Time our leaders took a long, hard look at themselves

IF THERE is one piece of advice that Australia's premiers should heed, it is this: please, take a long breath and think about the impact your attitude is having on the people you lead.

The antics we have seen in recent days are unbecoming, at best.

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan's commentary about the way New South Wales has been handling the pandemic was inflammatory and unnecessary. So too was the narky response from NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and her feisty deputy John Barilaro.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has provocatively introduced a traffic light system that locks out residents from their home state if they have visited an area suddenly deemed a "red zone".

And here in Queensland things are not faring much better, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk fuelling uncertainty and fear with her contradictory and confusing efforts over the past week.

Yesterday morning's media conference performance by the Premier was a stark case in point as she announced returned travellers quarantining at Spring Hill's Hotel Grand Chancellor would be moved to other venues because health authorities did not know how the highly-contagious UK strain of the virus was spreading among them.

These travellers will have to restart their 14-day quarantine period elsewhere while hundreds of other people who have visited the hotel will also have to self isolate. That seems fair enough, as Ms Palaszczuk said authorities were "concerned with this cluster" and the matter required national attention. But then the Premier added that there was "no need for the public to be concerned".

Huh? The Premier was terse when questioned to explain why, before one of her underlings cut short the press conference - the only opportunity yesterday for the government's actions to be explained and scrutinised. (The Premier apparently had to attend national cabinet rather than patiently inform Queenslanders about a cluster that they may or may not need to be worried about.)

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled

There has been commentary over the past few days about how merely questioning the Premier or raising concerns about the details of Brisbane's weekend lockdown is somehow tantamount to denying the virus's existence. Those peddling such coronavirus McCarthyism need to rejoin the real world.

Queenslanders have proven they will follow health directions, but they also have legitimate questions about why they have to - and what might trigger restrictions to be eased, or toughened.

There is no doubt the Premier has our best interests at heart. But she does herself no favours with her habit of adopting a paternalistic approach when challenged - taking umbrage at questions and refusing to provide proper answers. This just fuels the uncertainty we are all feeling in these uncertain times.

Some questions stemming from recent events for which no real answers have yet been provided:

1) What justification was there for mandating that people to wear a mask while driving alone?

2) How was it that gyms were told patrons must wear masks while exercising despite that being against World Health Organisation advice?

3) How is moving quarantining travellers from the Grand Chancellor to other hotels safe when authorities don't know how the virus has spread between them?

4) Why was the decision made only yesterday to quarantine the hundreds of people who had been at the Grand Chancellor since December 30 - and not last week when it was revealed a cleaner had been diagnosed with the same UK strain as a guest, but hadn't cleaned that particular person's room?

These are all entirely legitimate queries. Some of the answers are most likely entirely justifiable. But Queenslanders don't know because they haven't been provided.

Queensland is so far the global standard bearer for tackling the pandemic. But that record does not absolve this government from the responsibility of taking the people of this state into their trust.

Ms Palaszczuk and the other premiers should save the palaver for parliament and recognise they have a critical role to play through this pandemic in showing calm leadership and disseminating clear advice. Doing so would ease concerns; not inflame them.

Premiers who are not willing to explain the thinking behind rules that keep changing do nothing more than fuel the uncertain. That has real impacts on constituents.

Originally published as Editor's view: Time our leaders took a long, hard look at themselves