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When our leaders keep failing us perhaps it's time to let the genuine experts run things

Opinion

The heartbreak caused by the pandemic will stay with us for a long time but the federal and state governments have shown scant ability to lead our way out of it. Is it time for the politicians to step aside, asks Madonna King.

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In 30 years of journalism, I’ve seen enough heartbreak to fill a library.

The torment on a mother’s face as she’s been told her child is dead. Distraught police officers arriving early at the scene of a murder. The fear of a woman escaping violence. The contempt on the face of a pedophile.

Ecstasy hauls. Queensland corruption and the Port Arthur massacre. Race riots and bomb attacks. Bushfires, floods and droughts that last for years. Soldiers who leave for us, and never return to us.

Sometimes that heartbreak is worn as a cross by a few. Sometimes it envelops whole communities. And other events – like 9/11 or the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – provides a storm of grief that binds countries around the globe.

But never before have I witnessed the fields of heartbreak and torment and misery being administered now by a pandemic we never saw, and governments incapable of responding to it.

Covid-19 has been an unwelcome visitor now, for almost two years. And yet we’re at the stage where our leaders can’t work together, plan together, or produce any plan that provides a scintilla of hope to the people they serve.

This week has been a new low in national, and state leadership. Sick people lining up for up to nine hours to take a test the government demands they take – but which doesn’t change the outcome or the treatment plan.

Hospitals and aged care homes and businesses stretched like frayed elastic, with plans built more on hope than anything else.

We’ve seen startling increases in Covid-19 cases, but an inability to buy a basic test from a local supermarket. Meanwhile approvals for some of those home-grown tests are siting in an in-tray, somewhere in Canberra.

And this government wants to be re-elected?

But it’s not just Scott Morrison. It’s Anthony Albanese too. And in Queensland, the shabby communication and inability to see beyond next week is highlighted by the Palaszczuk Government too.

How can so many tests be bungled, and those trying to find their results be met with disconnected numbers. How can testing centres be closed, as the borders open?

How is it that that testing centres are so overworked they need to close an hour after opening? How can three in four tests in an indigenous community now be testing positive? And what is the plan for our hospitals and aged care homes and schools?

Both Scott Morrison and Annastacia Palaszczuk have had two years to create a strategy here. And the response in Queensland this week – that it’s hard to staff testing centres because it means taking employees away from hospitals – is proof of ill-planning, more than anything else.

Is it time, genuinely, given the extraordinary circumstances, to create civic Cabinets, led by the premier and chief health officer or prime minister (federally) but involving real experts across logistics, strategy, education, business, mental health, data, local government and indigenous communities?

Our local mayors are experts on the ground, but many of their ideas are being ignored. Our school principals understand the impact of this on the mental health of our children – but don’t have a single seat at the table. Our governments pay through the nose for consultants to run inquiries and plan billion dollar projects – but don’t value their advice now, when we need them most.

We need more experts like chief health officer Dr John Gerrard, whose authenticity and willingness to take us into his confidence and tell us he doesn’t know everything, is simply refreshing. And he needs to be supported by those peer experts from other disciplines.

The impact of this pandemic is not only in the numbers getting sick. It’s in the horrible long tail into the future, already being seen in the impact on the mental health of our children and teens.

There’s only so much heartbreak anyone can take.

But what I’ve also learnt in 30 years of journalism is that hope can move mountains; it can provide the antidote for heartbreak.

The High Court’s Mabo decision. Cathy Freeman winning gold. An apology to the Stolen Generation. Our first female prime minister. The NBN. Same sex marriage. Gun laws that changed lives. Euthanasia laws.

We need hope now, as much as we need free, readily available rapid antigen tests.

And if our leaders can’t provide it, we’ve got to find a way of creating it, and gifting it to each other. The alternative is a pandemic in heartache.

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