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 Nick Cater: how good are Australians in a crisis?

21.05.20. Australian are frequently tested by crises and after they get past all the bullshit proffered, mostly from government quarters, they come out pretty well. This VOVID-19 crisis, however, must in the regurgitation of all factors, not make the same mistakes again. Let’s begin with confusion—there was and still is lots of confusion with too many wannabes, state and federal all vying for the top perch. The worst of all is the silly habit of making health advisors as high priests of all that must be obeyed—we elect politicians for that job. Oh yes! The big, irresistible power club—download this app that does not work and you can have a beer again—yes sir, three bags full Sir—piss off Sir! Nick Cater says it well.
How good are Australians in a ­crisis? The number of active cases of COVID-19 has fallen steadily for more than six weeks. At the start of last month, there were almos­t 5000 known carriers. Today there is a tenth as many. If you want to know what a health crisis really looks like, turn to Britain, where 2642 fatalities have been announced in the past week, pushing deaths per million to 521. In Australia there have been just four per million.

Source: Nick Cater, News Corp

We can’t spend the rest of our lives avoiding risks

That suggests it is safe to let the experts stand down and put the politicians back in charge. The extraordinary powers given to medical officers and police chiefs should be withdrawn to allow the hard work to begin.
Last week’s unemployment figures are just a taste of the post-pandemic misery. JobKeeper payments have kept Australians employed for now, but not every job is salvageable. Hundreds of thousands more people are likely to be out of work when the payments are wound back.
By any reasonable measure, the health crisis has been averted. Yet the experts who were so swift to alert us to the danger in the first place are slow to admit it.
A second wave, however unwelcome, would almost certainly be smaller than the first. We are far better prepared for its arrival thanks to the investment in ­testing, tracing and additional hospital facilities.
Credit also belongs to the Aust­ralian people, who have sacrificed­ much to beat this virus. Those who still have jobs should be allowed to return to them.
As Scott Morrison was at pains to point out on May 1, opening up the economy involves risk. There will be further outbreaks. More people will be infected and some could die.
Yet we are beyond the point where the pain averted by keeping people at home is greater than the pain it causes. And we are well beyond­ the point when the damage­ to the economy ($4bn a week) can be seen as a necessary or proportionate response.
Let us recall the reason for taking these drastic measures. In late March the virus appeared to be spreading exponentially, such that demand for acute hospital beds might outstrip supply.
The lockdown, together with the work of federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, ensured that didn’t happen. The number of intensive care unit beds tripled to more than 7000. Fewer than 100 were occupied by COVID-19 patients at the height of the pandemic. Yesterday 11 were in use.
With our borders closed, the risk that another wave could be large enough to swamp our health services is extremely slight.
The risk is even lower in South Australia. A swift response from Premier Steven Marshall — the closing of state borders, enforced quarantine for South Australians returning home and the appointment of a state co-ordinator under the Emergency Management Act — allowed SA to contain the virus better than most.
Only one new case has been detected in the state over the past three weeks. Of the 439 cases identified, 435 have recovered. Sadly, the other four died.
Yet bars and pubs remain closed. Cafes and restaurants are limited to 10 patrons at a time, making reopening a loss-making option for most.
Police can issue a $5000 on-the-spot fine to anyone reckless enough to invite more than seven guests to a wedding or 20 mourners to an indoor funeral.
Under whose authority is this extraordinary power given to the police? The authority of the SA Police Commissioner himself, Grant Stevens, who was appointed state co-ordinator of emergency manageme­nt on March 22.
Now that SA is, as near as ­dammit, virus free, Stevens is ­entitled to pat himself on the back, drop in at Government House and relinquish his emergency power, which will otherwise not expire until the end of the month.
Don’t hold your breath. Like the health experts appointed to save us from becoming the Italy of the south, Stevens is in no hurry to return to his day job.
SA Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier put on a “Fri-yay” top to celebrate the “fantastic” news of the state’s clean bill of health, but seems less than eager to step out of the limelight. There was no room for complacency, she warned. There was always the threat of a second wave.
Expert as Spurrier and Stevens might be in their respective fields, health and public order is not the expertise we need at this moment.
Our challenge now is avoiding deep, damaging recession. We need experts in assessing the nationa­l interest, weighing risks and evaluating competing public policy goals. We need experts who can balance the need for a healthy population against the imperative of a healthy economy, particularly in SA, where unemployment is at 7.2 per cent, the highest in the country.
In other words, we need the expertis­e of parliamentarians whose jobs depend on recognising the public interest. The power to make decisions should be remove­d from unelected officials and returned to those with a popular mandate.
The hard road is still ahead. Extraordinary public health measures that impinge on indiv­idual liberty were popular six weeks ago, when the shops were out of toilet paper. Today, they are a burden.
Having controlled this virus better than almost anyone expec­ted, by normalising social ­distancing, reducing international arrivals to a trickle and restricting interstate travel to essential business, governments must act quickly to lift restrictions.
The speed of economic recovery will depend on the willingness of businesses to take risks by investin­g and hiring, despite the uncertainties that will bedevil us.
Governments must lead by exampl­e before the culture of risk-avoidance that takes hold in a pandemic becomes entrenched in public and commercial life.
Nick Cater is executive director of the Menzies Research Centre

