McGowan excels in COVID-19 test

24/07/2020 - 14:00


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Gary Martin analyses Premier Mark McGowan's performance during the coronavirus pandemic.

McGowan excels in COVID-19 test
Mark McGowan has managed the pandemic and its effect on WA admirably. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

One day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future when the COVID-19 pandemic is far behind us, it will be time to hand out trophies to those who have led with distinction throughout the worst disease outbreak in recent history.

While the jury remains out in many cases, at least one trophy should have a name already etched onto it.  

That trophy belongs to the premier, Mark McGowan, who without question has won the admiration of the Western Australian community for his efforts to make the state one of the safest places in the world – at least when it comes to the pandemic.

Take some time to consider, just for a moment, what it might be like to make decisions that affect the daily lives of millions of Western Australians.

If you make the wrong call, remain indecisive or drag out important decisions, you will put the health and wellbeing of many at risk.

Those decisions are likely to force business closures, cause layoffs and stand downs, and prompt some employers to cut hours and salaries.

Now, consider the situation when things appear to be getting better; let’s say, before the second-wave outbreak in Victoria. 

Visualise the intense pressure to cave to community demands and – despite the obvious danger signs – wind-back precautions so that life can return to some normality.

What you have just imagined has been our premier’s job on a daily basis for the past five months. 

In times of crisis, some leaders can rise to the challenge, while others end up being severely tested before failing.

WA’s premier is among a handful of political leaders whose leadership has been tested – and whose results have come back positive.

Irrespective of your political leanings, Mr McGowan has provided a noteworthy case study of effective political leadership through a crisis. And if you are a big fan, you will be forthright in saying he has provided Australia with a masterclass in leadership during a pandemic.

There is no manual to follow when the stakes are this high, no instruction book for what to do in the middle of a 21st century pandemic. 

In a crisis such as COVID-19, just one wrong move can erode trust, undermine hard-won gains, and exacerbate existing dangers.

Yet, unlike others, Mr McGowan has managed to create his own playbook and rise to the occasion.

The premier has displayed large doses of courage, resilience, energy, determination and empathy, always alongside a healthy respect for science.

And his style of candour, perhaps best defined as honesty without the usual ambiguity, has helped many Western Australians swallow some bitter pandemic pills. 

Unlike some political leaders, who sought to hide the pandemic or play down its likely impact, Mr McGowan reduced the anxiety of many in WA by trading feel-good half-truths for transparency.

And while it would tempt many politicians during a crisis of this nature to place themselves at the centre of the action, projecting the view that only they could pull the community to safety, Mr McGowan put faith in others, including his talented deputy, Roger Cook, to create a model of shared leadership for the community of WA.

Mr McGowan’s almost daily back-to-basics media engagements have been armed with fact-based communications about the coronavirus curve, bringing much-needed clarity to a less-than-clear situation.

But it was a willingness to take quick and bold action despite the knowledge those moves would affect other curves – unemployment, debt, and bankruptcy – that perhaps has been most impressive.

To be very clear, the reality of life post-COVID-19 is yet to fully sink in. The consequences of the pandemic are likely to continue to play out for WA businesses, organisations and the state’s economy for several years.

While the premier will be the first to say we cannot rest on our laurels and that we are not out of the water just yet, it is not too early to award him the deserved accolades for a job well done to date.

And we should take comfort from the way he has led thus far as a way of looking towards a more positive future.

In a crisis, we often hand out the trophies to those who managed to save us from positions of trouble and despair.  

In the case of Mr McGowan, his early, decisive and consistent actions prevented the pandemic from escalating in WA, before the state truly needed to be saved.  

That is what true leadership is all about.

• Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer of the Australian Institute of Management WA


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