Sadly, it has become painfully clear that our political leaders have lost the capacity, and even, it would seem, the willingness, to compare the impacts of varying public policy positions.
The evidence of this is in the crude lockdowns which provide an opportunity for politicians and bureaucrats to look like they are ‘doing something’ and that they are ‘in control’ when in fact neither proposition is correct. Little thought appears to be given to the benefits of a ‘no lockdowns’ approach. Anyone who raises the alternative ‘no lockdown’ approach is described as ‘going rogue’. There is not much intellectual effort or sober reflection in that sort of response.
Nevertheless, despite the tough talk, we continue to languish seemingly endlessly in a policy cul-de-sac where it is apparent that the ‘authorities’ have no real plan at all. There is a media strategy certainly. A constant barrage of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Apart from that – what? Nothing is apparent.
Lockdowns have become more important as a substitute for not having a plan rather than being an element of a well-worked through health strategy. Lockdowns are a great way to divert people’s attention towards fear and panic and away from analysing that lack of a plan, that total failure of leadership. In other words, the lockdowns are now a political response to a virus rather than an health response to a virus.
We hear the oft repeated statement ‘we will act only on the health advice’, which is a lazy way of avoiding personal responsibility for anything and is just kicking responsibility down the corridor to the health bureaucrats – who, understandably, have different mind sets and different responses to those which people should expect, and need, from a government which is responsible for looking at the overall picture. Of course, the health bureaucrats are playing their own game of self-preservation – so, they too resort to recommending lockdowns. It is simplistic. It is futile. It is grim.
Lockdowns are a blunt instrument when finesse and subtlety are required. So many interconnecting elements in the organic mass which makes up a society are aggressively disregarded in the use of lockdowns. Deaths from suicide, domestic abuse, active denial of care (I have personal experience of the health system actively deciding to deny care to my mother) not to mention the many lesser but painful and long lasting consequences of the lockdown weapon which politicians flail about at random. Politicians talk about lockdowns being ‘the last resort’ but lockdowns are actually their first resort, the refuge of policy making and implementing cowards.
On Tuesday afternoon 13th July, the NSW Premier, at the drop of a hat, catapulted taxpayers into an additional $5.1 BILLION of debt – to what end? Killing COVID-19? No. Investing in future prevention and mitigation strategies? No. Anything concrete? No. Providing transitory support packages to assuage self-inflicted harm? Maybe. Maintaining one’s position in the polls? Definitely.
The following morning, 14th July, the NSW Premier announced an extension of the lockdown of Greater Sydney until the end of July. However, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, also of 14th July, under the hysterical heading “Nobody is safe’: One in three COVID-19 hospital patients in intensive care“:
“During the peak of the first wave of COVID-19 in April last year NSW recorded about 250 cases in hospital in a single day, of which 40 were in ICU.
There are currently 65 cases in Sydney’s hospitals, including 21 in ICU with four who are ventilated.“
This is no way to run a country. Fear, panic, chaos and debt.
‘So, what would you do?’ you say. Here are some ideas, take them or leave them as you please.
1. Vaccination – there should be a wide selection of vaccines available in good supply. Investment should be made in local production facilities, as we did as a nation when creating the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in 1916, in order to guarantee availability of local supply. The abject and ongoing failure of the Federal Government’s vaccination roll-out is a prime example of how not to proceed. There appears to be no plan there at all – apart from a media strategy;
2. No more lockdowns – they are futile – chasing rabbits down holes and finding more holes to dive into when down there;
3. Sensible social distancing and a focus on personal and public hygiene. I noticed how quickly we got this going in the early stages of the response to COVID-19 but I then saw how quickly this fell away once the pressure appeared to be off. For example, the gents’ loo at Central Station went from being pristine with a cleaner buzzing around constantly to returning to its usual state of stench and loo paper floating around with a cleaner more interested in fiddling with his mobile phone than in cleaning. We should keep those public toilets and other public places, such as public transport, spick and span – everywhere – not just for COVID but for all the many other diseases which thrive in filth;
4. Regular testing in ongoing designated testing hubs – not necessarily on the same scale as now but available at all times. Such testing hubs should be able to be converted into mass testing and mass vaccination hubs as required. We should not push responsibility for mass vaccination onto the shoulders of GPs;
5. A plan for designated epidemic hospitals, i.e. existing hospitals which become designated epidemic only hospitals in emergencies. We have approximately 600 Covid-19 cases in NSW now and of those roughly 9% are in hospital. If restrictions ease, and we get say 1000 cases daily, we would need 90 new hospital beds per day. Oh, and lets make sure that we have sufficient supplies of basic materielle such as masks and gloves at all times. This is achievable with good planning and investment – which, in the end, will be a drop in the ocean when compared to the economic and social wasteland created by lockdowns;
6. Purpose built permanent quarantine facilities located around the nation – similar to the very effective Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory. There should be no more use of hotel quarantine. Once again, the cost is minimal when compared to the cost of lockdowns;
7. Let business operate normally – no restrictions apart from sensible social distancing and hygiene strategies. We need small and medium sized businesses in particular to keep functioning as they employ the majority of Australian workers;
8. Gradually open the international borders again to vaccinated travelers – once the purpose built quarantine facilities have been built. We need to travel to do business and we need foreign revenue coming here. We need family members and friends to be able to see each other – it is part of being human;
9. Keep wages under control – look to productivity improvements. Australia must focus on improved productivity, mainly through the adoption of new technologies, as we have done in the past as a nation, not just hoping for wages to grow in response to inflation, which the Reserve Bank Governor seems to think he can achieve by just pumping money into the economy. Politicians and bureaucrats avoid this issue of productivity as they themselves have never run anything at a profit so have no idea at all as to how to run things better, to produce more from less. Their simplistic solution is to throw money around. Once again, the lazy option bringing about the worst of all worlds – more public debt, less private incentive, no productivity improvement and so no way to repay the debt – which we do need to have a plan to repay rather than delegating that responsibility to future generations;
10. Turn around our self-destructive energy policies – turn Australia into what it is – an energy powerhouse – but mainly for itself rather than for others. If we provide our people with cheap power – they will do the rest. Cheap power and increased productivity go hand in hand. Cheap power will enable new technology industries to flourish, which in turn will employ more people, who in turn will produce more, leading to increased revenues and wages which ultimately deliver the much improved taxation revenues which we need to enable us to repay our significant public debt.
I am not sure if that will be my whole list, for example, we need to develop plans as to how we keep casual workers housed (most probably through the provision of more permanent public housing) and gainfully employed (and paid) during a pandemic, but, essentially, this is a model designed around investing in living with COVID-19 (and anything else which WILL appear) rather than throwing money, and people, away in trying to eliminate COVID-19, which we will never do. At the end of it, we will have a way forward out of the current shambles and we will have the confidence that we have a management plan in place with which to deal with the inevitable arrival of other diseases of all kinds, some no doubt far worse than COVID-19, in the future.