How good was the ‘Lucky Country’ in the crisis?

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“While Australia is at risk of the corrupting influence of political donations, the Prime Minister has been very clear that the back-to-work approach will give priority to the best health advice available,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE. 

THE United States of America is a “failed state” according to George Packer in the latest edition of “The Atlantic”. The handling of COVID-19 is not the cause, “the virus simply exploited its weaknesses”. 

Michael Moore.

But is the same true in Australia? The issues cited by Packer include: “a corrupt political class”, a “sclerotic bureaucracy”, “a heartless economy” and “a divided and distracted public”. These issues are not new. “Americans”, he argues, “learnt to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms” of a “dysfunctional government” with a leadership “too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering”.

By comparison, Australia is doing very well. Prime Minister Scott Morrison along with leaders from the states and territories have taken decisive action to head off mass ill-health, death and suffering. Political parties have, by and large, put aside their political differences and shown they are not heartless but have worked in the interests of all Australians.

Thanks to the virus “Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state. With no national plan – no coherent instructions at all”. In marked contrast, albeit after a relatively short delay, Australians were given clear instructions. Stay at home. Do not attend the rugby, do not attend church, do not gather in groups. Social distancing and closing down of “non-essential” businesses followed.

Premiers and chief ministers co-ordinated with the federal government to manage the limited supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). Governments at all levels in the US failed as they bid against each other for limited supplies of PPE. There was price gouging and those in greatest need were not given priority.

The embarrassment of Americans was highlighted by Packer who pointed out that “Russia, Taiwan, and the UN sent humanitarian aid to the world’s richest power – a beggar nation in utter chaos”.

The “corrupt political class” has for years been fuelled through ever increasing demands by donors to political parties. Donald Trump’s “back-to-work” taskforce, for example, included Micky Arison, chairman of Carnival Cruises. Its fleet includes the “Ruby Princess”. The taskforce also includes other billionaires.

While Australia is at risk of the corrupting influence of political donations, the Prime Minister has been very clear that the back-to-work approach will give priority to the best health advice available. 

In fact, the hallmark of the response of the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet has been to follow the advice of the Commonwealth’s chief medical officer and the jurisdictions’ chief health officers.

The bureaucracy in Australia has been flexible and responsive. This is also in marked contrast to the “sclerotic bureaucracy” described by Packer.

The 2008 financial crisis in the US “drove a profound wedge between Americans: between the upper and lower classes, Republicans and Democrats, metropolitan and rural people, the native-born and immigrants, ordinary Americans and their leaders”. 

In Australia there is a growing divide between the wealthy and the rest of Australians. The warning is clear. It is time to reject divisiveness such as “trickle-down policies” and to discard, on a permanent basis, inequitable policies such as the “New Start”.

Although we are in danger of divisiveness, the coronavirus seems to have largely united Australians against a common threat. This is in marked contrast to the way George Packer describes the actions of President Trump who “pitted us against one another along lines of race, sex, religion, citizenship, education, region and – every day of his presidency – political party. His main tool of governance was to lie”. 

There are also some important lessons that may be learnt from other countries. Denmark and Poland have declined to bail out companies that have been registered in off-shore tax havens. 

Although COVID-19 provides an opportunity for the international community to send a clear, unambiguous message to such companies, it is difficult to imagine that any US government would support such a move.

Reflect on the combined Australian governments’ responses to COVID-19. They may not have been perfect – but today we really are the “Lucky Country”.

 

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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