I remember the good ol’ days in March 2020 when we were told Western Australia would go into a short sharp shutdown to curb the spread of COVID19. It’s now mid-October, and while things are mostly business-as-usual inside WA, interstate travel is still largely restricted.
Well, I’m not altogether sure – and Premier Mark McGowan is getting nowhere near the national scrutiny directed at Daniel Andrews or Annastacia Palaszczuk.
As early as July, WA Chief Health Officer, Andy Robertson, gave evidence in the Federal Court that there was a less than 1% risk of COVID19 returning to WA from travelers arriving from states and territories which had no community transmission.
Most of the country is now COVID-free save for a few cases in returned travellers in quarantine, and community transmission is now limited to small pockets within NSW and Victoria. Other parts of the country are reintroducing interstate travel and a quarantine-free international bubble has now opened with New Zealand.
Despite progress elsewhere, WA still has its all-or-nothing hard border. We can’t even travel to the NT, which hasn’t had a COVID19 case since April, without obtaining an exemption to return and then spending two weeks in quarantine. Mark McGowan continues to tell us that the hard border is for our own safety, is based on medical advice, and if it opens, people will die. It’s being openly speculated that this line may be spun until the state poll on March 13 next year.
Yet last Wednesday, the spanner met the works when Robertson told a parliamentary committee he had given advice that further exemptions could be considered, quarantine requirements could be removed for states with no community spread and the all-or-nothing hard border was not based on medical advice.
Sweet Jesus, that was quite the revelation. But not quite enough of a revelation to make the front page of our daily litterbox filler, the West Australian.
Then on Thursday morning, Health Minister Roger Cook said Robertson was ‘not far off the mark’ when he told the parliamentary committee there was no health reason to keep the borders closed to five Australian jurisdictions.
The same day, Robertson issued a statement *eyeroll* clarifying his position. And when I say clarifying I mean he backtracked quicker than Annastasia on Adani. In fact, it was whiplash-inducing and it would’ve been comical had the consequences not been so serious: if families hadn’t been separated for months and businesses starved of eastern states custom.
Mr McGowan then tabled this exercise in acrobatics in parliament as he doubled down on the hard border. There was much flapping and theatrics as the fear–machine chugged on. This was ‘Act 2’ of his tragèdie greque which commenced at question time on Wednesday when he accused the Liberal Party opposition of wanting to tear down the border – alleging, if that happened, community spread and deaths, which occurred in NSW and Victoria, would happen here. This flurry of political desperation was politicking at its most fetid though it made for great fiction-in-motion.
It turns out the events of Thursday couldn’t be glossed over, even by The West, so they (I imagine, begrudgingly) dedicated the front page of Friday’s paper to the inconsistency in the message regarding borders.
But not satisfied to let the McGowan government cop too much of a hiding for its lies, half-truths and weapons-grade prevarication, the frontpage headline of the weekend edition of the West read: ‘Premier’s revealing COVID hard border interview: MY FEAR OF MASS DEATHS’.
I wish I was joking.
In a frantic ill-conceived attempt to save face, the furniture and to keep the WA populace as terrified as possible, the Premier said he was ‘afraid’ of coronavirus returning to WA and having ‘mass deaths’ on his conscience.
Mostly, I’m just impressed Mark McGowan thinks he has a conscience.
But substantively, it is beyond me how he can justify such gratuitously catastrophic language as if even one case of coronavirus would invariably lead to a rampant outbreak. Here was me thinking our health system had checks and testing in place to locate and contain outbreaks. Or are our government agencies ill-equipped to handle the virus despite more than 6 months to prepare?
If the Premier has no apparent faith in them, you can understand why people are worried.
And using the word ‘afraid’ really irks me. I suppose McGowan’s popularity is sustained by fear, and it’s more easily maintained by apparent mutuality. It’s the emotional dependency equivalent of ‘we are all in this together’.
The fact is, fear can either be rational or irrational. In the context of the national COVID landscape, the fear of a major unrestrained outbreak is pretty baseless. The outbreak in Victoria is a reflection on the Victorian government’s incompetence and little else. For the most part, Australia is largely COVID-free and the notion that even the odd traveller returning to WA with the virus would signal lockdowns, deaths and welding our front doors shut all seems a bit dramatic to me. Frankly, there is more chance of a traveller entering WA with the clap than the ‘rona.
Regardless whether this so-called fear is real or politically motivated, it becomes pointless musing about which objective metrics need to be met for the borders to reopen. Fear and base politics don’t dance to the tune of rationale. McGowan will reopen the border when he considers it politically expedient. In reality, his fear relates to a loss of political control, not COVID control.
And what may seem like a tried and tested approach for McGowan may ultimately blow up in his face. People are seeing the rest of the country recommence interstate travel without major adverse health consequences and they’re starting to realize they’ve been sold a pup.
I say the optics for McGowan are terrible; when you’re the leader, you don’t get to separate families and drive business into the ground just to assuage a fear. Especially in times of crisis, we need leaders to implement proportionate and effective policies based on dispassionate and measured advice. We don’t need pearl-clutching and fear-mongering. It serves no one.
This latest stunt shows Mark McGowan for the feeble and undignified bedwetter that he is.
So, Mr McGowan – if you do not have the fortitude for leadership, kindly hands the reins to someone who does.
Caroline Di Russo is a lawyer, businesswomen and unrepentant nerd.
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