I think it is time we had the conversation. The pandemic has exposed a driving force in society and governments, and it is about risk. It is a topic we are all familiar with. Risk mitigation plans are on file in every business, not-for-profit agency, hospital setting, council, bank and school. They table and rate the likelihood and severity of the risk should an incident eventuate.
There are differences in how regional Victoria is enduring and coping with yet another period of lockdown. The fear of a COVID outbreak has become more real for residents in Mildura and nearby towns. While there are five cases at the time of writing, there is concern that we might be on the cusp of an uncontrolled outbreak.
There is certainly more compliance evident from most locals who are ‘doing the right thing’; wearing a mask, checking in with the QR, using sanitiser, socially distancing, and thousands lining up to be tested. It has certainly been a challenge to endure the lockdowns over the last 16 months when we have had no cases of COVID and yet always put under restrictions when Melbourne sneezes. Now, we are on a different footing. There is a sense of unease. I certainly feel it myself. We all want this pandemic to be over. But there is only one way out, and that is with a significant rise in the percentage of vaccinations.
The pandemic has exposed government aversion to risk and the resulting obsession with risk mitigation activated through control. However, there is a serious impact on individual rights and choice and consequently the outcome on an individual’s willingness to shoulder personal responsibility. The more responsibility government takes to control risk for individuals, the less responsibility those individuals are arguably willing to carry. But risk mitigation is not new and has been a focus of governments for decades.
Fundamentally, risk is part of being alive. But how alive are we if, or when, we stop tolerating any risk? We hear government aiming for zero cases of COVID, in a pandemic. How realistic is this ambition? The other problem with any discussion about risk is the binary nature of debating now. Just because I question the aim for zero cases does not imply I am for tolerating any and all risk, as we are witnessing currently in the UK.
Risk necessarily relates to fear, and government needs to manage the fear, whether perceived or real, in order to effectively serve the nation with courage and a consideration of both short and long term outcomes.
Government has the responsibility to balance individual rights with the greater good and protection of society as a whole. But this is not easy and made more challenging with the risk of political fallout. Protection and freedom are important aspects of our democracy. As we have seen overseas, if individuals’ hand over their rights for the purpose of the ‘protection’ of the broader society, the risk is social dysfunction, if a proportion of the population refuse. These people are perceived as the ‘enemy’ rather than an individual who has the ability to think and choose for themselves.
The more government continues to control their people, the less responsibility individuals can and do have. It is an inverse principle that I think needs resetting, even while we are living through a pandemic. While mitigating risk is a responsibility for government and individuals, the risks need to be clearly considered and honestly weighed up. It is a serious and complex issue when our nation’s health and economy are at stake.