Is PM playing catch-up on pandemic?

ONE Federal Government politician has privately declared that Health Minister Greg Hunt wants every MP and senator tested for the coronavirus ahead of parliament next week.

The fear is the petri dish of politics could be calamitous if pollies get to Canberra and infect each other and then return to their electorates, spreading the disease to their constituents.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Hunt said it was untrue and it was against medical advice.

Also, others in Government say they do not want to unnecessarily waste testing kits at a time when those resources are under pressure.

Can you imagine, they say, the optics of politicians getting a test at the same time when there is an issue with resources?

Nevertheless, our federal MPs and their views on how to deal with the coronavirus are swinging widely between calmly cautious to wanting to push the panic button.

It's no wonder the public are confused.

Some are privately critical - including those on their own side - of how Scott Morrison, Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy are handling the situation, and believe they should have acted quicker to impose stricter border controls.

Because Morrison did not go to the extremes other countries did - like South Korea and China - he is constantly needing to ramp up Australia's response.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday addressing the media about new restrictions and advice for Australians on how to deal with the spread of COVID-19. Picture: Richard Dobson
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday addressing the media about new restrictions and advice for Australians on how to deal with the spread of COVID-19. Picture: Richard Dobson

On one hand he needs to ensure there is no panic in the community and our medical workforce can continue in their jobs, and at the same time Australia must slow the spread of the virus.

Some are viewing his cautiousness as flippancy in dealing with disasters.

They also believe he is more worried about the economic problem than the health issue.

Some Australians have reacted stupidly to this health emergency.

Part of that is because of the mixed messages that are being received by governments.

In crisis communication, there should ever only be one source of trusted information to the community.

Federation makes this harder, however, the other problem is the continuous ramp-up in what Australia is doing.

Initially some, like Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, tried to play politics with the virus.

Others, like NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, were so forward-leaning that two weeks ago he suggested people should stop shaking hands to stop the spread.

 

 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Photo Jeremy Piper
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Photo Jeremy Piper

Only on Sunday did Morrison suggest people stop the formal greeting - just hours before Murphy said it was still OK.

But this is the problem with medical advice changing regularly.

The step-up relies on the community receiving information at a timely manner and we know that most Australians do not tune in daily to politicians.

The greatest threat to the Federal Government will be how the state public hospitals perform.

If an estimated 1 per cent of people die from the disease - which is not outside of the realms of possibility - that leaves a lot of grieving people directly touched by the pandemic.

Then there will be patients who interact with the hospital system, and there will be some of those who have a less than ideal interaction.

While the dead don't vote, the others do.

Morrison spoke yesterday about the state of emergency imposed by some states.

"A state of emergency is not a state of panic," he said.

"A state of emergency puts in place special powers for state governments to help manage the spread of public health epidemics."

 

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese

The problem is that term does scare people. It makes them do silly things and buy weeks worth of food and toiletries.

We all remember being very frightened after the September 11 terror attacks and when ISIS-inspired terror attacks swept the globe.

After a while, Australians got used to a new sense of normal.

It is ridiculous to say Australia will change forever. It won't. At some point it will return back to normal.

And that means, the Opposition has only has a small window to make political mileage out of this issue.

Federal Labor has to ensure it acts responsibly in these circumstances, that it raises inconsistencies where there are, to seek clarification for a confused public and to play a constructive role in passing the stimulus package.

It is as difficult for the Opposition as it is for the Government and Morrison.

But it is Morrison in the hot seat. The decisions he makes today and tomorrow will leave a legacy on how he handled one of the worst crises in 100 years.

It is his actions now that will determine his fate at the ballot box in about 18 months' time.