In a crisis, politicians feel they must be seen to be doing something, so assert extraordinary powers over us that curtail freedoms, life and business. Under the unknown of COVID-19 this has certainly happened. Maintaining the fear is a large part of it, though President Trump has been pilloried for trying publicly to allay panic, while actively pursuing solutions at “warp speed” throughout the country. Bureaucrats, comfortable with their secure jobs, assured salaries, salary increases and bonuses, are given the job of administering the new laws.
In Policy 101, one learns that the hardest part of policy, no matter how well intentioned, is implementation. New regulations are inevitably reinterpreted at the coal face. And over this COVID crisis haven’t we seen some doozy interpretation of the dictatorial constraints on freedom of movement, speech and borders.
Authoritarian over reach
To a person we’ve been appalled by Victorian police breaking down the door and handcuffing a young pregnant woman in her pyjamas for daring to post on Facebook an invitation to attend a peaceful, safe protest in a park in the Victorian country town of Ballarat. No cases of the virus were present there, although lockdown still pertained. Zoe Buhler now faces half a dozen charges and enormous legal expenses.
The same Victorian police were nowhere to be found when gangs of Sudanese youth ran riot through suburban streets, terrorising residents and destroying property. Go figure.
Then there are the ridiculous constraints on the Canberra resident wanting to visit her dying father and attend his funeral. Why would it take 20 days to respond to an application, when there are so many public servants (the Premier has added an extra 35,000 of them in Queensland, now over 230,000) who must have a bit of slack time between them to be able to turn around an application within 24 hours, in keeping with good business practice. The woman’s father died before she was able to cross the border. The grand concession from Queensland bureaucracy was to allow her an hour with her father’s body after the funeral. Shameful!
Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, comes a story of a farmer’s indomitable good humoured spirit. The bloke farms sheep or cattle 25 miles the other side of the border and needed to feed them. When he dutifully approached bureaucrats for permission as an essential industry to cart 25 tons of feed hay to the farm to feed his animals, it was suggested he drive the hay to Sydney and fly it to Melbourne then drive it to the farm. He was shaking his head in disbelief. Imagine the cost and stupidity of undertaking such an exercise. Animals and the farmer can go heave!
There’s no question that extraordinary authority invested in the immature brings out the dictator. Even while waiting patiently in the queue for service at the Newsagent, I was chastised for being too close to the person behind me. Whatever!
In an ever increasing crescendo, the escalation of fear has brought with it an escalation of rules, which further increases fear, bringing out the dictator within. Yet were we to look to the facts, common sense would allay our fears. This advice follows recommendations for the Maturity Model in my book Becoming – to seek truth on which to make decisions to remain confident, rather than fearful.
Managing COVID Fear
Earlier in 2020 when we were just beginning to understand the threat of the China virus, a high level of concern was raised due to a lack of understanding of the nature of virus, how contagious the spread and who was most affected. Frantic footage of ICU in hospitals in Italy being overrun and the lonely deaths and funerals stirred everyone’s emotions, imagination and fear of the unknown.
We now know that COVID-19 spreads by contact, leading to the rules we know by heart: safe coughing, wearing a mask, hand santisation, keeping 1.5m distance and isolation for 14 days if in contact with a person infected or returning from an infected area.
Despite further knowledge that the majority of those severely affected by the virus are people older than 70 with co-morbidities, orchestration of anxiety has continued by governments and the media, with a focus on new cases and deaths, rather than numbers who have recovered. Deaths from COVID have been exaggerated by counting those who died with, rather than from the virus.
Businesses and schools have been closed or employees and students required to work from home. Borders have been closed and ever more rigid rules have been put in place with ever greater threats of penalties that would do the STASI proud, despite knowledge that very few will die from the virus.
Whereas the federal government has come to the aid with JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments to keep workers engaged with businesses and families with income supports, State governments have taken to heart the power to control people with threats and penalties. Original intention to “flatten the curve” to prevent ICU units being overrun morphed into “suppression” then “elimination”, without revisiting information about the virus, reworking the computer modelling and inputs (rubbish in = rubbish out), or going back to the people for consent. The virus has become political.
The facts are:
- The number of people who died from the virus is fewer than those who would have died from the flu
- The effect on most people younger than 70 without co-morbidities is mild
- Children seem to have high immunity, seemingly due to their high level of T-cells
- Treatment with existing remedies has proven effective in curing the disease and saving lives. Rejecting this because Trump suggested is not a good enough excuse to continue killing people.
- Vaccines are being developed rapidly around the world.
No need to lock everybody up at great expense and social disruption. Most oldies are grateful for the length of life they have enjoyed and may already have restricted social contact.
Fully realising the facts, we should be able to get back to life as usual, having captured fear rather than being ruled by it. All that will be left is to pay for the disruption. Now that’s scary!
Managing Climate Fear
Though the immediate health crisis has captured our attention, the end of the world from climate catastrophe promised in 10, 20, 30 or 100 years by the various pundits has not entirely faded into the background. Occasionally little gems arise that give us hope over climate terror that has school children weeping in the streets.
Australia has been bullied by domestic and international conservation agencies about our alleged poor management of the Great Barrier Reef, causing $millions to be spent of research to prove just how bad. As a result research funding has skewed research findings. Those who challenge the veracity of outcomes have been severely castigated for daring to disrupt the populist political story that feeds the research gravy train. Professors Bob Carter and Peter Ridd suffered greatly: Carter died and Ridd was sacked by James Cook University.
Recently Professor Peter Ridd highlighted a study that showed a mere 3% of the Great Barrier Reef was affected by agricultural runoff, and that was only on shore side of the reef. Findings like this are heartening to the farmers who have bent over backwards to employ best environmental practice while being severely pilloried by the Greens, Labor, conservationists and international experts hoping to run them out of business and us out of food.
Destruction of the GBR was another reason for trying to stop development of the ADANI coal mine and half a dozen other mines mooted for the huge coal reserves in the Galilee and Carmichael basins.
Fear of destruction of the GBR demonising the two activities that keep this country prosperous (farming and mining) has been turned around on facts that have not changed, but have selectively been ignored – facts based on distance and geography.
The facts are:
- GBR is 50-100km from the coastline, hence the limited effect of agricultural runoff
- GBR is not one, but a series of reefs often kilometres wide.
- GBR is 2,400km in longitude, crossing a wide range of temperature zones
- ADANI and other coal mines from the basins are a further 400-500km inland
As with COVID, destruction of the reef has been politicised to engender fear and guilt, to attract attention and money and to destroy coal mining.
We need to seek out the facts to stay in charge of our lives, livelihoods and our money. Don’t be afraid.
Franklin D Roosevelt’s memorable message during the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, is well remembered and applies today. His message ended with the reassurance – “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needs efforts to convert retreat into advance”. Let’s go forward boldly.