Political leaders have brushed off the seriousness of COVID-19, displaying a lack of concern for affected citizens, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
IF YOU WERE in any doubt as to the ability of COVID-19 to shine a spotlight on societal inequality, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s declaration on Monday morning that “people aren't dying” of the virus should convince you.
In an interview with the ABC's Patricia Karvelas, Barnaby had to be reminded that people are indeed dying in Australia from COVID-19 after categorically stating they are not, as he attempted to compare his government’s alleged success at handling the virus with that of other countries.
It’s grimly significant that the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia can’t be bothered to inform himself of the effects the pandemic is having on citizens, particularly when they are dying in record numbers. Only the privileged are fortunate enough to “forget” or “overlook” or simply not notice that people are dying from an illness elites consider “mild”.
As the majority of us struggle with access to boosters, access to tests, access to food, access to medical care, all the while attempting to navigate rampant infection, Barnaby Joyce and his colleagues live their lives on a higher plane, oblivious to the struggles of the common people who put them there.
The lack of interest and concern revealed by Joyce’s statement is staggering.
Joyce himself was diagnosed with COVID-19 in December whilst visiting the U.S. He describes his illness as “something pretty mild”. It is remarkable how L-NP men such as Joyce, Defence Minister Peter Dutton and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg have recovered so quickly after “mild” experiences with the virus.
Do L-NP politicians have access to antivirals not available to the rest of us? We know that unlike many other citizens, they do have unfettered access to free Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs). They probably have easy access to PCR tests as well, unlike the average taxpayer. They can also take sick leave without worrying about paying the rent or losing their jobs. We Australians look after our politicians very well indeed. Pity the governing L-NP is incapable of returning the favour.
While Barnaby Joyce isn’t a member of either the Pentecostal Church or Opus Dei, unlike Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet, he does share the lack of concerned awareness we’ve come to expect from those two god-fearing fellows as they spectacularly fail to steer us safely through the pandemic storms, or indeed, fail to show any real interest in achieving that outcome.
There are a number of reasons why these men and their colleagues are unwilling to care about the fate of those who are not them — religious belief being one, political ideology another and an entirely unfounded sense of superiority another still. None of these characteristics is useful or desirable in a leader.
No government is going to be beyond criticism in its handling of the pandemic. However, the very least we are entitled to hope for is that a government will start from a position of concern for the welfare of all its citizens. The Morrison/Joyce Government has no such starting point. Even the UK’s Boris Johnson, not renowned for his interest in the plight of the common folk, delivered free RATs.
It is unfathomable that in a wealthy country such as ours, we have since the beginning of this pandemic endured an inadequate supply of vaccines, lack of appropriate quarantine facilities, a breakdown of testing and reporting capacities, a scandalous dearth of RATs, breakdowns in food supply chains and hospital and ambulance services stretched to breaking point.
Catastrophe has come late to this country. Our leaders have had ample time to prepare and plenty of overseas experience on which to draw. Yet, here we are.
It’s not surprising then that Joyce says the quiet part out loud. Deaths from COVID-19 are not significant to his government, therefore people dying from the virus take up no space in his consciousness.
Morrison similarly minimises deaths by using comparison, without expressing either sorrow or sympathy:
‘But that's where we are — doing better than almost any other country in the world when it comes to even the large number of more than 350 deaths in the course of the past week, our death rate that relates to Omicron is one of the lowest in the world.’
Monday was also the day more than 6 million concession cardholders, including high-risk aged pensioners, became entitled to receive free Rapid Antigen Tests. However, pharmacies warn they do not have anything like the supply needed to meet the demand, while the Federal Government, despite persistent accounts to the contrary, continues to insist it has not requisitioned the tests, leaving pharmacies and other suppliers without.
To sum up, If you’re going to get the virus, try to get elected to parliament first. Or at the very least, ensure you are a close family member, staffer or friend of an elected representative. If you don’t fit any of those categories, good luck — you’re going to need it. The political class looks after its own.
As the Prime Minister, when asked about those who could not afford tests, so memorably observed:
“Some people can, some people can’t.”
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