Government response to crises is shameful

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Scott Morrison's press conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic have been criticised for being confusing and unhelpful (Screenshot via YouTube)

Throughout various crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, our Government has shown negligence towards the good of its people, writes Grant Turner.

IN 2013, the LNP called for a royal commission into the sad deaths of four workers who died while employed by private contractors who were participating in the ALP's Energy Efficient Homes Package (Pink Batts scheme) which was part of the stimulus package that helped Australia in being one of the few countries (worldwide) that avoided recession during the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis.

It has been indelibly reported as a failure through a media pile-on that turned it into a story about nothing but the deaths of four workers.

Its merits and massive gigawatt and petajoule savings in electricity and gas usage were ignored, let alone what it did in insulating 1.1 million homes and making life more bearable for folks living through our extreme Australian heat and bitter winters.

There were many deaths and fires in this industry prior to this ALP scheme but they were rarely reported and went under the public radar until the LNP saw an opportunity to politicise these deaths.

Undoubtedly, the ALP made the mistake of having faith in the Australian people in that this opportunity to help our country through the biggest financial downturn since the Great Depression of 1929 would be swamped by money-hungry, opportunistic contractors who would ignore the health and safety laws, which in reality were largely non-existent after 11 years of the Howard Government's watering down of industrial laws.

To be clear, I am in no way minimising the tragic deaths of four Australian citizens, but the lessons learnt by the ALP brought about changes within the insulation industry which have resulted in fewer deaths in this industry.

I suspect that the pile-on towards these tragic deaths was amplified by large sections of our Rupert-agenda media and this had a lot to do with the Pink Batts scheme being seen as a failure — it should be seen through the prism of political gain and for political purposes.

I recall Crikey’s Bernard Keane making a comment at the time along the lines of "when journos smell ministerial blood, their brains switch off and pack mentality kicks in".

I couldn't find the original quote, but it does go to the press pack "creating" the story as opposed to reporting the facts around it, as a ministerial scandal will guarantee more clicks as long as it's an ALP minister. #Watergate, #GrassGate, #AWURaids, #SportsRorts — not so much. 

Let's move on to our current global crisis. It is only less than two weeks ago that Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared that he was going to see his beloved Cronulla Sharks and encouraged us all to live our lives as normal and go and support our favourite teams. I do wonder if his narcissistic ego allows for even for a hint of regret at his cavalier attitude which may cost the lives of the very people he regularly claims to be his government's first concern.

It is not at all dissimilar to the attitude he displayed in taking a Hawaiian holiday as large swaths of Australia burned, declaring that we've had fires before, followed by a phone call from Hawaii saying "I don't hold a hose... and I don't sit in a control room".

Only returning to the reality of a country that was furious at him and the realisation of the scope of the fires did he decide to act. Of course, Morrison, never to let a chance to market himself go by, had a video made and released within an hour of the Government's actions being aired via a self-promoting presser.

I'll add that none of the fire chiefs was told about the inclusion of 3,000 Australian Defence Force personnel and they found out via his press conference.

His video was frowned upon via a personal phone call from the head of the ADF, Angus Campbell, for using defence force imagery in what appeared to be a party political ad complete with a donation button for the LNP.

It seems this public information campaign wasn't able to be replicated when it came to the coronavirus pandemic.

It appears that Morrison, as opposed to his "we will keep Australians safe" claim, is using more Scotty from Marketing spin in his government's response to the onset of COVID-19, where Australians have had no coherent advice on how to act or what actions should be applied to limit our chances of contracting this virus. Instead, we have had mixed messages saying it's okay to exercise in groups of ten but only five people can attend a wedding, only ten at a funeral but it's okay for a school with 1,200 kids to operate as normal.

Maybe folks getting married or attending a funeral should do it within school grounds as they are apparently safe places in stark contrast to advice from health experts from the 100-plus countries that have closed their schools.  

The truth of our current crisis is that the PM is more concerned about losing face and be seen backing down on whether schools should close than he is about the safety of the people of Australia.

The current Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Brendan Murphy, was given the position of Health Department Secretary, which is a high-paying bureaucratic position in which he is expected to never speak negatively about the Government. When the onset of COVID-19 happened, Murphy decided to stay in his current position until the crisis is over. A cynic may suspect that he is Morrison's "yes man" as the bumbling messages he gives in press conferences – like it's okay to shake hands and hug your kids – have embarrassingly had to be retracted and are in total contrast to the vast majority of health advisors worldwide.

Very close to Morrison's positions, this may be why the state CMOs are taking actions that are on the contrary.  

The state premiers are fundamentally making the decisions for the country right now as was beautifully put by Barrie Cassidy recently in a tweet.

Dan Andrews, with support of Gladys Berejiklian, recently declared that he was going into the National Cabinet meeting to inform (not ask or suggest) that Victoria's schools were closing and that he was having a major shutdown of non-essential services. I suspect this is what has actually brought about the changes we have seen this week — Morrison's response was nothing but a face-saving exercise in this.

Andrews and Berejiklian have taken it on the chin and played along with the word salad that was Morrison's declaration that "if parents decide to keep their kids home, it's okay". The premiers have done this for the greater good of the Australian folk and keeping alive the illusion of cohesion within the National Cabinet at this time of crisis, but the reality may be that they are in deep disagreement with the PM and his wishes.

I started this rant speaking about Pink Batts, but this virus may well be far more damaging on a personal and a financial level for all of us. Sadly, we have a PM who has a mammoth ego and while he is in power, he believes he has never been wrong about anything. This man is making decisions daily that if wrong (and are) will cost many lives and will put our country in a position that may take decades to recover from.

When we get through this, his actions must and should be held to account. If it's okay for the LNP to call a royal commission into four sad deaths during the last global crisis then surely it is okay to foreshadow a royal commission into this government's shambolic, incoherent and dangerous response to the current global crisis.

I'm with Jommy Tee on this:

At this time, please be smart, be caring and stay safe — and remember, we live in a society not an economy.

Grant Turner has a strong interest in politics and fairness in society and believes in honest independent media. You can follow him on Twitter @gruntat.

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