Defence’s COVID-19 crisis spreads, in more ways than case numbers

“Defence is currently managing 22 confirmed cases in the locations illustrated above,” the Department of Defence updated at 5pm today.

 

Defence’s other ‘daily update’ was marked as updated today at 9am, but no details were actually added or changed.

For example, Defence’s involvement in the compulsory isolation of travellers returning to Australia, which started at midnight last night, is still listed today as an activity expressed in future tense.

One symptom of Defence’s self-created information vacuum was Commander COVID-19 task force Lieutenant General John Frewen feeling a need to plead with the Australian public (a story which is currently going viral on the CONTACT web site) to be nice to Australian soldiers doing the job they were asked to do by their government.

His plea comes in the wake of social media suggestions that the ADF’s involvement, which started at midnight last night, is somehow ‘proof’ that Australia is now under martial law.

That public perception, at this early stage of what could be a six-month or longer virtual lockdown of the country, is, in my opinion, ill-informed, ignorant, hysterical, negative and potentially very dangerous – and exactly the kind of public opinion Defence PR professionals are trained to predict and deal with.

Any PR officer worth his salt will be advising his or her commanders to get out in front of negative public perceptions – work to tell your own story, your own way – tell a good story – keep the Australian public informed and on side –BECAUSE, if they get off side and you lose their trust, lose the public-opinion battle, then all other tasks on the ground become exponentially harder.

I am confident the PR machine is saying exactly those things.

Which means, of course, that someone on a higher pay-grade thinks they know better – thinks an information lockdown is the best policy – and leaves the 350-odd Defence PR-machine people twiddling their thumbs – or, quietly planning a strategy for when the shit hits the fan.

It’s not Defence’s fault that they have been hamstrung – just weeks after their massive show of PR force during Operation Bushfire Assist.

I won’t start asking question now – but when all this is done and dusted, I (and others I know) will be asking things like, “why are Australian taxpayers paying Defence to maintain 350 or more PR professionals if they’re not allowed to play in a crisis?”

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Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

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