The politicians plight to distract us from society’s real issues

Sep 05, 2023
Long wait times, a shortage in healthcare workers, and so much more. Here's how the government is trying to distract you from the real issues. Source: Getty

I was battling the flu, choked up with a rattling chest, and called the doctor to make an appointment.

It was first thing Thursday morning.

The receptionist said the next available appointment was the following Tuesday.

I made the booking. Only trouble was, by the time I got to see the doctor my chest had cleared, and I was feeling better. Luckily, depending on how you look at it, I had a few other things I wanted to discuss so it wasn’t a waste of my time, or the doctor’s when I turned up on Tuesday morning.

Over my recovery weekend, while I was tucked up in bed, the story broke that Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk wanted to build the Matildas a statue at Suncorp Stadium to commemorate their epic World Cup football campaign. They finished fourth.

This is not a story about the merits of building that statue. The Matildas were amazing and captured the hearts of the nation, not just Queensland.

This story is about how governments – of all persuasions – search out shining new things to spend our money on to distract us from their inability to fix everyday problems – like increased waiting times to see medical practitioners.

I can imagine the spin doctors sitting in a room coming up with the Matilda Statue plan.

“Let’s announce we are building a statue for the Matildas,’’ says one of Ms Palaszczuk’s 100-plus media advisors.

“Great idea,” chimes in another.

“That will help us take attention off the health crisis, the youth crime crisis, the cost-of-living crisis, and the housing crisis. It’s a win-win for us. No one can possibly criticise us for supporting women’s sport in this climate.’’

Only trouble is, it’s another example of the government spending our taxes on things that are not really a priority.

And, before you say: “It’s just a statue, how much can that cost?’’, trust me it’s not just a statue.

Ms Palaszczuk won’t send a junior lackey down to the local trophy shop to buy something off the shelf. 

The government will form a working committee to manage the project. That committee will probably go to tender to appoint a sculptor to come up with a design. That’s expensive. The community will then be consulted on that design. Even more expensive. The statue will then be built and unveiled. Matildas stars, those available and interested, will be flown to Brisbane for the unveiling. Soccer Australia officials will be flown to Brisbane for the unveiling. The public will be invited to come along, so another team of public servants will then be enlisted to organise security and work with police on crowd control and the logistics of staging what, in effect, is a massive political photo opportunity.

It will probably take a year or two to organise all of this, by which time our love of women’s football may well have abated.

And there’s every chance it will cost us $1 million, possibly $2 million.

The statue won’t cost that much money, but the hours and hours it will take public servants to make this happen will add up to a small fortune.

Now, I ask, in this present tough environment is that the best way for any government to spend our money? And I keep saying our money because that’s exactly what it is.

A first-year constable’s salary is roughly $85,000. Would we be better off funding an additional 23 police officers for a year? 

Queensland Police Union CEO Ian Leavers would probably say yes. He told a news network last year that “we are rapidly heading towards a crisis point where the number of police on the frontline may not meet basic community safety demands”. Queensland is in the midst of a youth crime crisis, so surely more police on the ground, even an extra 23, should be a priority.

Or should we use that money to employ more nurses? According to the Queensland Health website, first-year nurses start on as out $69,000 per year. Not building the Matildas statue equates to funding the jobs of an extra 29 nurses for a year.

Would that help? Of course, it would. Would it solve the nursing shortage crisis? No. But surely every little bit helps.

I think Opposition leaders around the country need to narrow the focus of their communications and concentrate on the key issues of health, education, policing and cost of living. They should view everything else as a distraction and double down on getting the public to understand that governments are wasting our money by trying to get us to look away from the real problems in our society.

It is a fact that our attention spans are diminishing. And that’s what political leaders and parties rely on. They want, and need, us to look away from the messes they create. If we look away long enough, we – as a public – forget about them completely.

In her recently released book Gloria Mark, the Chancellor’s professor in the Department of Infomatics at University of California in Irvine wrote about our disappearing attention span.

The book is called: Attention Span: A Groundbreaking Way to Restore Balance, Happiness and Productivity. With a title like that it is fair to say it is probably not jumping off the shelves.

What her research says though is that nearly 20 years ago, people averaged 2.5 minutes of focused attention when working online or doing something involving screens.

By 2012, that time had shrunk to 75 seconds. By 2021, it had shrunk further to 47 seconds.

We are heading towards a generation of people that have a goldfish mentality and that’s what politicians are banking on. They know that we no longer march in the streets to fight obvious injustices. Instead, we act as if we are oblivious and allow politicians and bureaucrats to preach to us about what is important.

We need to make sure our leaders fund society’s core services. And if there’s any money left after we educate our kids, make sure our streets are safe, and put a roof over everyone’s head, then – and only then – should we start thinking about building statues.

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