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Lorraine 21/05/2020, 8:04 am

    I so like Nick Cater and he is right, Scott Morrison has led well. State Premiers have not. Individual liberty has been the loser and when, and how do we take that back

  • ibbit 21/05/2020, 9:45 am

    Lorraine is correct, Scott Morrison has led well. It is not his fault that the premiers are playing politics with the contagion as our Constitution as it stands, more or less allows them to go rogue
    The single most important measure that should remain in place is control of overseas arrivals into the country and their quarantining.
    Governments should be encouraging the economy to get going again, and this means allowing people to return to earning a living. To not do so is heartless and cannot be supported by the COVID-19 statistics.
    The other day I wrote that we need a referendum to abolish the states as they are a drain on finances, a brake on productivity and the National interest seems not to be on their agenda. Particularly is this so with the Victorian government going rogue and signing up to the Chinese Belt and road initiative which is tantamount to selling Victoria to the communists.
    The Federal Government should intervene just as they should never have allowed our most strategic port of Darwin to go to the Chinese for 99 years. There are, it seems, 2 escape clauses in the contract. A wise Government would negate that contract now in the light of Chinese threats. It should also take back our primary producing assets from the Chinese in the form of reparation for the damage they have done health and economic wise to our Country.
    Add to this list of things Government (federal) should do, is get all the Confuscius institutes out of our universities and go to the aid of the young student being “assaulted” by Queensland University at the dictates of their Chinese masters.
    In short, they should take back our Country from the Chinese if we have a chance of remaining a democracy and Australia as we have known it.

    • Peter Sandery 21/05/2020, 11:41 am

      Ibbit, we need to be careful what we wish for. I don’t know where you live but to those of us who do not live in the major cities or metropolitan areas and who think about these things, the spectre of moving the centre of power from states so that all power resides in Canberra, a place which is considerably further way from us physically and ideologically fills us with great concern.

  • Pensioner Pete 21/05/2020, 9:55 am

    ibbit: I completely agree on the abolition of the States via way of referendum, however, this will lead Australia to becoming a Republic and given the standard of our politicians, Australia becoming a Republic is not really a good thing for us under these circumstances.

    • ibbit 21/05/2020, 4:08 pm

      Doing away with the states without some means of controlling the political excess of federal politicians would be dire indeed.
      Nev below has the right idea – people’s referenda I think it is called, which would allow recall of parliament or censure of any politician who did not do their job adequately or, who it pleased to sell us out to China, would be a means of control. 3 or 4 yearly elections are not enough as they please themselves between elections then trot out all the rubbish about the place in the few weeks before election day without any scrutiny or questioning other than by a mostly complicit media . The old system of “stump” speeches at least gave ordinary people the chance to question them and for them to justify their policies and or behavior. When I was a young woman living int the country, people were much more interested in politics than today because the general feeling – at least in rural areas – was that they had to justify their policies if they wanted to be elected.
      In modern times they just rig the electoral system, load the country with people likely to vote for them, dish out largess for voters to have to pay for and “bob’s your uncle” – at least in a pollies book.
      A bad politician is just that as is a bad government and we have far too much of both in Australia. One or better still, two less levels of government would put us in a better place than we currently find ourselves after all, we are only about 26million not many multiples of millions that we require such over government.
      Heard on radio this morning a quote along the lines of – good government fears the people and people fear tyrannous governments who take advantage of having worked things to suit themselves, not the polity.

  • nev 21/05/2020, 12:03 pm

    Great conversation, certainly the States politicians have presented every reason to get rid of them. The Councils could do with similar scrutiny as could our Federal system. The reasons a nation so extraordinarily rich in natural resources, wallows in such mediocrity can only be blamed on our political system.
    Sure there are myriad side issues that lead to this singular continuum of failure, but if the system is flawed it must be rectified first.
    I believe the Swiss system of a Federal Republic comprising a number of Cantons (26) it operates as a direct democracy integrated with very effective referenda system that keeps control in the people’s hands and has been successfully controlling political power as well as the Judicial system since the mid-1840s (I think).
    The Swiss system was modelled on the US constitution and is largely regarded as the most successful political system in the world. Of cause politicians and Judges don’t like it at all.

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