OPINION: Why is the Prime Minister scolding Australians as our lives fall apart?

In homes all over the world – big and small – that make up towns and suburbs and cities and countries, people are dealing with the unthinkable fallout of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Jobs lost. Schools closed. A sickness spreading at a rapid rate, up against overwhelmed medical facilities. People are scared and isolated and confused. We don’t know what the future looks like six, 12, 18 months from now.

Perhaps the one factor that makes the entire scenario less terrifying is that we feel united. As a global community, we’re all on the same side. None of us want this to spread.

Whether you’re in the UK or India or South Africa or South Korea right now, you’re fighting the same battle. Everything else is on pause. Life as you know it has stopped, and you’re seeing, perhaps for the first time, that when it comes down to it, human health trumps everything else.

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Our daily lives now look strikingly similar, no matter where you live. We all anxiously await regular instructions from our governments about how we’re going to control this virus – the virus that isn’t anyone’s fault, but has to be fought almost everywhere on earth.

But in Canberra on Sunday night, our leadership did something bizarre.

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, addressed the media, delivering new restrictions that will leave hundreds of thousands of people unemployed, they seemed to suggest it was our own actions that led us here.

“When we all do not do the right thing, then it has real implications for others,” Morrison said.

Closing pubs, clubs, gyms, indoor sporting venues, entertainment venues, cinemas, and casinos, and restricting cafes and restaurants to take away service, had to happen because “we don’t… have any confidence that people would refrain from gathering in those ways,” Morrison said. “We have no confidence that that will be followed.”


He continued to warn Australians that if the ‘stage one’ measures are not followed, harsher restrictions may need to be put in place. “As we’ve just made very clear, that when that doesn’t occur, then more dramatic measures have to be introduced,” Morrison said. “I would simply ask Australians to be calm and exercise some sensible judgement.”

Professor Murphy then echoed that “some people haven’t got it” when it comes to how our lives have to change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m particularly talking to young people who may think they’re immune to the effects of this virus,” he said.

“It’s true, most young people don’t get significant disease. But as a young person, you don’t want to be responsible for the severe and possibly fatal disease of an elder, vulnerable Australian.

“We have to stop the rapid spread of this virus. There has been a very significant increase in cases over the last few days.”

Professor Murphy specifically made mention of a wedding in NSW where 37 attendees have now been diagnosed with COVID-19. The wedding took place on March 6 – before ‘social distancing’ guidelines were introduced that would have advised against the event going ahead.

The tone was one of exasperation. Disappointment. Australia, you refused to listen, and until you behave, your lives will incrementally become more and more restricted.

But Australians have been listening. To messages that are both rapidly changing and conflicting.

Just over one week ago, Scott Morrison was sharing official advice to avoid gatherings of more than 500 people, while also acknowledging he would be watching the Cronulla Sharks play the following night, at a stadium that fits over 80,000 people.

Just two weeks ago, our Chief Medical Officer was shaking hands on national television, declaring handshakes “low risk”. That very same day, our Prime Minister would announce that handshakes were no longer acceptable, according to the very best medical information in the world.

While Australians anxiously heard stories from overseas about lockdowns and civilians having their doors bolted shut, we watched as family and friends returned from international travel with no checks whatsoever. No advice to self-quarantine, no temperature checks, no questions about symptoms. Overnight, international arrivals went from being treated like they always had, to being instructed to go into automatic self-isolation for 14 days.


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From the government’s late advertising campaign to advice that has no practical way of being implemented, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia has been confusing, contradictory and slow.

But when it comes time to take precautions that, if we look around the world, were entirely inevitable, our leaders blame the very people whose lives are being brutally affected.

And it seems to be a national and state government strategy.

On Monday morning, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said: “There are many Victorians who are acting selfishly. They are not taking this seriously. They are doing the wrong thing. It is easy to do the right thing … If you act selfishly, people will die.”

We are a country of 24 million people. If pubs are open, people will go to the pub. If Bondi Beach is open, people will go to the beach. And if cinemas and gyms aren’t okay, while hairdressers and nail salons and shopping centres are, and we’re told to keep a distance of four by four metres, except in schools, and except if you’re getting a takeaway coffee – people will be confused.

What we need right now is reassurance, empathy and decisiveness.

Not a brutal campaign of blaming Australians as the lives they’ve built for themselves crumble beneath them.

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.

Read more on COVID-19

  • Too many spokespeople and contradictions: Australia’s COVID-19 PR problem needs to be fixed.

The Australian Government Department of Health advises that the only people who will be tested for COVID-19 are those with symptoms who have either returned from overseas in the past 14 days or been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the past 14 days. 

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. 

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature Image: Getty.