Flat White

Good leaders minimise fear and explain their responses to a crisis. We’ve seen the opposite

2 September 2020

5:35 PM

2 September 2020

5:35 PM

Framing the coronavirus response as freedom vs. tyranny is counterproductive, because the government has so successfully stoked fear in Australians.

Daniel Andrews’ attempt at a “12-month extension to his state of emergency powers” prompted genuine concerns about government overreach.

But Premier Andrews likely felt safe as he — and our political leaders — have terrified the public into submission.

A Guardian Essential poll found that 86% of respondents are ‘very’ or ‘quite’ concerned about coronavirus. Australians are more concerned with stopping community transmission than fostering economic recovery.

Further, The Guardian polling found 60% of respondents would support tracking bracelets for anyone diagnosed with Covid-19, to ensure they remained at home. Most (72%) support the Andrews government curfews and 70% support restrictions on leaving home.

These responses are motivated by fear.

The daily press conferences from premiers on Covid infection and death rates and the death counters on every news website ensure the public are acutely aware they are in danger. If the seasonal flu received the same attention, the public might demand sufferers be quarantined in a dedicated facility.

Early on, the government decided we weren’t “taking this seriously

To ensure compliance, we were subjected to ever-increasing restrictions and lectured about the dangers of kebab eating and golf playing.

Even the promise of an exit strategy was couched in the language of fear — we were implored to download the COVIDSafe app if we wanted to return to normal.

Competent political leaders should minimise fear and rationally explain their policies, but as sociologist Frank Furedi has argued: “worst-case thinking has become institutionalised.”

The government failed to close the international borders fast enough and admitted in February they could no longer stop cases coming into Australia.

What followed was the Ruby Princess disaster, the amorous adventures of hotel security guards, and a lack of government transparency and accountability.

There needs to be an awful lot more scrutiny of the government’s response.

But people are unlikely to question the government’s coronavirus failings while they are sufficiently scared. To have a productive discussion about the proper response to coronavirus it is important to realise that for most Australians, the debate is not freedom vs. tyranny – it is life vs. death.

Monica Wilkie is a policy analyst at the Centre for Independent Studies.

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