Commentary and Discourse

Understanding how policies are conveyed and messages are received is a key component of this crisis. Controlling the narrative, and ensuring clear government communication, will be essential to the successful management of the pandemic and to gaining the support of society as we begin to make our way towards recovery.


Policy Insights

  • The process of policy development needs to be transparent and the rationale behind policies should be clearly communicated to the public. This will enable trust and combat misinformation. Read more.
  • Policymakers must ensure an understanding of how different forms of media can be used to get a message to reach and resonate with their intended audience. Read more.
  • Policy needs to be developed and delivered to Australians in a way that reflects their daily realities during and coming out of this crisis. Read more.

The process of policy development needs to be transparent and the rationale behind policies should be clearly communicated to the public. This will enable trust and combat misinformation.

Dr Kate Fitch

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Government communication, good and bad, has been thrust into the limelight. The issues are exacerbated by what the World Health Organization refers to as the infodemic, where misinformation, disinformation and too much information hamper responses to a health emergency. Crisis communication with clear messaging and supporting rationale and evidence is PR 101, but many governments stumbled in their initial responses. In Australia, we have seen some state governments do a better job, and this observation is reflected in current polling.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

Missing from the discussion is recognition that the pandemic exacerbates inequality and causes major anxiety, with significant implications for the ‘recovery’ phase and transition to the ‘new normal’ post-COVID19. Government and public sector communication demand clarity and dialogue around both the solutions and the issues, but are operating in a dynamic and complex media environment—and one that has contributed to the infodemic. To address misinformation, communication demands trust and credibility rather than confusion and ambiguity.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

When I lived in London, my regular bus route passed a building on the Walworth Rd with the sentence ‘The health of the people is the highest law’ carved in stone. The sentiment is still apt. Listen to scientists and especially epidemiologists, but also consider the social impact of policies on people and communities. That means prioritising people, community and public health. To do this, stronger societal and ethical orientations along with greater transparency around policy development and communication are needed.

Additional resources

Fitch, K. (2018) ‘Public relations and responsible citizenship: Communicating CSR and sustainability’ in M. Bruechner, M. Paull, & R. Spencer (eds) Responsible Citizenship, Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability: Perspectives From Business, Society and Politics. New York, NY: Springer. PP., 109-119.

Boin, A., McConnell, A., Stern, E., and ‘t Hart, P. (2020). Leading in a crisis: Communicating to clear crisis communications. The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG).

Zaracostas, J. (2020) How to fight an infodemic. The Lancet.


Policymakers must ensure an understanding of how different forms of media can be used to get a message to reach and resonate with their intended audience.

Dr Andy Ruddock

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

How to deliver reliable, factual health communication in a multi-platform media environment.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

There's a history of media research suggesting two absences. First, the public comes to media looking for emotional engagement. Second, changing the medium of communication changes what is and can be communicated. Ironically, understanding that information is arguably the least important aspect of media communication is the key to communicating information effectively.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

Overcome public cynicism by connecting with people emotionally. Appreciate the unique emotional capacities of the different media that you use.

Additional resources

Ruddock, A. (2020) Digital Media Influence. Sage Publishing.


Policy needs to be developed and delivered to Australians in a way that reflects their daily realities during and coming out of this crisis.

Professor Scott Wright

What is a key policy challenge facing governments right now (and into the future) that has emerged or been exacerbated by COVID-19?

Australian democratic life is built on the politics of the everyday; it lives in our communities. COVID-19 has upended how community groups operate in Australia, and with it the social and civic life that they sustain. This raises a fundamental challenge for governments who need public support and action for the hugely consequential decisions being taken, and at a policy level rely on such groups to deliver services.

Who (or what) is missing from discussion of the policy challenge you have described?

Physical distancing has forced face-to-face community groups to close, with new forms of community emerging online. How this has impacted both the social and civic activities that derive from Australian community groups – including questions of trust, support and service delivery - is unclear, and an urgent question for policy-makers.

If a key government decision maker (e.g. a Cabinet Minister) asked you for advice on how to address this challenge, what would you say? Why?

From Morrison’s quiet Australians, to Howard’s battlers, and Menzies’ forgotten people, there is a tendency to ignore the politics of the everyday and the voices of ‘ordinary’ people - yet these are the majority of Australians. Research that captures these voices and the lived experience of COVID-19 to fully inform policy development is urgently needed.


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