No politician will ever make the political mistake Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews did of holding open-ended media conferences.
There’s too much danger of losing control of the information flow, it leaves them too exposed, and the public might discover feet of clay.
The downside is that people not blindly aligned with any particular politician will be left in doubt about the information they are given and be open to confusion.
Yes, yet again, it’s the trust thing.
So in the NSW Premier’s cut-and-run media conference on Sunday morning, Gladys Berejiklian told the public “the one positive is we still have not seen evidence of massive seeding outside the Northern Beaches community”.
It was a phrase repeated in the Glad, Brad and Kerry show – but what did it mean?
So there wasn’t “massive” seeding outside the Northern Beaches, but was there still “considerable”, “a bit” or “a little” seeding or “none”?
The media pack was not given the opportunity to clarify the poor communication, if some of the members were even aware how fuzzy the statement was at the time.
When the curtain went up on the latest Annastacia Palaszczuk “Queensland for Queenslanders” show on Sunday afternoon, Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young stated: “We have now seen in NSW increased numbers of cases and they have started to see seeding of cases outside the Northern Beaches and clusters develop.
“So the risk profile has significantly increased so that’s why greater Sydney would be declared a hot spot from 1am tomorrow.”
That doesn’t sound like the impression the NSW government wanted to give.
As state after state – whether Liberal or Labor – pulled down the shutters on greater Sydney, it began to look like Sydneysiders could get a better idea of what was happening from other governments rather than their own.
Premier Berejiklian’s Sunday media conference was an improvement on the weirdly underpopulated Saturday effort, but it was still more in the style of a Scott Morrison smash-and-grab than an Andrews death-by-tedium.
The various speakers seemed to devote more time to thanking the people of the Northern Beaches for their co-operation than anything else, along with saying how great the contact tracers were and that nobody should be playing the blame game.
Premier Berejiklian sort-of took two questions before each was flicked of to either her chief health officer or Health Minister, the latter of which quite quickly closed the conference when the question of air crews and quarantine or lack thereof again surfaced.
By way of answering the first question put to her – “How worrying is that that NSW has not found the source? – the Premier said it was, of course, a concern, that we would certainly get to the bottom of it and then devoted nearly 600 words to repeating much of her opening statement.
#Berejiklian Journo “ How worrying is it that NSW hasn’t found the source?”
Gladys furious he dares to ask. BL stumbles , pursed lips anger. “ I do not know any-any.. health experts have not been able to identify to me-to-me.” BL Eye block shuts out, disdain. Squints contempt. pic.twitter.com/rCHiC0JqQo
— 💧Sara (@_sara_jade_) December 20, 2020
And that was pretty much it from the Premier.
It is too early for the ever-popular blame game, but it is not too early to ignore the PR about how good NSW contact tracers are and wonder about what is now a series of quarantine breaches with many an arrow pointing at international air crews.
Shades of the Ruby Princess, it’s looking like horse, bolt, oh, the gate!
When the Ruby Princess investigation was concluded, the sundry failures were described as “inexcusable” – but they were immediately totally excused and life went on, fortunately without much super-spreading.
The same Health Minister, the same chief health officer.
With the concept of ministerial responsibility universally dead and buried in Australia, no doubt the same Health Minister and same chief health officer will sail on through whatever is happening now in Sydney.
There are questions deserving an answer.
According to Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, health officials wanted an ill United Airlines staff member to remain in Sydney – but they were overruled.
Remember that next time a politician says “we are taking the health officials’ advice”.
And there is that overall question of responsibility.
Under the constitution, quarantine is a federal matter – one that has somehow become purely a state concern and a mishmash of varying rules.
That does nothing to build trust in government in a crisis. Neither does carefully managed and truncated media conferences.