On Thursday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the long-awaited ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown; a plan that will see everything from pubs and clubs to hairdressers and retail outlets reopen at some point in October.
Just 24 hours later, she announced she was stopping her 11am daily press conferences, with figures and information to be released via a pre-recorded video message instead. The Premier will front press conferences on a as-needed basis.
Later that afternoon, struggling business owners were surprised when an email landed from Service NSW – informing them they’d need to reassess their eligibility for the JobSaver program, which is helping keep many afloat.
Does the State Government think the lockdown is over?
Yes, we now all have the ‘roadmap’. But the destination is some four to six weeks away. Between now and then, nothing has changed – aside from slight tweaks to recreation and exercise rules. So many businesses remain closed, so many people remain out of work. If you live in 12 certain suburbs of Penrith, you could be fined for going to the servo at 9.30pm. Yet in those two moves on Friday, the State Government perhaps unintentionally indicated we were already much further down the road.
Both moves have their place and are rooted in sensibility, but the timing was awful.
The Premier argues that dumping the 11am press conference is all about shifting our thinking, as we move towards ‘living with COVID’. That’s fair enough, but on the other hand we’re about to reach the peak in cases and the peak in hospitalisations and ICU admissions, so some of the criticism is understandable.
I largely agree that the Premier doesn’t need to stand up at 11am each day, and I welcome the fact that our anxiety levels won’t increase as the clock ticks closer to ‘Gladys time’ each morning.
But to give no clear indication of how many times she plans to front the media each week was perhaps a move too far.
And it’s not as if journalists can get clear answers any other way – pre-written responses by government media representatives rarely answer the questions and are generally a PR exercise and nothing more.
Yes, we need to live with COVID. Absolutely we do. But given the ‘living with COVID’ benchmark doesn’t seem to hit until the state is 70 per cent double dosed, given we’re in fact not being given the opportunity to ‘live with COVID’ because lockdowns and curfews still exist, perhaps the axing of the press briefing should have coincided with the upcoming ‘freedom day’.
As for the JobSaver program, this has created huge anxiety for business owners based on feedback I’ve received over the weekend.
Very little has changed for most businesses since the payments started flowing, yet they’re being asked to reassess their eligibility again – and this time around, the rules are somewhat tighter. They’ll be asked to do it again in two weeks too.
At the end of the day, State Government rules are stopping businesses from opening and trading to their full potential. Therefore, assistance must continue to flow and must be flexible and understanding to how business situations evolve and change.
The Government would likely argue that it is still flowing, they’re just making sure that nobody is rorting the system or benefiting where they shouldn’t be. But it’s created unnecessary red tape, while businesses that see their income go up and down quite regularly are being ruled by a specific two week comparison from two years ago.
Many businesses owners leave the financial side of their operations to accountants and bookkeepers. They’ll now face the added expense of having to confirm their eligibility every two weeks through such services.
I think the State Government has largely turned a corner in recent weeks as it heads towards the light at the end of the tunnel.
But in a couple of moves on Friday, it may just have got ahead of itself.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.