Pandemic Humbug

Today I speak of humbug, of which we have heard a lot during the pandemic, mostly from politicians.  And by humbug I mean lofty sentiments used to explain away or avoid blame for inconsistency, unfairness and harshness. 

‘We are all Melburnians now’.  The Prime Minister has an adman’s flair for high-falutin rhetoric, and was no doubt trying to sound like JFK expressing solidarity with the walled-off people of West Berlin: ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’.   So I’m sorry to be picky, Mr PM, but in what sense are we ‘all Melbournians now’?  We Tasmanians may sympathise with our cousins across the water, but we don’t have to wear masks and we can visit one another and go to cafes and restaurants and pubs, and the kids can even dance. 

‘We are all in the same boat’.  Another rallying-cry to keep us compliant with the rules of the lockdown.  Nothing wrong with it in principle, but are we all in the same boat?  Look at Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, who were allowed to skip hotel quarantine and self-isolate in their multi-million dollar mansion after flying in with their children from America.  I’d say they were in a superyacht.  Likewise Danni Minogue, who got a similar dispensation. 

Contrast that with the plight of ABC newsreader Guy Stayner, who believed, and with some justification if you read his account of grappling with the poorly-worded online rules, that he would be allowed to drive himself home to Hobart and self-isolate after returning from a permitted visit to his children in Melbourne, but who ended up being driven, along with a full busload of potentially contagious folk, to a Devonport hotel for two weeks quarantine.  I’d say he was in a dinghy. 

And what about Rodger Powell, the national tourism business executive who got a fast-tracked exemption from quarantine to attend the launch of the Crowne Plaza Hotel?  Like the interstate tradies working on big money projects, he was deemed an ‘essential traveller’, on somewhat shaky grounds if you ask me.   But even so you have to ask why commercial imperatives are more deserving of consideration than compassionate ones:  people who want to visit ageing parents or attend family funerals are being turned down. 

‘We are all in this together’. A variant of being in the same boat, and just as questionable.  There are boarding school kids stuck in Queensland because their families in NSW can’t afford to pay for two weeks’ hotel quarantine.  There are FIFO workers in WA who haven’t seen their families for months for the same reason.  Teachers in Victorian border towns with no coronavirus cases haven’t been able to cross into South Australia to take their classes.  And yet a huge entourage of AFL players, WAGS, children, officials and Eddie McGuire is welcomed into sunny Queensland with open arms.  Oh yes, they have to quarantine, but it’s not in scuzzy hotels like those Victorian ones, and I bet the AFL is picking up the tab.    

It seems, to paraphrase George Orwell, that when it comes to all being in it together, some are more in it than others. 

Another one that infuriates me is ‘I understand that people are unhappy about the inconvenience BUT..’  I doubt if such glib ‘understanding’ would be enough to console, say, the woman who wasn’t allowed to drive just over the border into Queensland for urgent surgery and whose unborn child may have died in her womb because she had to fly to Sydney instead.

That was a tragic case.  Some are almost funny in a bumbling bureaucrat sort of way.  The Victorian farmer who was told that in order to feed sheep on his property just over the border in NSW he would have to first drive his 43 tons of hay to Melbourne and then fly it to Sydney and stash it somewhere for 14 days while he sat out hotel quarantine at his own expense before driving it to his farm hundreds of kilometres away.  He did actually manage a chuckle about that one. 

Then there’s the ever-popular ‘I make no apology for…’   It’s a good way for state Premiers to avoid answering tough questions by claiming the high moral ground.  Say you’re trying to justify not letting people play golf, or fish on the Victorian side of the Murray River.  You just define such draconian silliness as ‘ensuring the safety of Victorians/Queenslanders/South Australians’ or whatever, and make no apology for it.  Premier Gutwein used to drive me crazy by trotting it out at every press conference, but thankfully for us he has less to not apologise for as time goes by. 

The big state bureaucracies were acting with necessary haste to protect public health on a vast scale, and there were always going to be anomalies which can’t be tweaked in a hurry, but when blatant unfairness and irrationality do pop up, sometimes an apology is just what is called for, or an explanation, and a promise to do better next time.  

This was published in The New Norfolk News on 4/9/20