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Leaders: what do they think their job is?

The Morrison government’s approach to the Covid pandemic has too often opted for spin over substance and politics over science


ADELAIDE - Across the democratic world denial, blundering incompetence, confusion, wishful thinking and indifference have been the common hallmarks of the response to Covid-19.

The political class has, with very few exceptions, made a complete hash of managing the pandemic.

At the heart of their now painfully obvious failings has been the inability to understand that there is no workable trade-off between a global public health emergency and the desire to keep economies operating at a close to normal rate.

Politicians have tied themselves in knots trying to figure out how to simultaneously achieve what are these two mutually exclusive goals.

This is probably because they are have become so used to adopting mutually exclusive policy objectives without understanding what they are doing or having to live with the consequences.

A simple example is the persistence for many years in Australia (notably at federal government level) of the idea that ‘efficiency savings’ can be achieved at the same time as providing higher standards and greater quantities of health and aged care.

The outcome has been far from efficient. It has resulted in desperately under-resourced and overstressed health and aged care systems.

Australia is still trying to come to terms with what it will take to recover from years of political idiocy and neglect. It will be a slow process – and it will cost a lot of money.

Another obvious example is the Australian federal government's irrational and ultimately self-defeating position on climate change.

Attempts to square the policy circle between a rabid pro-carbon, climate change-denying political party ‘base’ and the reality and growing impact of climate change continues to bedevil attempts to respond intelligently and hastily to the looming crisis.

I lay the blame for this firmly at the feet of the world's various conservative parties. Their blithe acceptance of the shibboleths of neo-liberal capitalism has been an unmitigated disaster in many respects and they seem to remain utterly bewildered as to why bad things are beginning to happen.

Privatising large chunks of government activity has not resulted in cheaper, more efficient and higher standards of service.

The ruthless suppression of wages growth over many years has resulted in an inability to maintain a level of consumption sufficient to stabilise the economy.

In the context of the Covid pandemic, what this has meant is that a weakened public sector was ill prepared to respond to the challenge, not because of a lack of knowledge, or even a lack of will, but because of the lack of resources when they are needed.

The ‘just in time’ philosophy of resource management may work in a car factory but it is a disaster waiting to happen when it comes to critical public health needs.

So here we are in Australia, unable to even respond effectively to the need to vaccinate our own population as a matter of urgency let alone assist our close neighbour and friend Papua New Guinea by anything like what is required.

And as the death rate climbs relentlessly in PNG and Australia remains far from safe, our stupid political class is still having problems getting its heads around the harsh measures required.

The federal government has persistently over a long period of time made wildly optimistic assumptions about things like the measures required to halt transmission of the disease, the need to organise a wide range of vaccines, the efficacy of particular vaccines, an orderly and effective vaccine roll-out, and the ability to persuade a now suspicious public to line up for their shots.

Fortunately for the Australian people, the much more grounded State premiers have been able to largely prevent the federal government from some terrible errors, but were deliberately omitted in the planning stages of the vaccination program.

The Morrison government’s approach has too often opted for spin over substance and politics over science, no doubt reflecting the Morrison’s instinctive preference for marketing tactics to gain political advantage.

Here, in simple terms is an explanation that these people should understand: It’s An Emergency, Stupid!

Throw everything at it now! Your citizens’ lives and your country’s prosperity are at stake.

Forget the budget deficit, spend the money. Order more and a wider variety of vaccines.

And mobilise the military to deal with vaccine roll-out, its special skill is logistics and it knows how to move lots of people and stuff from point A to point B.

And if PNG and our Pacific neighbours request it, deploy these skills to do something useful there as well

Sadly, doing intelligent things seems to have fallen out of fashion in a political world where the pursuit and retention of power is now the whole point.

And expediency and opportunism in pursuing and retaining power is the ruling philosophy, not trying to understand, plan and implement decisions in the public interest.


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