19th March 2020

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has the opportunity to show real leadership during the Covid-19 crisis if he gets his response right, but it’s a big if, says QUT political scientist Professor Clive Bean.

  • In extreme times we see extreme responses
  • Parents keeping children home from school
  • People keep buying and hoarding, despite calls to stop
  • Social media dilutes Government messages

"His stocks may well go up, as they did for New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern who is admired around the world for her leadership in time of crises,” Professor Bean said.

“The public impact of Mr Morrison’s absence during the “darkest” hour of the bushfire season may not have been so damming if his office had not tried to hide or play down his Hawaiian holiday,” he said.

“The excuse that he was monitoring the bushfire situation and ready to come back if needed did not wash with the public.”

He said many Australians seemed to be ignoring Mr Morrison’s pleas to stop panic buying and hoarding and are choosing to work from home and keeping their children home from school.”

“That could be for a number of reasons. We don’t yet know if Mr Morrison’s further comments yesterday to stop panic buying and keep sending children to school has had any effect.

“I suspect the die has already been cast in terms of people making decisions and taking the situation into their own hands. In the end personal safety is probably going to override other considerations.”

“In extreme times we see extreme responses.

“I think there is a point, when it comes to people’s personal safety, authorities can say whatever they like  but people are thinking ‘well I’m going to do whatever I need to keep safe; what’s good for the country is not necessarily best for me and my family.”

Professor Bean said a whole raft of factors contributed to lack of compliance with Mr Morrison’s instructions to the nation.

“Politicians don’t have the authority they once had and with digital and social media the government’s ability to deliver a single message is diluted and people are able to pass messages and thoughts around leading to a contagion of their own.”

Professor Bean said Churchill was able to rally the nation at war to follow his orders because when a country is fighting a war, being bombed and potentially invaded, the only way they could survive was for people to band together.

“In contrast, we feel we are under siege as individuals from an invisible enemy so we take measures that work for us, not for the country.”

Professor Bean said Mr Morrison’s theme of calling hoarding unAustralian was a clever move and likely to tap into some people’s consciences.

“But I don’t know if it will stop it.”

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