Win war but don’t lose peace

Trevor WhittingtonCountryman
Cars and freight trucks line-up at a WA border quarantine point.
Camera IconCars and freight trucks line-up at a WA border quarantine point. Credit: Kelsey Reid

One of the great failures of World War I was the handling of the subsequent peace by the Western allies after their comprehensive victory over the German-led central powers.

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the London Schedule of Payments, which saw the beginning of the transfer of the $132 billion gold marks (US$33 billion) in reparations claimed from Germany to cover the civilian damage caused during the Great War.

The arrogance of the Western leadership of the time saw British Prime Minister Lloyd George ignore warnings from respected economic advisers such as John Maynard Keynes, that by squeezing Germany for reparations would cause huge long-term costs which would have devastating political implications.

We all know the history of what followed — hyperinflation, the Great Depression, Hitler.

It’s an extreme example but the point I am trying to make is there is no point winning the war to turn around and lose the peace through poor policy and planning.

The WA Government’s position on closures and travel after winning the war on COVID-19 is a failure to see that their policies are setting us up for long-term economic pain.

The Premier’s dogmatic position that border closures would be one of the last restrictions to be lifted as part of his war against COVID-19 is staggering.

It’s as if he thinks we live in a south seas island paradise, a land of hobbits where the inhabitants exist in splendid isolation removed from the harsh realities of global economic forces.

The Government hides behind the claims of his chief health officer that the hard border has been an effective measure as part of the Government’s success in the fight against COVID-19, but it fails to mention that it was designed to flatten the curve not bury it.

Just two months ago we were apparently gearing up to manage the virus as it moved through our community, a bending of the curve to ensure our hospital system could cope with the patient load.

No one, least of all the Government, expected we would win the war so fast and so overwhelmingly.

Now the State Government’s problem is that it has become so drunk with the taste of total victory that anything less will seem like a defeat.

Far better to maintain the State on a permanent war footing, repeatedly urging the civilian population to beware the secret enemy that lurks beyond our borders, to continue to maintain a suspicion of strangers, keep our distance from others and not stray too far from home.

All the while the Government is there to help with its ration cards for struggling families. and its constant surveillance seeking those who fail to conform to the COVID-19 new order.

So attractive have the powers of the police state become with its roadblocks and border restrictions that the Government is reluctant to give up its new-found powers.

The problem Mark McGowan has, is he has elevated the fear of the virus to such an extent that he now cannot afford to let the people in on the fact that there is no such thing as total victory.

He’s caught in a trap of his own success, he now can’t afford to have future outbreaks because all he can offer is further lockdowns and travel restrictions.

It’s a never-ending war that can as part of its own design only end with the arrival of a vaccination.

Hence for the Government it’s going to be a long winter and an even longer summer as it freezes and sweats and waits for the long-promised immunisation to come galloping to the rescue, while it edges ever closer to its own set selected finishing line of the State election.

But the mob is growing impatient. Already the Twitter feed is firing up with restless grey nomads wanting to head north, or tourism businesses wanting the state borders reopened.

Soon it will be summer and demanding kids will want to go on holiday while the bored and rebellious youth will want more than picnics in the park.

Then there are the farmers who need their New Zealand shearers and their foreign holiday workers to drive the chaser bins, prune the vines and pick the fruit.

Wineries will want to open their cellar doors for tastings of summer vintage and country towns will want their rodeos and race meetings. So how does the State Government plan to manage the demands from business and community to reopen with the risk of the inevitable spot outbreaks of virus occurring around the State?

Will an outbreak on Rottnest, or Margaret River or Esperance see these tourist towns repeatedly opened and closed?

Will Quairading or Quindalup be put in quarantine with outbreaks over Christmas?

Will roadblocks be placed around Ravensthorpe and Rocky Gully, movement restrictions on Merredin or Mt Magnet?

Will there be 14-day social isolation on Salmon Gums and Southern Cross?

We just don’t know, because the Government has not laid out what comes after total victory.

As a result this State Government has a problem.

It has won the war, but by demanding total victory it has left no room to enter into an honourable peace, a peace where we accept the ongoing risk of the pandemic while we reopen our doors to the outside world.

It’s time to lift all the restrictions and accept that there is no such thing as total victory.

Trevor Whittington is the chief executive of WAFarmers.

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