I’ve Been Thinking

03 Sep 2021

I was talking with Paul Ingle on the phone this week and our conversation free-ranged across a lot of things that have, of late,  been on my mind.  I really feel for those of you who are there, keeping health services running despite all that is being thrown your way. The Delta variant has changed the game.  Living in Queensland, we have had an easier time than those in the southern states, but it is still disruptive.  I miss being able to see interstate friends and family and being able to run my learning sets face-to-face. We all have Zoom fatigue.

Notwithstanding the negatives of the Covid epidemic, I have had some really positive outcomes from the more isolated life that has been foisted upon me.  Not the least of those, is the opportunity to read and to think more deeply.

I have been appalled by many in the media.   Their treatment of some of the people who stand before us every day, in public forums, to deliver the latest Covid news often makes me angry.  I know how hard these people, senior public servants, Chief Health Officers are working and how deserving they are of our respect.  Yet day after day, in the “pressers” the same old questions are put to them, usually in the hope of tripping them up, so that some reporter can have that much sought “gotcha” moment.

Some journalists seem to have a lot to answer for, as our approaches to Covid management unfold.  The continual blaming of politicians for the failure to deliver what is needed is like a broken record.  Of course, there have been mistakes and there is a political overlay on policy decisions that is impossible to miss.   But who is holding the press to account?  I have seen them push and push, to have governments change their policy positions, giving them all of the reasons that they should do so, but the moment that policy changes, the press again goes on the attack.  There seems to be little concern that what is being managed is a moving target;  that changing circumstances means modified approaches. If Covid 19 is “the enemy” as we are told, disunity and political posturing will not defeat it.

We seem to have lost the majority of our great investigative journalists, with hipster opinion pieces taking over our once hallowed ABC airwaves.  I have stopped watching the programs that were once important to me but have become increasingly parochial.  I am sick of the opinions of journalists!  Give me the facts, let me form my own opinion.  Enough navel gazing!  When did the ABC stop reporting world news? At least they did report on the terrible events in Afghanistan but our participation there makes even that tragedy, Australian-interest news.

That leads me to the second point I wanted to make.  John Daley from The Grattan Institute released his final report on 25th July 2021 entitled Gridlock: removing barriers to policy reform.  That struck some chords for me; in fact I felt like I was hearing the Hallelujah Chorus!  This report is a retrospective on policy reforms proposed over the years, what succeeded, what didn’t, and why.

Unpopularity, tribal beliefs and vested interests stand in the way of public interest because of less effective media, a weakened public service, the power of ministerial advisers, a growing professional political class and increasing political patronage.

 So what can we do about all of that?  I know that the things that are important to me and that I consider important to our country require a higher moral code, evidence-based decision making and greater accountability if they are ever to be written into policy.  Most of us are sick of sports rorts, political favours for political donations, pork barrelling to win votes.  It doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power and having recently read Bernard Collaery’s book, Oil Under Troubled Water, I realise that the rot set in long before I realised it.  This book: relates the sordid history of Australian government dealings with East Timor, and how the actions of both major political parties have enriched Australia and its corporate allies at the expense of its tiny neighbour and wartime ally, one of the poorest nations in the world.

I write letters – lots of them.  I write to politicians, to errant journalists.  Hardly anyone writes back, but I think if we see things we don’t like, all we can do is call it out.  I encourage others to do likewise.  Maybe if enough people do it…?

An issue that is often raised with me is about personal resilience.  How do we stay positive when all around seems doom and gloom?  In our recent lock down, I followed the advice of Hugh Van Cuylenburg, who wrote The Resilience Project. Finding Happiness Through Gratitude Empathy and Mindfulness.  He talks about how daily gratitude reviews focussing on the positives and the things you have,  if practised routinely, start to change one’s mindset.  We begin to scan the world for the positives, not the negatives.  Couple that with being kind to the people whose paths we cross and then taking the time to focus on the present, is supposed to help us feel happier.  Well, I am no Pollyanna and this is not the way I would normally approach life, but I decided to give it a go.  Now I am a convert.

After practising this for only a few weeks, through a solitary lock-down, I really think that I am a happier person.  I get excited about climbing the ladder to wash my decks, if I know I will have a Melvyn Bragg podcast or some great music, to accompany me.  Would I feel the same if I was still living the frantic life of a health executive?  You know, I think I would.  I loved health administration.  There is so much that is wonderful that happens every day in a health service.  I know that I would be able to call out those events and the people who make them possible.  I am so grateful for the health system that we have in this country, for all of its faults.  But most of all I am grateful for all of the dedicated health professionals who have touched my life, both personally and professionally.  It is a privilege to stay connected with your world, through my set facilitation.