• Jason Regan

Erosion of Trust Costs Lives In COVID Times

The Victorian Government is currently fighting a battle it can not win. To be honest, the COVID-19 battle is already lost in Victoria. The second wave has struck. It has struck with such force that the magnitude of the human toll will not be known for many years. There is a judicial enquiry being undertaken into what went wrong. Just how compromised the quarantine process for returned international travellers in Melbourne was will be revealed in time. But the current COVID-19 situation, and the public response it, is more complicated than the nature of the initial break out.

The numbers of the Victorian second wave are hard to comprehend. Since the Victorian Government locked down Melbourne and Mitchell Shire on July 8 there have been 5102 positive COVID-19 tests returned (Wednesday, July 8 to Saturday, July 25th). Over 4,000 of these cases are still active. 71 people have died in Victoria since March and more are dying daily. Stage 3 restrictions will remain in place until at least August 19. However, only optimists believe stage three restrictions will be lifted on August 19, with a record number of positive cases announced on Monday.

Dan Andrews moved to strengthen restrictions further by legislating for the mandatory wearing of masks when outdoors, or when social distancing can not be properly maintained. Recently we have seen footage emerge of several Victorians demeaning police attempting to enforce these new restrictions. This footage has outraged most of the general populous and even the Premier himself. Mr Andrews described those who refuse to wear masks as directed as “selfish”. He may well be correct in this assertion. However, my philosophical side can only ask the obvious question. Why is it, that with the obvious health and economic destruction caused by COVID-19, people are still not obeying the directives to stay home where possible and wear masks when directed?

To answer this question effectively, we need to examine the current political landscape. The next big scandal is never far away in politics. However, in 2020 we have already seen several high-profile scandals and sagas that have captured the nation’s attention. Internationally, Donald Trump’s US Presidency, the continued rise of China and the situation in Hong Kong, the Black Lives Matter movement and the response of the world to the COVID-19 pandemic have all been followed closely in Australia. These issues have spilt the opinions of media commentators and high-profile influences across the globe. These opinions have filtered through to Australia and split the public sentiment, in many cases along political party lines.

At home, the scandals and sagas have kept coming. Mega bushfires, sports rorts, Victorian branch stacking, COVID-19 border closures, Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with China, the Murray Darling Basin Plan and, most recently the accommodation allowances situation in South Australia. They have all garnered significant public interest and rightly so. And then there is the COVID-19 response in Australia which has again divided the nation.

I think its fair to say most Australians have been doing their best to follow government guidelines. Regardless of how inconsistent and hypocritical they have been thus far, and despite their political allegiances. For the current Liberal PM Scott Morrison to gain praise from rusted-on Labor supporters tells you how united most of us have been through this crisis. Likewise, in Victoria when the most conservative of business groups quietly concur with the second lockdown of Metropolitan Melbourne and continue to support the Andrews Government’s response it speaks volumes. This issue is bigger than politics.

The contradictory nature of the COVID-19 restrictions so far has not been enough to derail this support. It seems hardly believable that just 10 people can attend a funeral at the same time hundreds of people are able to wander a supermarket. These are the rules and regulations that we are being asked to follow, and most Australians are doing so without question. But the level of trust placed of the nations decision-makers to guide us through the pandemic has its limits. People are not sheep. They will only follow blindly for so long and now the questions are coming. Many of which are not being answered. It is the unanswered questions that are gradually eroding the public trust. In governments and their leaders, in decision-makers, and in each other.

Federal and State governments have been quick to point out that they are making their decisions based on the medical advice given to them by the Chief Medical officers. This has played a major role in keeping the public on track. The public can swallow taking directives from health experts over political leader they simply do not trust. There is no question that having these health leaders facing the cameras on a regular basis has been a smart move.

At least, until now.

With politicians regaining centre stage again we are reminded just how little faith the public has in them. Daniel Andrews has taken a prominent public role during the second wave response in Victoria. It is true that his public support figures are high, but they are also falling rapidly. All of this leads us to a dangerous place. Call it the perfect political storm. Our decision-makers are falling prey to their own shortcomings. Australians do not trust most politicians one iota. This distrust is amplified on traditional and social media. Worst of all, politicians have brought this level of distrust on themselves. Whether its branch stacking, sports rorts or accommodation allowances, the scandals are taking their toll and the public trust issues have reached close to breaking point.

Conspiracy theories need two main elements to rise to prominence. Just as a fire needs oxygen and fuel to burn, conspiracy theories need mistrust and confusion. The mistrust in the nation's politicians is understandable given the series of scandals and public sagas previously outlined. The confusion comes in the form of contradictory restrictions that are hard to fathom. Opportunist conspiracy theorists have seized upon both. Now we see people approaching police and shop assistants begging for a confrontation. They approach with cameras in hand, looking to make a point and have others back their lunacy. But who is really to blame? Is it the lunatics or those who are supposed to be running the asylum?

They only way forward now is for State and Federal Governments to be as transparent as possible. They must work hard on rebuilding public trust. They must work across party lines to keep people safe and rebuild our economy. There can not be any more scandals. Any future rorting uncovered must be immediately investigated and those responsible moved to the backbenches. Now is the time for all politicians to be diligent, the smallest detail matters. Improving public trust in our decision-makers in Canberra and the states can and will help save lives. Any further erosion in that trust will see more “Karen’s” emerge with more conspiracy theories and more lives prematurely lost as a result.

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