Scott Morrison called an emergency press conference last night to lecture us on personal responsibility. Unfortunately, he told us, due to some people going to the beach, he would have to close pubs.
Close pubs? What about closing schools, as medical experts demand? What about massively expanding the health care system’s supplies before it’s too late? What about acting now to ensure that those who end up confined to their homes get the essentials they need to survive? We got none of this. Only an explanation that we’ll probably be to blame for the disaster that will soon unfold.
Remember when the official advice was to avoid non-essential gatherings of more than 500, but Scott Morrison insisted that he would go to watch the Cronulla Sharks play? That was a week ago. Morrison spent those crucial days doing nothing to prepare the health system. All he did was show off his willingness to disregard medical advice during a pandemic. It was effectively a second Hawai’ian holiday. He abandoned his plans to attend the game only after a public outcry.
Now, he has the nerve to lecture people about personal responsibility. “We don’t now have any confidence that people would refrain from gathering in those ways”, he complained. “We have no confidence that that will be followed.”
It got worse. At his press conference, there was no explanation of how the health system was being expanded to cope with the coming disaster. There was nothing to address the fear people have of being evicted or locked in their house with no food or necessities.
There would be, Morrison insisted, no school closures at the national level – and, of course, there was no coherent explanation for why there wouldn’t be. It’s already too late, and yet almost nothing is changing. At this point, closing restaurants is trivial.
Instead, we just got a stern lecture about how disappointing it was that we had disregarded the advice to socially distance. We’ve all let Scott down – when he’s been working so hard for us.
What’s he been doing? Since January, as little as possible as late as possible. As Bill Bowtell, a disease researcher at University of New South Wales, told the Saturday Paper:
“They were warned 12 weeks ago ... They did not accumulate test kits. They did not accumulate the necessary emergency equipment. They did not undertake a public education campaign. They gave no money to science, no money to research, no money to the International Vaccine Institute, no money to WHO. They diligently did not do anything useful.”
Now Morrison has no confidence that we will follow his advice?
Working-class people have been desperately trying to stock up on necessities, to prepare for self-isolation in accordance with government advice – in fact, they’ve been lectured for that, too.
But who can be confident that the government is following the necessary advice? Thousands of medical professionals have signed an open letter demanding the closure of schools. The government is ignoring it.
Morrison has not just ignored reality. He has denied and obfuscated as much as he can – often with the assistance of his quisling Chief Medical Officer.
There is no acceptable explanation for the government’s current policy to shut “the principal places of social gathering” while leaving schools open. When will the government follow our advice to embark on a massive program of expanding medical facilities before it’s too late? To deepen the shutdowns while guaranteeing a decent standard of living for those affected by them?
Instead, the government is burying its head in the sand, trying to let business as usual roll on until the virus blankets our cities like a wave of smoke. Morrison should hang his head in shame: he has done nothing to prepare for what’s coming. Instead, he is lecturing us.
It’s not just Morrison. Yesterday, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced that he’d shut all non-essential business. For a moment, it seemed like Victoria was moving more decisively, perhaps to pressure Morrison. This morning, Andrews backtracked completely to bring his policy into line with Morrison’s dithering.
Andrews complained that shutting down restaurants and pubs – and finally shutting down Crown Casino – was “painful”. But it’s nothing compared to the pain we are going to suffer from his government, like Morrison’s, taking half-steps, too late, every time.
And as he backtracked, Andrews also took on Morrison’s lecturing tone. The more they do nothing, the more they try to blame us. The more obviously politicians refuse to act in the face of a coming crisis, the more they argue that we are the ones to blame.
“There are many Victorians who are acting selfishly. They are not taking this seriously. They are doing the wrong thing. It is easy to do the right thing ... If you act selfishly, people will die”, said Daniel Andrews – the man who refused to cancel the Grand Prix, and who only today is shutting Crown Casino.
Of course these businesses should be closed. They should have been closed long, long ago. And so should many more. But politicians have been denying and delaying as long as they could, and they continue to do so.
Of course, closing non-essential business will require substantially reorganising the economy to make sure people remain fed and housed. And any serious acknowledgment of the disaster about to strike the health system would mean also acknowledging the years of underfunding and privatisation that have left it so under strain even without a pandemic. It would mean admitting that the system as it stands is inadequate and requires a massive infusion of funds to expand its testing capacity, its safety equipment, its intensive care apparatus.
Spain is now converting thousands of hotel rooms into hospital beds. In both Spain and Britain, the state is requisitioning resources, including beds and ventilators as well as the labour of doctors and nurses, from the private health care system. In Germany, France and Spain, soldiers are building temporary medical facilities. When will that happen here? The way things are going, only once it’s already too late.
We all know they needed to close the schools, to shut the casinos, to cancel the Grand Prix and the sporting events weeks ago. They refused to consider it and denied the truth. These animals then have the gall to lecture us about how we are failing to follow medical advice.
If working-class people – nurses and teachers, for example – were in charge of this society, you can bet we’d be in a much better situation than we are now. So let’s not accept dressing-downs from politicians. They’re the ones who are driving us to a catastrophe.