Let me begin today with a joke since they’re scarce these days …
A Canadian teacher, a Scottish pilot and a Puerta Rican lawyer walk into a bar …
They are all female. They sit 1.5 metres apart.
One asks for a drink and the other two decline her offer of a shout. Why?
Answer: the teacher is deaf, the pilot is blind, and the lawyer speaks in legalese.
Yes, there’s been a bit of pressure from my being stuck in a hotel room (and never once the bar) for a week – but I’m hoping I’ve remained sane … Hoping for personal reasons, you’d understand, but also because it’s a guinea pig situation and since everyone is now in some degree of isolation, I’d hate to think that many people were suffering mentally from the amount of uncertainty that pervades the governmental measures that are being taken to combat coronavirus.
So – here I am trying to mix a bit of humour with a serious and complex social crisis. What I would like to do, just as a test of my clarity of thinking, is to point out what I see as a series of examples of muddled thinking by a few leading political and social leaders. And to find out whether you think I’ve lost it, or there is a whole lot of confused or even contradictory thinking and talking going on out there …
1. Remember back when we were asked to get in some stores because the pandemic might last months and we might need them? It wasn’t long before we were being chastised for hoarding, being told we were ‘un-Australian’! Sure, you can go too far – and hiring a bus to take you to a country town to buy up all their scarce groceries was a disgrace. No question. Now I’m just hoping we can all find a happy medium in buying enough stocks to see us through hard times ahead.
2. Masks – first it was recommended we buy them, along with gloves and hand sanitiser, then they were sold out in supermarkets and pharmacies, and health workers were short of these essential items. And I do believe they are essential in caring for coronavirus patients. Then, within a week or two, we were being told that they weren’t useful, and even possibly dangerous if we handled them too much. Finally, despite a statement from the World Health Organisation, controversy on the subject remains.
When it comes down to it, we all have to be careful about where we put our hands: on goods, on mobiles, on other people and on our own faces. And careful about how close we come to others or allow others to come to us, and that’s certainly not close enough to breathe on strangers or even loved ones, in many cases. It takes a serious approach to social interaction, so let’s leave out the judgements about whether it’s right or wrong to wear masks and gloves. People are trying to do their best, I hope.
3. Then the issue of holding your children back from attending school arose. Yes, leave all schools open and send your children to school we were told by the Federal and NSW governments (even though there have now been deaths of children, not just adults, from coronavirus). At least the Victorian Premier took a hard-line approach and announced a clear-cut policy of closing all schools for first term, and only now is encouraging most children to learn from home once second term begins if they have online capability, and only go to school if it’s absolutely necessary.
4. Which brings me to another mixed message – childcare. Childcare centres are staying open – and will be free for most children to attend. Now, if that isn’t an incentive to send your child to childcare, I don’t know what is. Except your children are the most precious people in your lives … and how would you feel if your child became infected by playing with just one other child, or by a teacher who needed to pacify your child at any moment of the day?
5. And coronavirus testing kits – how extensively are they really being used? What percentage of the population is tested daily? And is it too much to expect that a significant number of people need to be tested? It’s reported that to date over 178,000 COVID-19 tests have been carried out in Australia and that number is ‘growing rapidly by the day’. The Federal Government says this testing rate – at approximately 557 tests per 100,000 people – is among the highest in the world. But what does that mean, ‘among the highest’? Sometimes the word ‘among’ is even dropped from the description. Germany, with a population of just under 83 million, has an impressive testing record. Their scientists were able to calculate more accurately the effects of COVID-19 when testing was rolled out extensively - that is, around a million Germans were likely to become infected, and approximately 12,000 die, based on an increase in testing to 100,000 per day, and within weeks to 200,000 a day. We’re not within coo-ee of that testing figure.
6. Further, what do the Prime Minister’s statements about paying or not paying domestic or commercial rents mean? Property owners and tenants have been in conflict for centuries and that’s why laws are in place to settle their differences. Then the Prime Minister announces that there’ll be no evictions for a month. What does that mean in action, I wonder? If someone doesn’t pay his/her rent for a month, he/she won’t be evicted during that month, but will have to pay double rent the following month? And if she/he doesn’t pay it, she/he will be evicted at some later stage? And the ‘where’ and ‘how’ of housing homeless people is yet another confusing issue regarding accommodation, since the recent increase is said to be related to people losing their jobs. Whether the governments’ statements made are off-the-cuff or representative of hours of forethought, they might seem superficially appealing but are proving meaningless.
7. We’ve had decades of a movement by employers – including government employers – towards casualisation of the workforce (along with fancy language such as ‘gig economy’, ‘freedom to choose employment options’, and ‘independent contracting’) as the security of full-time permanent jobs disappeared for so many. Now the pay claims made by ‘jobkeepers’ and ‘jobseekers’ alike are being refused by Centrelink, often because they’ve worked for a series of different employers as part-timers or casuals over the past 12 months rather than working for a single employer. And the reason that’s the case is that small business employers weren’t able to afford to offer them longer-term employment.
8. Finally, I’ve heard today that someone who has worked as a casual swimming teacher, with full-time hours, at a local council pool for a decade is not eligible for Jobkeeper payments – based on the percentage drop in profitability of that profit-centre, the Council swimming pool. When I say, ‘someone’, I mean all those employees who have been employed as casuals over the long and short term by councils and semi-government employers. Whichever government ministers are responsible for setting the guidelines – by which staff at Centrelink judge a worker eligible or ineligible for payments – should either fix the guidelines or resign.
How muddled is my thinking? How muddled is yours?
I’m very much in favour of strict social policies for a lockdown to reduce the effects of coronavirus. But what we’re witnessing every day on ‘breaking news’ is leadership gone haywire and policy on the run.
I’m wondering … if these are my views from inside my genteel hotel accommodation, will they change when I see the light of day on the outside next week?
One wayward traveller’s opportunity to emote via her daily diary ...
Copyright Christine Williams