When political points trump the public’s health

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“There are questions voters need to ask themselves going into the ACT election: who will prioritise health and life? Who will provide leadership in resilience, tenacity, dynamism, agility and social consciousness?” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

FOR more than six months the public’s health has been the priority for all governments. It did not last. 

Michael Moore.

With the fracturing of the national cabinet and an opportunity to slam the Andrews Labor government in Victoria, politics has become the priority

The half year of co-operation protecting the public’s health was a pleasant surprise. Even more surprising was the actions of the conservative federal government in putting aside its mantra on ending debt and injecting massive stimulus into the economy.

The need for government intervention has been supported by big and small businesses alike. The irony is that it is largely businesses that have resisted governments interfering in any way. Until, that is, that they are the ones needing help!

Now the politics of advantage has raised its ugly head. The second wave of the epidemic in Victoria could have happened in any jurisdiction. In this epidemic, new challenges confronted health services and governments every day. The blame game is alive and well. The political advantage of blame is that it undermines confidence in the governing party. It will be interesting to see who emerges as the statesman out of the crisis of this pandemic. 

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has put the health of his community first. Compare his achievements to the federal government’s failed contact-tracing app. The CovidSafe App has simply not delivered on its promise. Had the federal government done its job effectively in this respect – the contact tracing that was necessary could have been handled electronically. The second wave in Victoria would have been less serious.

Instead of reflecting on their own failures in contact tracing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal Health Minister Greg Hunt compare the contact-tracing achievements of NSW with Victoria. It is a deliberate attack on the Andrews Labor Government. Such comparisons are simply too difficult to carry out in such a short time with so many confounding factors at play. 

Consider the fact that Victoria was overloaded with active community cases. Having the epidemiologists and trained staffers in place to deal with such high numbers proved a serious challenge. The NSW public health systems did not have the numbers to be so overwhelmed. They had increased capacity following the Ruby Princess “debacle” that seems to be forgotten with political point scoring taking priority.

Almost all Australian jurisdictions have reduced expenditure on public health over the last decades. The average expenditure was below two per cent of the health budget. Governments were warned against these cuts – but proceeded because there were no immediate consequences. No-one is blame free.

The political blame game has fuelled a feeding frenzy. No one likes lockdown. Businesses do not like being hampered. Paul Guerra, the CEO of Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, used the opportunity to attack the Andrews government’s roadmap, claiming it as “a massive blow for business and jobs” and failing “to deliver an easing of restrictions quickly”.

Fortunately, not every business puts their own interests before sickness and death. Victorian businesswoman Jen Clark went viral in social media explaining she was “incensed” by this sort of politicisation of the pandemic. She made five points in response. The first was: “No-one’s business or job is worth more than another person’s life”.

She argued, Paul Guerra “implies the business community in Victoria has no resilience, tenacity, dynamism, ability to make sacrifices, be agile, socially conscious and put aside their entitlement and disappointment for the greater good and/or ability to prioritise human life over economic profit”.

The NT government was recently returned in an election. Queensland has an election in October and WA in March – all appeal to their voters by keeping their borders closed – keeping their people safe.

Complacency regarding our own jurisdiction by observing the shenanigans in Victoria is dangerous for Canberrans. 

There are some questions that voters need to ask themselves going into the ACT election. Who will prioritise health and life? Who will provide leadership in resilience, tenacity, dynamism, agility and social consciousness?

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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