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COVID is no place for politicking in Australia

Think of the three ideal characteristics a country should have to fight a global pandemic.

First, an island with no shared international borders so arrivals and departures can be controlled.

Second, the island should have one federal jurisdiction, so the public health messaging is consistent and based on the best medical advice to government.

Third, that federal jurisdiction should be constitutionally responsible for quarantine.

Of course, what I have just described is Australia.

We have these three essential ingredients for success that close to no other countries enjoy, and yet over 18 months into this pandemic we languish at the bottom of the OECD vaccination table, have a blurry timeline for obtaining sufficient vaccinations, no fit for purpose quarantine facilities, and tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas.

These logistical failures were avoidable, and Australians are entitled to feel let down by a Federal Government with no foresight or ability to fulfill their constitutional remit.

What Australians are not entitled to is the wholesale politicking and culture of blame coming from Canberra.

For 18 months the Federal Government has been busy offloading responsibility for quarantine and contact tracing to the States, while at the same time lambasting Labor Premiers for ‘draconian’ lockdowns and harming the economy.

Victoria’s Labour Premier Daniel Andrews has been the target of Canberra’s ire on many occasions. During Victoria’s extended lockdowns, fellow Victorian and Prime Ministerial aspirant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg labelled lockdown the “biggest public policy failure by a state government in living memory” and the “Victorian government was making it up as they go.”

Fellow Victorian federal parliamentarian Tim Wilson claimed lockdowns were degrading and dehumanising to Victorians.

When Queensland Labour Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk closed the border during the lead up to that state’s election, PM Morrison claimed Palaszczuk was boasting about the border closure and the closure “may not be necessary.” He also called on Palaszczuk to ensure quarantine rules were clear and consistent (despite quarantine being a Federal responsibility.)

New South Wales’ Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian also took aim at Palaszczuk, accusing her of being a victim of her own border closure, justifying the criticism by saying “when you unnecessarily close state borders you lose jobs, you create hardship, you impact people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

Piggybacking in on the political posturing has been the Murdoch media. It is blindingly obviously the Murdoch media has chosen a side, and that side is not the wellbeing of Australians.

Deliberate misinformation and confected conflict have been the stock in trade of News Corp newspapers and Sky News – made obvious by the tabloid ‘journalism’ praising New South Wales whilst shouting “Dictator Dan” in the headlines of its Victorian papers, and Sky News ‘reporters’ badgering Labor Premiers and their Chief Medical Officers, whilst reprinting Federal Government press releases and parroting the NSW Gold Standard line of Federal Ministers.

The Murdoch press insert themselves in the story by boasting of their grilling or ambush and fiery clash, such as Peta Credlin attacking Daniel Andrews and Sophie Elsworth badgering Annastacia Palaszczuk – to the point where the response to the pandemic is no longer the story.

Any time a statement about the COVID pandemic is made for political advantage, it shifts the emphasis from an optimal health outcome for the population to an electoral survival outcome benefiting the Coalition.

What we want is a clear coherent health message from the Federal Government.

We do not want politicians (or journalists) pretending to be epidemiologists. Leave the epidemiology to the professionals and act on their advice.

Wilfully mendacious statements such as “it is not a race” and “Australians are at the front of the queue” are pure political theatre and achieve nothing other than replacing silence with noise.

Hiding behind ‘talk to your GP’ at the same time as defunding Medicare and not having a clear timeframe on vaccine availability is just shirking responsibility.

The sight of uniformed military officers at Government press conferences and ‘war gaming’ the vaccine rollout both politicises the Australian military and feeds into Morrison’s desire to bask in the reflected glow of our armed forces.

If Prime Minister Morrison is going to demand Labor stop politicking during the pandemic (as he did at his press conference last week) he would do well to remember it was his party in February which put the LNP logo on taxpayer funded government advertising which bragged about ‘securing’ 10 million additional doses of Pfizer.

Morrison would also do well to talk to front line medical clinician Townsville-based GP Dr Michael Clements, who last week told ABC Radio National the ‘political noise’ has confused his patients.

Has there ever been a more important time for the Government to stop prioritising its self-preservation over the wellbeing of its citizens?

 

Greg Smart

By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.