KERRY BREEN and KERRY GOULSTON.- Update: An apolitical response at last to the Covid 19 crisis.

Last week we explored why government responses to the Covid 19 crisis seemed to be tardy and we argued for an expert apolitical group to lead the response.

A day ago we were alerted by the media that much tighter controls on the movement of citizens was imminent, based on the advice of ‘an elite team of academics recruited by the federal government’ which ‘has recommended an immediate, hardline and costly lockdown to boost the chances of a quick national recovery’. If this report is accurate, it is the most encouraging news in many weeks. It would be churlish of course to ask why this advice was not sought earlier.

The Covid 19 health crisis has been compared with the Great Depression and with the Australian efforts to contribute to the fight against the Axis powers in World War II. These comparisons are inappropriate. The effects of the Great Depression emerged slowly over 2-3 years and there was time for politics to play out. Fighting in World War II stretched over six years providing even more time for politics, including in Australia a Federal election and strikes by essential service providers. This crisis will be won or lost in weeks or perhaps months. The time for politics is long over.

We are not privy to the expert advice given to the Federal Government but hopefully it included the need for better communication and more widespread testing of not just persons with symptoms. To us, it seems crucial for planning the response to have some idea of what proportion of apparently healthy adults and children harbour the virus. An excellent model of good communication is being provided by Dr Norman Swan on the ABC. While an initial limit on production of test kits was understandable, if funding is now a limiting factor, this must be remedied urgently by government.

Last, it is surely time for our Prime Minister to swallow his pride and bring the ALP and the Greens to the table called the ‘national cabinet’. If he were to do this, he would earn the respect and gratitude of all Australians as it would be a sign that he truly was working for all of us. Of course, such gratitude will not guarantee his re-election as Winston Churchill found out.

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.


This post kindly provided to us by one of our many occasional contributors.

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8 Responses to KERRY BREEN and KERRY GOULSTON.- Update: An apolitical response at last to the Covid 19 crisis.

  1. Avatar (Dr) John CARMODY says:

    I cannot understand the rationals for the call by Drs Breen and Goulston for more testing. Apart fro the cost in materials and personnel , currently we are [sensibly]
    testing a sub-set of the population which is putatively “at risk”: yet only about 1% of those are positive for the virus. The real data for the numbers who, whilst infected, remain asymptomatic (or almost so), will come to hand only when we have the capacity to assay plasma antibodies.
    Furthermore, I am less sanguine than my two colleagues about the secrecy which pertains to the real advice which the government receives from its panels of experts. What harm could possibly follow [given that, as they correctly argue, we are not fighting a war against human foes, but against a novel virus whose properties and behaviour we’re only learning “on the job”] if all of that advice were published. Sceptics and supporters alike could only be reassured if they could scrutinise that information. After all, good scientific and clinical practice both depend on the maximum availability of data and information.

  2. Avatar Con Karavas says:

    ‘…. bring the ALP and the Greens to the table called the ‘national cabinet’.’

    Having lived in a gerrymandered state and appreciating the work of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, I am painfully aware of the misbehaviour of political parties and their leader.

    With foresight, those who wrote our Constitution did not accommodated political parties, so stating what you would think is the obvious; in our liberal democracy a lot of us vote for a person to represent our electorate not the to represent the ideologies of his/her political party or worse still its leader.

    Parliamentary cabinets and caucuses must represent the greater majority of the people not a party selected parachuted in representative kept in line by the party whip.

    It is time to make a minor adjustment to our Liberal Democracy to a type of Direct Democracy informed by citizens juries and acting on their advice or inline with the results of postal votes informed by qualified people.

    Disallowing extra-salary payments to politicians, travelling allowances and for Senate enquiries, its costs would be paid.

    While simple to instigate, its impact would be unbelievably huge

  3. Avatar Andrew Glikson says:

    A viral climate of fear:
    Where the virus may potentially claim the lives of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people, global heating above 4oC is bound to claim the lives of billions, yet most governments hardly listen to the science. By the 25 March 2020 more than 4% of Covid-19 patients, nearly 19,000 people, tragically died worldwide, with more to come, and each death its own heartbreaking story. Many governments are listening to medical science, implementing essential measures to combat the plague, instigating social isolation and economic support systems in order to avoid a potential demise of hundreds of thousands or even millions of lives.
    Climate change is already causing deaths, according to a new report global warming would cause an additional 250,000 deaths per-year from heat and extreme weather events, yet most authorities continue to ignore the scientific evidence of climate disruption that threatens to exceed +2 degrees Celsius and toward 4 degrees Celsius. Potentially this is leading to a demise of billions of lives and many species through extreme weather events. Between 1998 and 2017, 526,000 people across the world died due to extreme weather events caused by climate change. Health protection measures to restrict the effects of COVID-19 are essential, but the looming social and economic collapse is something else. It is not entirely clear why, in the majority cases, populations cannot continue to operate at safe distances using protective gear?
    There has been no social and economic collapse in the west when:
     The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 405 000 in 2018
     Seasonal flu kills 291,000 to 646,000 people worldwide each year,
     Each year there are 1.3 million to 4.0 million cases of cholera, and 21 000 to 143 000 deaths worldwide due to cholera.
    Nor have societies and economies collapsed in the western world during genocidal atrocities such as in Korea, Viet Nam, Rwanda, Myanmar, the Middle East and Yemen, which killed millions, namely:
     When 6 million people were bombed in Vietnam
     When millions were killed in Rwanda and the Congo
     When millions of people were killed and fled the Middle East
     When half a million refugees had to escape Myenmar
    Media reports depend on the profile of the victims. The effects on the share market are elevated above the health issue. Poor and dark-skinned people receive less attention. Memories are short and most people worry about one problem at a time. Nowadays the fatal consequences of a deliberate or accidental nuclear war and of global warming toward four degrees Celsius, as real as those of the pandemic, are hardly mentioned. Nature bats last.

    • Avatar Richard Barnes says:

      Thanks Andrew for speaking such truth. What an irony in Europe crying “help” to the world, after all the developed world has done to cause death and misery to to the world’s poor and dark-skinned people: yes, colonial and postcolonial exploitation; but how about arms sales; and of course the relentless progression to catastrophic climate change.

  4. Avatar roma guerin says:

    Yes to bringing the other two into the fold. It has been disgraceful excluding Albanese and Bandt from the not-national cabinet.

  5. It’s been a while emerging, but there does now seem to a prospect for a truly national apolitical response to Covid 19. This is heartening. Bringing the full face of parliament into mix, by including the Labor and Greens leaders in formal consultations around the (virtual) table would also significantly advance Australian democracy.

  6. Avatar Malcolm Crout says:


    Those key people are all currently quaffing at the public trough with plum appointments to quasi public sector boards gifted to them by both Labor and Liberal Governments. This is just another hay ride for them to scoop more from the public purse.

    Do Scomo’s mate Nev, and the others in this so called “Commission” have more collective skills than all the experts in our universities and public sector?

    The Government are hapless. The last few weeks are clearly dragging on a bumbling Scomo and his team, so they now have privatised the responsibility to duck the flak.

    Democracy has been suspended until August and now we have a bunch of has-beens steering the ship. Wonderful!

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