In the past year or so, most of us would have become quite familiar with the group of people that seem to front up almost daily to discuss the current state of the COVID19 pandemic in each Australian jurisdiction. Usually there are a couple of politicians ably backed up by the experts in public health management, a high-ranking commissioned Police Officer, with a person live translating the discussion into Auslan for the benefit of those with hearing difficulties.
To some extent, they have all become minor celebrities, demonstrated by when the Queensland Government’s usual Auslan interpreter seemed to disappear from view recently, it became a news story in itself
. He was ok, but quarantined.
Generally, the Chief Health Officers give background to the decisions they have recommended, with a degree of frankness that is lacking from politicians. As examples, Dr Janette Young, Dr Kerry Chant, Prof Brett Sutton and Dr Nicola Spurrier are happy to discuss their recommendations at a level where you don’t have to be a medical professional or the holder of a science-based PhD to understand. They communicate clearly and explain not only the decision but the reasons for the decision and none of them seem to be afraid to suggest that they actually don’t know all the answers. The ‘experts’ are also happy to discuss what they hope will happen if the plan works as intended.
Why do the respective governments around Australia wheel out their Chief Health Officers and similar staff when there is a crisis to address? The pattern is not a new thing. Shane Fitzsimmons is remembered by many as the ‘head’ of the New South Wales Fire Service during the 2019/2020 bushfires explaining the how and why of fire management. Various meteorologists are also given the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to explain why floods and cyclones affect some areas and not others most summers. In general, the expert information provided appears to be free of spin, marketing and point-scoring. As such, the majority of people put a great deal of trust in the provided information.
There is a lesson here for politicians and reporters, a lot of whom are sharing the stages with the various Chief Health Officers and their ilk at the moment. Frank and fearless advice generally is better accepted than incessant marketing, spin, vacuous promises and claims that cannot be either substantiated or supported. While there are certainly people who think the ‘experts’, reporters and the politicians are in cahoots to force us all into submission by the ‘lizard people’, most of us can understand frank advice and assess that we really should act upon it even if we find the actions irritating, annoying or difficult to comply with.
In contrast, Prime Minister Morrison determined that the dealings of the ‘national cabinet’ (which really are regular meetings of the Prime Minister and each state’s Premier/Chief Minister) should be secret. There has always seemed to be some ambiguity around the consensus achieved in ‘national cabinet’ meetings which suggests there isn’t always agreement. It is rare for the Premiers and Chief Ministers to be on the same stage as Morrison when the ‘national cabinet report’ is being presented.
Morrison’s justification for the secrecy is his decree that the ‘national cabinet’ was a committee of the Federal Government. It seems that others disagreed, with Senator Rex Patrick taking the government to court to gain access to ‘national cabinet’ documentation. The judge agreed with Senator Patrick
that the justification for secrecy was invalid. The government had 30 days to appeal and on past history it probably will.
In comparison, the level of compliance with the patient and logical discussions by the medical experts who ‘stand up’ every day to go through the reasons for the restrictions in all our lives demonstrates that most of us can handle the truth even if it isn’t what we want to hear. It also seems that most of us can rationalise that some restrictions on our personal ‘freedoms’ help ourselves and others in our community, despite the claims of some who should know better.
A culture of secrecy does have consequences. If we don’t have the information there are a multitude of people who will make it up for a variety of reasons, including self-aggrandisement or to promote their own view of the world. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, people will fill information gaps caused by secrecy with ‘information’ that might be correct, but more than likely will not.
Open and honest communication demonstrates there is nothing to hide. It’s about time our politicians and reporters tried it. After all they know the process works as they have been nearby spectators as it is demonstrated almost every day for over a year by the specialist staff employed to maintain public health.
What do you think?