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Trust requires transparency. So what is the likely impact of the Chinese government cover-ups concerning the coronavirus? On top of apparently understating the figures, a doctor who blew the whistle at the beginning of the crisis was punished (he’s now died from the virus), and at least one citizen journalist is now missing. If we Aussies get frustrated when our politicians simply dodge questions, imagine how angry some young Chinese, at least partially informed by social media before the censors get to it, must feel with repression causing deaths.

Video Transcript

Liam Cox:

Transparency in corporate affairs and in government seems to be sadly lacking, Peter Wilkinson. There’s a feeling the coronavirus could be much more severe than the Chinese government is telling us.

Peter Wilkinson:

Yes, and a number of journalists around the world have been talking about that. A recommended site to go to as the New York Times, and you can see it well there. Imagine what it would be like in Australia if the coronavirus had started here, and the government didn’t tell us or we didn’t believe the government was telling us what was going on. There would be mayhem. So I feel terribly sorry for people in China who really want to know what’s going on. This comes on the back of the Hong Kong riots.

I was in Hong Kong in April, and at that stage, there were stories in the Beijing newspapers saying that the riots were supporting the legislation when the riots were actually opposing the legislation. So the misinformation in China must be very frustrating for people who are young and expect more, and the coronavirus where there is a small risk of death, but certainly the risk of ill health and families being affected, must be very upsetting. There’s a very strong link between transparency and trust. So the lack of transparency about the coronavirus and the feeling that it might be much bigger than it is would really erode trust and enhanced frustration in the President Xi government.

Liam Cox:

And the message isn’t getting out there. One of the journalists who was reporting on the severity of the virus has tragically disappeared.

Peter Wilkinson:

Well, the first thing that happened is the doctor who attempted to blow the whistle on the coronavirus way back was pilloried for it and unfortunately, eventually died. Then there were two citizen journalists who were taking videos and distributing them, and one of them has disappeared, yes. So this goes to the heart of press freedom, and there’s a real issue of press freedom in China. So yes, absolutely.

Liam Cox:

You speak about transparency and trust. Now, if we bring this back to our own government, it’s been a struggle for years for politicians to answer questions and to be straight up and down. They don’t directly answer questions, and it’s frustrating for all of us to watch.

Peter Wilkinson:

So it’s obviously not as serious as it is in China, but you can see the analogy where there’s lack of information in China and there’s a lack of information because politicians won’t answer questions. The wonderful thing about Australians is we’re very direct. If you are at dinner or just chatting with somebody at work about an issue and you ask them a question, you’ll get a very frank answer, straight up, bang. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate into Canberra, and there is a culture of not answering the question.

For those of you who watched Insiders on Sunday on the ABC, and it’s worth watching on iView if you can, the interview with Richard Miles and his insistence on simply not answering questions and David Spears just prodding, gently prodding away was one great example. Another one was Anthony Albanese on Radio National Breakfast with Frank Kelly on Tuesday, a great example again of obfuscating instead of just answering the question. In the case of Albanese, there was no downside to answering the question. In the case of Richard Miles, it was about coal, and so clearly there was a political ramification. But in the case of Albanese, there was no downside to simply answering the question.

Peter Wilkinson:

And all you have to do to a direct question is say yes, no, or I can’t answer that. I can’t answer that until we’ve gone through the internal Labor Party process and then go to a key message. Instead, you get this long list of key messages that, besides being really boring, are just frustrating.

Liam Cox:

Australians are crying out for leadership. Be honest. Tell it how it is. Is he squandering his opportunity right now, Anthony Albanese?

Peter Wilkinson:

Maybe he’s keeping his powder dry. There are many elements to being a good leader, but here are three. One is you’ve got to have a really rock-solid set of values that people can engage with. That’s the first thing. And Albo is well known as being one of the left, and he’s been around for a long time. So he would have well-established values. The second is you’ve got to have the personality to lead. You’ve got to be an engaging spokesperson. People will have their own views on whether Albo is an engaging spokesperson.

The third is you’ve got to have key messages that resonate. So you’ve got to have the values and the beliefs, you’ve got to be a suitable spokesperson, and then you’ve got to have key messages. So key messages on climate change, key messages on the bushfire, key messages on what happened with the silliness with the deputy leader election earlier this week in Canberra, key messages to do with the coronavirus, key messages to do with climate change, all those things. And you’ve just got to have those ready, and absolutely Albanese would have a very strong idea. For a variety of reasons, he’s simply not prepared to say what they are, and what sacrificed with that lack of transparency is trust.

Liam Cox:

Absolutely. Peter Wilkinson, thank you for your insight. We’ll see you next week.