One thing is clear in mixed messages: Our leaders are at war

Local politicians are sitting in their offices at the moment phoning people in their electorate aged over 75 just to check in.

Their regular diaries of community appearances and political meetings suddenly clear, these MPs are taking the time to phone their constituents to make sure they have the groceries they need, to make sure they understand the risk they might face from coronavirus, and to check on their spirits generally.

Labor MPs Jihad Dib and Chris Minns told me yesterday how they and their office staff had reached out to thousands of people between them.

Unsurprisingly, people are beyond grateful for the phone call.

But this was a small bright light in a week when the political leadership in this state was otherwise nothing short of woeful.

 

Gladys Berejiklian and Scott Morrison face off over coronavirus. Picture: Terry Pontikos
Gladys Berejiklian and Scott Morrison face off over coronavirus. Picture: Terry Pontikos

 

It seems an age ago that Gladys Berejiklian was being praised for her role in the bushfire crisis, with her attention to detail and steady-as-she-goes leadership as the state burned.

While the reviews were largely glowing, they also pointed to a growing fissure in relations between the NSW Coalition and Berejiklian's federal counterparts that has only been made worse by the present double-barrelled health and economic crisis.

And this time around, the Premier has not come off as well.

Where we needed clear information and direction on school closures, the state's citizens were offered confusing messages.

Where we needed clear information and direction on when a shutdown of non-essential services might occur and what it would entail, people were again left guessing - leading to another round of panic-buying that not only hit the tinned goods aisles, but the bottle shops as well.

And where we needed our authorities to take serious quarantine measure on the Ruby Princess ship rife with the disease, we were dramatically and dangerously failed.

 

Passengers disembarking from the Ruby Princess. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP
Passengers disembarking from the Ruby Princess. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP

Key to all three of these let-downs is the sour relationship between the NSW and federal governments.

To the man or woman on the street, this is appalling.

When thousands of people are losing jobs, and thousands more worried about whether their lungs can handle this virus, intergovernmental fighting and one-upmanship is pathetic

Having been hurt by the bushfires, the relationship between Gladys Berejiklian and Scott Morrison is now terribly - if not mortally - wounded. And this flows through to several of the ministerial relationships between government.

The genesis of this NSW-Canberra war stems back to our bushfire crisis of the summer.

In January, Berejiklian and her inner sanctum were seething when they thought Morrison was briefing journalists about their mistakes in the management of the fire crisis.

And Morrison was furious when Transport Minister Andrew Constance went on live TV saying the PM "got the welcome he deserved" when he was run out of Cobargo.

 

The relationship between the two leaders has been badly damaged. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP
The relationship between the two leaders has been badly damaged. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP

The relationship between NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is also decayed and underpinned by a complete lack of trust over funding complaints and now the Ruby Princess disaster.

All of these tensions were heightened this week, when Berejiklian stepped out ahead of a federal Cabinet meeting to declare she wanted to go further on the shutdown of emergency services and told key colleagues she was also going to go harder on school closures.

But Berejiklian explained none of this clearly or properly to the people of NSW, instead issuing a confusing statement that invited them to draw their own conclusions.

Draw your own conclusion? In a mass public crisis?

She came off as out of her depth.

Berejiklian was encouraged by her inner sanctum including Dominic Perrottet and Matt Kean to take stricter measures in NSW and to move faster.

 

 

With NSW well ahead of the rest of the country in the spread of this virus, it was not this decision to go harder that was the problem.

It was the communication of her plans - and that became muddled because of the tension behind the scenes with Morrison.

In the end, Berejiklian looked weak and confused when her intention was to show strength.

But nothing has been more unedifying than the absurd blame game of who let passengers gripped by an outbreak of coronavirus off the Ruby Princess and into the community.

This is a debacle that will haunt Australia throughout the crisis as the number of deaths and infections grows.

But federal and state politicians spent too many days pointing the finger at each other instead of finally declaring - almost a week later - that they needed stricter border control measures and no one should get off a boat until that's sorted.

This should have been the starting point, not the end point.

We must keep a laser-sharp focus on what matters in this crisis and what does not.

Ventilators matter. ICU beds matter. Health workers matter. Stopping the spread. Losing your job. Feeding your family. Keeping your head above water. These things matter.

What doesn't matter? Petty political pointscoring.

Being the first to make a move matters for nought if you can't communicate your plans to the people.

NSW is willing to go it alone on the next layer of shutdowns - which could be imminent - and this time the government must learn the lessons of this week.

There is no time for blame games or one-upmanship.

All that matters is making the right decisions and then communicating them to the people.

Originally published as One thing is clear in mixed messages: Our leaders are at war



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