son: Swans ask questions we all want answered

There was a certain symmetry in the news this week with Australia’s most respected voice on the coronavirus Dr Norman Swan once again front and centre on the whys and wherefores of the Victorian coronavirus lockdown, even as . . .

Even as his son, Jonathan Swan, the former Sydney Morning Herald journalist, was eschewing the breathless pandering of “propagandism” that abounds these days and instead engaging in real journalism – asking President Donald Trump the questions that need to be asked on chaotic countering of corona. The no-holds barred interview made headlines around the world.

The success of the father is because of his ability to cut through all the white noise with a tone of concise and unimpeachable authority. The success of the son-also-rises has been in publicly challenging the very much impeached authority of the President of the United States. In Jonathan’s gobsmacked expressions as Trump spoke we saw ourselves – wondering how such a man as this could hold such an office at such a time, and give such answers – but Swan the Younger was doing it in the White House.

Did Trump take offence at being so challenged? He did not. Rather like Prince Andrew being sure his interview with Emily Maitlis went “brilliantly” despite it being a train-wreck, Trump was so pleased he asked him to run the interview at full length in order, Jonathan tells me, to “let the sentences flow”. Swan and his producer couldn’t agree quickly enough and headed for the exits.


Both Swans are a credit to journalism.


Well, I never. No sooner had my piece been published in this space last Sunday on the NSW government trying to push through the proposed tower above Star City – going many times above existing local planning laws – than I received three narky notes from three of the principals involved. Though all three are from separate camps, all were in robust agreement that I should get nicked until further notice, and probably even then, stay nicked. Deputy Premier John Barilaro says I shouldn’t believe his colleagues as he had nothing to do with putting pressure on Minister Rob Stokes to get behind changing the law so the government can take over control of Pyrmont planning laws from Sydney City Council to push through the changes, and Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s people says she remains robustly opposed and has made no tacit arrangement to go slow on opposition in return for the government taking Wentworth Park away from the dogs and giving it over to green space. I record their protests, but stand by my sources.

Meanwhile my friend the chair of Star Entertainment CEO John O’Neill notes his casino only ever made original application for one towering tower, not two towering towers, and were prepared, before being rejected, to reduce from 61 to 53 storeys. The current proposal, which still requires final approval, is for twin towers – one of 51 storeys and the other of 16 storeys – but the end of that story is yet to be written.


How can the rest of us help the Victorians through their current agony of the plague? When I posed this question on Twitter, the answers came thick and fast. One suggestion that resonated strongly was for us to do whatever we can to support Victorian businesses whose services and products can be procured online. Can I suggest the feds or the Vic government put together a ”Buy Victorian” website along those lines? The other theme was for us, in the media, to shout down the voices of our fellow commentators who carry on about every move the Andrews’ government make and weaken the public resolve to get on top of it. (The madness of the protest in Melbourne planned for Friday, against masks, being a case in point of the resultant lunacy. This is the thing you want to go to the mattresses on?)

And the final thing is for us to donate to charities like OzHarvest which rescues food from supermarkets and restaurants and gets it to those in need. Another one they all rave about is Sikh Volunteers Australia, who also did outstanding work during the bushfires. We will get through this!


“Welcome back to Planet Earth.” SpaceX mission control radio to NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken after they splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule, completing the first manned mission of NASA’s commercial crew program.

“I’d be frustrated if I was [a supporter] in lockdown then something like this happened. Look I’ve got an understanding of that, I don’t have a leg to stand on. It was a lack of due diligence by me and follow up and should have known better, should have checked again before we’d gone. I just had a really expensive game of tennis during the week.” Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley about a tennis match that he and his assistant Brenton Sanderson played with Alicia Molik, which led to the Magpies getting a $50,000 fine.

“Every day you wait, there’s a week at the other end.” Dr Norman Swan, approving of Victoria’s quick move to Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions.

“Needless to say, it’s been a little bit insane. I cannot stress enough how grateful I am because this is not the kind of thing built by one man, it’s truly an absolute army effort behind me.” Alex Dekker, who started making a few meals for his sister, a first-year doctor working in coronavirus wards in Melbourne, who is now running a volunteer cooking organisation that this week handed out its 50,000th free meal to health workers and others in need.

“His Highness, Prince Graeme, has informed me that the Government of the Principality of Hutt River has decided to dissolve the Principality, which will, once again, become part of the Commonwealth of Australia.” A statement from Royal Hutt River Legion Major Richard Ananda Barton. I know, you think the whole Principality of Hutt River thing is just some odd folk claiming to be a special breed, but on the other hand what is all monarchy?

“There is no silver bullet at the moment, and there might never be. For now, controlling outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control.” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN, with a bleak look at the COVID-19 situation.

“If you are supposed to be isolating at home, then you need to stay in your home, or on your property. Fresh air at the front door, fresh air in your front yard, or your back yard, or opening a window. That’s what you have to do.” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, getting fed up with people getting out of isolation on the flimsiest of excuses.

“The denial of rights of, and natural justice to, the victims in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody saga, the arrest and incarceration [rates] of Aboriginal adults and children, have reached the level of a national crisis.” Prominent academic Marcia Langton saying that Black Lives Matter protests must continue to agitate for changes to reduce Indigenous incarceration and deaths in custody in a criminal justice system that is structurally racist. The proportion of Indigenous prisoners has doubled in the 30-odd years since a landmark inquiry provided a road map to reduce Aboriginal over representation in prisons and stop deaths in custody.

“Suddenly I saw something flash and I couldn’t hear anymore.” A witness to the Beirut explosion.

“I’ve seen blood on the floors and walls, I’ve seen a surgery performed on a bed basically out on the street. There’s no electricity, there’s glass everywhere – it’s absolutely devastating.” Australian Priscilla Zaitouni in Beirut. She and her father George drove around Beirut trying to find food, water and medical supplies to take to the city’s overwhelmed hospitals.


A young man, thrown into a prolonged period of self-isolation with his elderly grandmother, is looking feverishly about the house and finally can stand it no longer. He shouts from his room, ”Granny, have you seen my pills? I put them in your old headache-tablet bottle and marked them LSD.”

“Bugger your pills,” Granny responds from down the hall, “have you seen all the dragons playing trombones in the kitchen?”

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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