Do what I do: a lesson for the government, police




Last updated 28 March 2020, 9.03am. Added ‘not’ to last sentence. Thanks to the reader who notified me!

“I think the key thing here is for all the people in the public arena, don’t do what I say, do what I do.”


The comment was from Professor Ian Hickie, a leading expert in public health and co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney.


He was commenting on the quality of public messaging in Australia in this very worrying time of the COVID-19 pandemic.


He had other examples in mind of departures from this principle. The Territory Government in the last 24 hours has offered a textbook case.


While locking down travel to remote communities – scrambling yesterday to get residents back before the deadline, urging them to do their best to help stop the spread of this virus – they allowed, or neglected to prevent, a police officer returning from overseas travel – known to be a high risk factor – to take himself to Atitjere / Harts Range, the remote community where he normally resides, to self-isolate.


When his COVID-19 test and that of his spouse returned positive results, the government sat on this information – where they had been self-isolating – for the best part of 24 hours. (The Central Australian case was publicly confirmed at around 8.30pm last night.)


As the Chief Minister finally got ready to reveal the truth this afternoon, speaking ahead of Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker, he claimed that the NT’s “strong domestic border controls are working well to protect Territorians”.


Let’s just remember the main reason why the NT moved relatively quickly to close its borders: it was in particular to protect remote communities.


Mr Gunner went on to thank “Police Commissioner Chalker and his team for the extraordinary work they are doing, 24/7 on our borders” and assured listeners that the quarantine requirement was being enforced.


“Every day, the Police and other authorised officers have been undertaking spot-checks of people in quarantine – to make sure there is compliance.


“The community wants to know that people are playing by our rules.”


Yet at the very same time, a police officer, at high risk of being infected by the virus, had taken himself into a remote community.


He may well have quarantined himself there and been very careful. But it should have been obvious to him and everyone who was aware of his movements that it was the wrong thing to do.


Beyond the distress to the Atitjere / Harts Range community now, significant damage has been done to the credibility of the government’s messaging and the community’s readiness to trust its ability – and the ability of the police – to play by the very rules Mr Gunner spoke of.


They have been caught out doing what they have been telling everyone else NOT to do.



  1. Sounds like police and many citizens are being sensible, taking and using advice from health department, cleanliness, self isolating, that’s good.
    The problem we all have is that not all people are being responsible or have been infected and don’t know.
    The supermarket is a super hotspot for potential infections! Think about it people!
    We all share Coles and Woolworths in Alice.
    Can someone please ask them to reinstate home delivery, turn the tables, have in store sales for only elderly, disabled or vulnerable people, with ID required for purchase restricted sales.
    The supermarket already has this technology – it’s in the bottle shop!

  2. That the officer in question did what he did speaks to a degree of selfish irresponsibility that has to call into question his right to bear arms in public, to detain and arrest.
    I hope he survives the virus, and I hope those he infected, if any, do also.
    And then I hope he is dismissed from the NT Police.

  3. Hal, that is a particularly harsh assessment.
    The clear advice from the Police Commissioner is that the officer and his wife fully complied with the protocol as it was at that time.
    Whether the protocol was correct is a different question.

  4. Hal Duell, I am with you on this: Coming from Europe this couple should have gone to community health services at Yulara to take advice or quarantine themselves.
    Any locals will know than you cannot go from Yulara airport to Harts Range without refuelling and having a break along the way.

  5. Although this couple may have not broken the law they certainly ran the gauntlet and as a police officer he should have known better. But the police are special and can behave differently to the average citizens because they are allowed to. Many exhibit an air of arrogance. Case in point, watch the RBT police show or Highway Cops. Having said that I would probably act with the same arrogance after dealing with a lot of morons.
    I note there is no mention of the others on the flight.
    At the end of the day the guy made a huge error in judgment and hopefully has not infected others.

  6. I am having trouble imagining the conversation at quarantine when these people arrived in Australia. Perhaps it went something like this:
    “G’Day, where have you come from?”
    “Austria eh, that would be just across the road from Northern Italy, the Coronavirus hotspot of the known universe at the moment.”
    “Ah, feeling a bit poorly are you, well you know the drill, pop off home and isolate yourselves for 14 days.”
    “And where’s home? A remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia?”
    “Oh good, that will be nice and isolated won’t it? Ha ha ha.”
    “Off you go then.”
    Or perhaps the Government would like to tell us what the procedure really was?

  7. Does Kieran Finnane know where the Harts Range Police Station is?
    Out of interest it isn’t actually in the Atitjere / Harts Range Community.
    It is around 5kms from the community and completely self contained, ie police station and associated housing all in one isolated location.
    If they self isolated in their house at the police station than why are you saying they “have taken themselves to a remote community”.

  8. @ Dave: You make a very good point. The initial cover-up by WHO and China and then the constantly changing incoming information on the Wuhan Virus has caught everyone on the hop and is still creating controversy around the world.
    This uncertainty has had a major impact on correct protocol, country to to country.
    Who can really say, even now, what is the right protocol for any individual country? Take Taiwan, for example.
    With a population very close to ours, they have minimal cases of illness – fewer than 300 currently. Their protocols allow their people to go about their normal business in shopping malls markets etc. with marvellous results.
    Then there is Italy. A disaster zone. No doubt a victim of geography and EU open border policy.
    Then there is Central Australia. In remote communities such as Atitjere. Among the world’s oldest community with all of our cultural health issues.
    The right “protocol” is still very much a lottery stab by well intentioned authorities.

  9. @ Devil’s Advocate: Ms Finnane was at Atitjere / Harts Range on December 4, 2019. She drove past the police station. The direct line distance between the community and the police station is 1.5 kms.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  10. @ John Bell, Posted March 28, 2020 at 8:47pm: Bit of a cheap shot, that “Wuhan Virus”.
    It could just as easily be called the Fort Detrick Virus.
    Maybe we should all just stick with COVID-19 until we know more.


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