People are seen queuing outside a Centrelink office in Bondi Junction, Sydney, yesterday. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
People are seen queuing outside a Centrelink office in Bondi Junction, Sydney, yesterday. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

OPINION: Real reason Aussies just aren’t getting it

COMMENT

There are two things Australia needs right now.

One can be provided by our leaders, the other is up to us.

From our Prime Minister, we need decisiveness. From our people, we need compliance, a sense of responsibility and a lowering of expectations.

First up, our leader. Less than two years ago the Australian Government published a paper called Decision Making During a Crisis: A Practical Guide.

Created by the Resilience Expert Advisory Group (REAG), it is 19 pages long and spells out six characteristics of decision making that organisations should implement to increase the rigour of response to a crisis.

Number one on the list?

"Confirm Authority and Direction".

As the report points out: "In a crisis, changing circumstances may prompt a change in management style from consultative to a 'command and control' approach."

Currently, it is that consultative approach that is letting us down. We are a vast country with multiple layers of government, but right now we need a centralised approach.

Scott Morrison needs to take the reins and we need clear, consistent and cohesive messaging on issues such as the closing of schools, monitoring arrivals, social distancing, and management of passengers disembarking from cruise ships.

The Prime Minister has compared our current predicament to World War II, so perhaps it's time to follow military strategy and appoint himself commander-in-chief.

Certainly, that's what's occurred in New Zealand with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern implementing level four restrictions instructing everyone to stay inside their homes with only essential businesses remaining opening.

The directive is clear, decisive and free of interpretation. For instance, you can go for a walk but only with those people you live with and only if you stay two metres apart.

In response, the media has got on-board, with The New Zealand Herald printing a full-page headline: "A whanau of 5 million". Like so often in the nation's history, the people have been encouraged to think collectively not individually. The "whanau" or "family" was the instinctive response to the Christchurch massacre, and pulling together is the approach being taken now.

NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced stage four restrictions. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced stage four restrictions. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

The problem we have is that our current measures aren't working because they're inconsistent. For instance, gyms are closed but shopping centres are open. You can't go to your friend's house for a beer but your child can go to school. Or can they? It depends on if you're listening to your prime minister or your premier.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged parents yesterday to keep their kids home from school. Picture: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged parents yesterday to keep their kids home from school. Picture: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

In a time of unpredictability, it is information and clear instructions that offer a framework and degree of certainty. Media briefings have to be precise and careful.

It's confusing when the Prime Minister instructs kids to go to school but 12 hours later some premiers tell them to stay home.

Likewise, when the federal Services Minister Stuart Robert blamed a cyberattack for the MyGov website crashing but then backtracked hours later to say it was simply a problem caused by the volume of people trying to log in, he caused further alarm.

As he admits, he "jumped the gun". As the government paper points out, a crisis management team has to have "social capital". This is the "trust, knowledge, reciprocity and shared norms required for social connectedness and plays a critical role in making individuals and organisations more resilient"

As the document points out, excellent communication is vital.

So what about the rest of us? Curiously, the Decision Making During a Crisis paper includes "Managing Expectations" as one of the characteristics required to survive and increase resilience in the face of these events.

As the paper points out: "Expectation management is important, as positive and negative expectations, influence attitudes. When expectations are unmet or misunderstood, this may lead to disappointment, frustration and, occasionally, anger and hostility."

This is precisely what has happened with Centrelink and the queues that flagrantly disrespect our social distancing instructions. It's understandable. People are panicked and scared about losing their livelihoods.

 

But the entire process can be done online, and anyone registering will have their payments backdated to the date of registrations.

But they also have to lower their expectations. Centrelink is an organisation of people also responding to changing events.

Many staff will have had to adjust quickly to their children being home from school. Those staffing the offices will be having to comply with social distancing policies. Of course new staff are being hired but it will take time.

These are extraordinary days we are living through, and the best way to manage is to respond to what's possible rather than react aggressively to what isn't.

We also need to be prepared for things to change: If we want agile leadership that responds to an ever-evolving crisis then we need to be flexible as those new directives unfold.

In essence, all of us are being called upon to be our best. For decades we have enjoyed extraordinary wealth, health and freedom, and now that is in jeopardy.

Parents, teenagers, workers, the elderly - all of us have to think responsibly about the part we play. We may be governed differently to other nations, but we need to think and respond as one.

Angela Mollard is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @angelamollard

Originally published as Real reason Aussies just aren't getting it



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