In the eleven days since we first tried to make sense of the Federal Government’s approach to the current health crisis, little has changed in its approach.
There is still an undue emphasis on economic issues and, more worryingly, rejection of expert health advice that was commissioned by the very same government. All of the factors that we held to possibly be interfering in formulating timely policy and prompt actions still seem to be in play.
It was distressing to hear the Prime Minister recently seek to seemingly justify rejection of his expert panel’s majority advice (the ‘go hard, go now approach’ ) on the basis that since these experts were not likely to lose their jobs, their advice should not be valued and trusted. As the expert report is being treated as confidential, we the public will never see it (at least until the Royal Commission that some are predicting) and will never know the size of the majority view or the qualifications and expertise of its entire membership (although one report speaks of an overwhelming majority). We are simply expected to trust the government.
It is not just the medical and scientific community that is asking for stronger and more urgent action that focuses on the health crisis of Australians. So too are economists and public policy analysts.
Meanwhile, everyone can read about events in Italy, Spain, UK and USA, track the statistics and thereby anticipate the nature of the government actions that will be needed (pay wall) here tomorrow or the next day (or even yesterday). Many are understandably perplexed by our Federal Government’s procrastination. Indeed there is a sense of Alice in Wonderland feeling to all this, especially the seeming reliance on preventing more Covid-19 carriers joining their communities on return to Australia (a very important step of course) as the key to control of the pandemic. Could the Federal authorities not see that once the virus arrived here, person to person spread among people who have not recently travelled would gradually become the dominant source of the virus, as it has in other nations? The mode of spread remains unclear although a recent report raises the possibility of the faecal-oral route. If confirmed, this is of concern as faecal spread may persist well beyond fourteen days.
So where to from here? Federal Parliament will not sit for months so there will be no public scrutiny of the government’s actions or lack of actions. Because of this, ministers as well as backbenchers from the Prime Minister’s own party will have less opportunity to influence him. If it were not for the powers of the states and territories, we would effectively be living in a dictatorship. There are limitations to what Morrison’s ‘national cabinet’ can achieve. Fortunately in our two most populous states, NSW and Victoria, citizens are witnessing strong leadership, clear communication and generally timely actions from their respective Premiers (one LNP, one ALP) and governments. More strength to their arms. If they had the luxury of time to stop and think, these Premiers might be the people to convince Morrison to bring national representatives of the other half of Australia’s voters into the national cabinet.
Dr Kerry Breen AM is a retired physician who is interested in the regulation of the medical profession, medical ethics, medical professionalism and the health of doctors and medical students.
Dr Kerry Goulston AO is a retired physician and gastroenterologist. Past positions have included Associate Dean, Northern Clinical School of University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital and Inaugural Chair of the Postgraduate Medical Council of Australia and New Zealand.