COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE
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.