I watched Scott Morrison in his press conference announcing updates to COVID-19 restrictions. For the first time in my life, I almost felt sorry for him.
Customarily Morrison comes across as a smug prick, with an unwelcome smirk on his face. Most of what he says and does it couched in political terms. He’s always trying to gain an advantage, as if the prime purpose isn’t the national good, but political gain. For me – unlike many others, obviously – he’s never come across as a convincing national leader. First and foremost he’s a political operator.
That remained true until about a week ago. Then he woke up, I think. He realised he was in the middle of a catastrophe and it was his job to do something about it. He was very late to that understanding, which explains why the response to date has been slow and hesitant.
Last night there was no smirk and no sign of being smug. Instead, he appeared almost vulnerable – the most human I’ve ever seen him. He was caught up in the biggest challenge this country has faced since the wars, and he knew it. He was verbose, as he tends to be, but gone was the political cant. Still, the message was vague.
I think one of the issues we have is about the strategy we should have adopted. All the talk is about flattening the curve – a phrase that will live on in the language long after this. The right strategy to achieve this is hard to know because, essentially, there’s a conflict between economic and physical health. Right now they’re almost at odds. The best way to curtail infection and save lives is basically to shut the economy down – a lockdown. That’s a harsh cure, and one the government has been pussyfooting around. Throughout, they’ve sought to compromise between the two poles.
Personally, I think that’s misguided and probably pointless. My view again is that you have to take the firmest measures and try and stop this thing in its tracks. That’ll save lives and if it means going into lockdown then so be it. Better a sharp shock than prolonged agony, which is what we face without decisive action.
We’re now where we should have been at three weeks ago. That’s three weeks lost, as well as extra lives ultimately, and it means the pain will likely extend longer. I’m sure tougher restrictions will be required, why not jump to them now? It’s this creeping, indecisive process that dilutes the confidence of people.
One thing I know from leading projects that you must be decisive – or at least, appear to be so. I know there’s a lot of conflicting advice in this, the most extreme of pressure environments, but this is not the time to equivocate. You’re not going to get it 100% right in such extreme situations, so don’t even think that, but if you are to err, err on the side of caution. It’s only human to have doubts, but in times like this, you can’t show it. What people want are leadership and certainty. They want firm resolutions and a set strategy. They want to trust you have this is in hand, and that’s not going to happen unless you’re out in front leading the way.
I think people are ready to do the right thing. There are many crying out for it. There’s a lot at stake. Now’s the time to be strong.