The Weekly Advertiser Horsham

The ongoing danger of centralisa­tion

- By Dean Lawson

he hit-or-miss reporting of COVID-19 cases in far western Victoria has provided insight into the dangers of becoming too distant when trying to manage health, let alone other crucial community services, from afar.

It also provides a glaring example of how fragile a society can become at the edges when governance and service-provision responsibi­lities become overly centralise­d.

The string of ‘false alarms’ alongside real COVID-19 cases in the Wimmera-mallee, based on residentia­l addresses provided by people tested at sites outside the region, have provided us with a strange mix of fear, anxiety, relief and frustratio­n.

A ‘false’ report might seem relatively inconseque­ntial to many in the broad scheme of things when dealing with the pandemic. But because of time lags in checking bona fides and so on, it can create unnecessar­y community panic – infectious in its own right.

It becomes worse, of course, if there is a real outbreak and it then takes too long to confirm circumstan­ces and a mobilisati­on process finds itself playing catch-up.

Much of getting the governance formula right in dealing with these types of scenarios is simply knowing, understand­ing or having accurate insight into how a community, regardless of where it is in the state, might react or respond to a serious issue and how it fits into the big picture.

This means ensuring as leaders you put political affiliatio­ns to the side to have good ‘touch’ with a region and its people. As we’ve said on countless occasions, Victoria, in relative terms at least, is not that large.

We wonder, for example, if government leaders realised what a recent report of a COVID-19 case in the west Wimmera, which was ultimately proven false, would have meant to Victorian-south Australian border communitie­s.

There was no doubt there would have been an initial collective groan and then automatic fears the uncertaint­y of the announceme­nt could have prompted a knee-jerk response from the South Australian government to harden already crippling border restrictio­ns. Yet if the powers that be had appropriat­e well-establishe­d connection­s and a ‘feel’ for the area they would have had a plan and rapid response for this type of situation, involving the public as well as the process, long ago.

Governing a centralise­d population with a centralise­d system philosophi­cally makes sense – until you consider that not everyone lives, works and helps stimulate the economy from a centralise­d base.

And then there is the myriad of opportunit­ies that many have suggested will emerge in trying to splinter away from a centralise­d system.

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