OPINION

I will not be lectured about toilet paper by this man

Toilet paper is limited to two rolls per customer at the Hackett IGA. Picture: Jenna Price

Toilet paper is limited to two rolls per customer at the Hackett IGA. Picture: Jenna Price

I will not be lectured about what it means to be Australian by this man. I will not. And Australians must never be lectured to about their identity by this man. Not now, not ever.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister of Australia gave a press conference to explain how this country would respond to the growing threat of COVID-19 (which most of us call coronavirus, rightly or wrongly). It was hard to be impressed. We already knew Australia was instituting a level-four ban on travel (don't leave, come back right now). We also knew Morrison was holding hard to schools remaining open (because apparently kids don't give coronavirus to their teachers, parents or grandparents). We didn't know he was expecting thousands of student nurses to become part of the coronaforce, and we hope those in charge of those thousands of students know what they hell they are doing, to protect both the student nurses and their families as well as the coronapatients. Let's hope those students - who will be at the front line of the pandemic in Australia - will be paid properly.

But then he veered away from changes the government was making to telling Australians how to behave. He said, among other things: "Stop hoarding. I can't be more blunt about it ... it's been one of the most disappointing things I've seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis ... stop doing it. It's ridiculous. It's un-Australian, and it must stop."

The bloke who fled to Hawaii while his actual country was burning is telling me what's un-Australian, is telling me what's disappointing. The absolute cheek of the man to stand up as if he is an example, with his raft of employees and his two houses. I cannot tell you how furious I was, watching him tell Australians how to behave.

We're not all panic-buying, Dad. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

We're not all panic-buying, Dad. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The vast majority of us - the vast, vast majority - are doing this in a steady and sensible way. We could see what was coming, and bought an extra pack of pasta or rice each time we shopped. I confessed to being a hoarder of 36 rolls of toilet paper elsewhere, but it turns out that most readers thought I just had my head screwed on. If the worst happens, if the lockdown happens, we will have two weeks' worth of dinners and breakfasts and enough toilet paper to use as tissues or as wipes if everything else runs out.

So, if the Prime Minister or his raft read this, let me say this: Australians are "hoarding" as a response to a lack of leadership. We have little control over our lives at the best of times, and setting up a pandemic pantry is one way of dealing with it. This gives us order and structure at a time when that seems very hard to find. Morrison can suit himself when it comes to making a time to cancel big meetings (or worse, delay telling us about meetings of 100) but doesn't understand that the rest of us want some certainty, some control.

There are many days and years when I can be certain of how my day will unfold, and I can work uninterrupted. That's not possible now. This pan(dem)ic is distracting, and it works doubly to undercut our way of life - for example, when gossip last week about an imminent lockdown was spreading like COVID-19 itself. The insistence that we only believe government edicts is about the most un-Australian thing I've heard.

It is not hard to understand why we are worried. But admonishment of those who are just trying to control what they can control is a sign that Morrison doesn't really understand who Australians are. People panic when they don't see a plan.

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There are some glorious humans out there who've managed their fears in other ways. I love American lawyer and legal academic Tiffany C. Li, who has "accepted a new position as content moderator for all [her] family and friends, as they send each other coronavirus misinformation and rumours". I have to rely on Norman Swan, the ABC's resident virus wrangler. The people setting up The Kindness Pandemic on Facebook, sharing the good stories about what people are doing, and some are positively goosebumpy. Lisa Pryor, a psychiatry registrar, who set up lettersforthefront@gmail.com, where you can send emails to our front-line health workers to "provide moral support to doctors, nurses and hospital staff on the coronavirus front line". Or Arthur from the IGA at Hackett, who realised he did not have enough toilet paper to service his community so put the rolls under the front counter.

You can buy two rolls at a time, at about 60c each. He is making his small delivery last so everyone can get enough to get them through the week. He really, truly hopes he doesn't have to start selling individual squares. Australians are doing stuff to make this work, and at the same time making sure they have enough supplies to get through in case this all gets worse. And big applause to shops who have started putting limits on goods, including Ventolin and insulin. That's a genius idea.

This is going to be awful for a while, and even more awful for those who lose their jobs because the economy has gone to shit. Some of us will lose people we love (I'm freaking out about my 97-year-old mother-in-law, in an aged care place which has so far been pretty good).

Australians don't need leaders who berate us. We don't need Disappointed Dads (today he admitted that even his daughter said his press conference sounded like he was talking to his kids). We need support, encouragement, warmth and leadership. Let's see some of that.

  • Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.
This story I will not be lectured about toilet paper by this man first appeared on The Canberra Times.