Courageous, Nuanced Leadership

Life is complicated.

It can rarely be divided into simple black and white categories and few things cause me to shake my head in despair quite like a person who is convinced there is only one way out of a complex and convoluted situation.

Ok – yes – I have just been on Facebook and seen the ‘I stand with Mark McGowan’ and ‘I stand with Daniel Andrew’s’ memes.

Its not the meme’s per se, but the tone behind them, often in the comments, that suggests anything but total lockdown and eradication of covid is weak or a foolish compromise.

I like that we (currently) have a great degree of freedom in WA, a situation that has come about largely due to the decision to close our borders and take a very strong line on any hint of Covid 19. It has worked well for us in preserving life and in keeping an internal economy reasonably functional, but I know I am not the only one asking ‘what happens when we open up again and there is a flare up?’

Do we ‘lock down’ again?

‘Do we do this every time?

Do we end up bunny hopping our way into the next decade?

That isn’t sustainable either. We are preserving the lives of the vulnerable and from a Christian perspective that is commendable, but while it may be possible to measure the ‘deaths due to covid’, it will be impossible to calculate the number of suicides due to people’s mental health from failed businesses, lost homes, lost jobs and marriages that couldn’t bear the strain.

To simply quantify the effectiveness of our Covid response in terms of lives lost is a very narrow metric and misses the nuance of the situation. So maybe the Swedes (by their own admission) didn’t get it quite right either with their opposite approach in trusting people to be responsible, but neither has their health system been over-run with a flood of Covid cases.

We can look around the world and feel for those countries where the numbers are rocketing, the health systems are shaking and the economies are on the brink. Brazil and India are certainly concerning and the US is a headspin for so many reasons. It all looks quite out of control.

But I sense we need a better plan than simply keeping the borders closed. And that is going to involve some complicated thinking and some trading off of ‘lesser evils’. Perhaps McGowan has been brave in keeping the borders closed up to now, but it will take a different form of courage to open the borders and accept a degree of (human) loss due to this disease.

I don’t say that lightly so please don’t jump in the comments with harsh responses. The problem is that we have struggled to allow for more nuanced conversation, but clearly this is not a short term problem and we need to allow for some longer term strategic thinking to move us forward.

At times I feel a degree of smugness at our ‘hard borders’ approach, but if we are really so concerned for human life – if that is the core issue – then let’s be consistent and completely ban smoking. Far more people die from smoking than from almost anything else, so if life preservation is the key then that would be a logical first step. Except that tobacco taxes are in the gazillions and the spin off from banning smoking would mean devastation in other areas…

Yeh… complicated.

Maybe I’m just tired of the smugness that I feel at times (‘we got it right…’) but whether that is the case or not, we need a different form of courageous leadership to help us both engage with an ongoing problem and enable lives to be sustained in the process.

3 thoughts on “Courageous, Nuanced Leadership

  1. Ah yes, the old smoking strawman 🙂 banning smoking would be great if it was going to mean people would stop smoking. How’s that working for all the other drugs we ban because they’re harmful? (let’s not open the can of worms of asking if decriminalising and regulating some of those other drugs would actually be net benefit)

    But yes, once again the polarised nature of the discussion means any chance of nuance is lost. While I think the border closure is the right thing to do (and maintain, for as long as necessary but still as short as possible without a reasonable chance of kicking off an outbreak here), it’s possible to recognise that there is a human cost to that. Victorian stats suggest suicide hasn’t risen since lockdowns, but I’m sure there’s mental health problems skyrocketing. We were scheduled to bring down the border before Victoria happened, and I hope once they get themselves under control (and they will, the trend is very much our friend at the moment) it will be on the table again. Unfortunately I get the impression that as well as being good policy for the moment, it’s also populist so politically expedient to keep around, so we might have it regardless of what’s happening in the rest of the country until after the March election.

    In terms of a way forward, we’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to eliminate this thing locally. We don’t have to do a Sweden and see 6000 odd people (in a small country) die. What I think we’ll be able to see, once our internal borders are open, is COVID free travel corridors internationally. NZ, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan have all been floated. Once other countries stamp it out, they can join. I think we’re not going to the US any time soon though.

  2. I’ve been a supporter of McGowan’s stance (though not quite to the ‘istandwithmcgowan’ levels!) but I can just sense a shift is beginning to happen (still early adopter phase) and the question of ‘what next’ is starting to come up with more vigour. I’d LOVE to see McGowan attempt to translate the significant good will he has into leverage for taking a new step forward. What is that step? I’m not entirely sure, but I do hope they’re discussing it behind closed doors.

  3. This echoes a stance that I have held since this pandemic started. Lockdowns and hard borders work – for a while. But they are unsustainable for the long term.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *