More than a lecture needed to stop the fear and panic in the shopping aisles

Ian Bushnell 23 March 2020 43
Empty shelves at Weston

Cleaned out: Now it’s meat. The butcher shop at Cooleman Court in Weston on Saturday morning. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

Well, the PM’s lecture on hoarding and panic buying went down well.

Queues at supermarkets and even the Fyshwick markets, the buying extending to perishables and regional supermarkets banning outsiders from the aisles – that was the response in the Canberra region, and everywhere else.

If anything the rush on shopping centres and even the Fyshwick markets gathered apace.

Such is the loss of respect for the office and distrust in our leaders that the past decade of revolving Prime Ministers, the culture and climate wars, and divisive wedge politics has spawned.

Now, when we are in a crisis too immediate to ignore, no one is listening to the Prime Minister’s disappointed dad act.

Do people realise what comes next if they do not heed Mr Morrison’s plea?

The ACT’s pro-market Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, wasn’t going there when asked about whether there was a potential big stick in the back pocket if the madness continues.

“I guess the good news is that those people probably have several years’ supply of these products, and won’t need to go to the supermarket again for those products for some time,” he said.

“We will reach the point when people run out of storage space in their homes.”

Woolworths Weston

No joy at the toilet paper aisle in Woolworths Weston about 11:00 am on Saturday (21 March).

He assured journalists that the government would keep a close eye on the situation, while endorsing the PM’s comments.

Later in the week he warned profiteers they would face the wrath of the ACCC.

“I have no doubt they will seek to make an example of any business that sought to profiteer from the national emergency,” he said.

Don’t bet on it, though.

He still insisted supply chains were being ratcheted up and shelves would again be full in coming weeks.

“Supply lines are gearing up and we will see more supplies on supermarket shelves in coming weeks,” he said.

He even said factories were converting to manufacturing some of the goods in demand, such as a distillery in Victoria moving to make hand sanitiser.

But already we have had supermarkets calling in private security, police patrolling the aisles, although they tend to disappear when a crime is reported, and buying limits imposed across a growing range of products.

Then there is the inevitable price gouging for items such as hand sanitiser to even vegetables – a cauliflower was reportedly going at $20 a head at the Fyshwick markets.

Plea for civility

A notice warning customers at the empty toilet roll aisle at Woolworths Weston on Saturday morning.

Meat, especially beef mince, is being ripped off the refrigerator shelves, to make the bolognaise to go with the pasta, no doubt.

Even the egg stands are being cleaned out. Are people rediscovering baking big time?

The price hikes may be morally dubious, but there’s nothing illegal about that, according to the laws of supply and demand.


Do we just have to wait until this hysteria, or rational precautionary behaviour, call it what you will, runs out of steam, like the virus, or will the normal market rules of supply and demand have to be suspended, real rationing introduced and more than just blue uniforms appear at the shops?

How soon before there is more than just a fracas and a real riot erupts, perhaps even causing injury or worse?

In the US the National Guard has been called out in some cities to keep order.

Some might say, ”not here, this is Australia, we’re not like that”. Maybe in the past, but decades of neo-liberal economic policies that have encouraged individualism and personal profit have achieved what the purveyors wanted – a change in our culture to make us more competitive, self-driven, and basically greedy.


The empty Woden Woolworths shelves on Saturday afternoon.

The poor, the disabled, those without cars to rove the city hunting and gathering are being left behind in the scramble to fortify the home and not be left out.

Not to mention medicines and medical supplies at pharmacies.

The bushfires brought us together at a terrible cost. This crisis is driving us apart.

Mr Morrison, still smarting from the scorching he suffered over his Hawaii holiday and tardy response to the bushfires, has been keen to stay ahead of the curve, but it seems he overestimated our behaviour and underestimated our ability to keep track of what was occurring in other countries.

Not factoring in the fear and panic the virus has created appears to be a gap in the overall coronavirus response, and unless it subsides the PM will have to do more than finger wagging.

And maybe something un-Australian.

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43 Responses to More than a lecture needed to stop the fear and panic in the shopping aisles
Christopher Cuba Rabanal Christopher Cuba Rabanal 3:21 pm 25 Mar 20

Shops need to close for at least two days let them restock fully.

Than get customers to come by on the third day in alphabetical order at certain times of the day.

Than repeat the cycle.

What you don’t want is to put too much pressure on the people feeding you eg

The people who kill the cows and chickens for you, if they get sick and can’t work than they’ll lock the factory down from the virus. 🦠

Order and patience is the key at this stage.

Public order is paramount

You lose this and people will act differently.

Let’s not get to that stage.

Chris Olsen Chris Olsen 3:17 pm 24 Mar 20

He sounded like a struggling relief teacher trying to tell off a class of misbehaving kids, a total fail.

Fortress Epiphany Fortress Epiphany 1:54 pm 24 Mar 20

No, decades of something else, that many of us recognize but aren’t allowed to talk about, are also to blame

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:12 pm 23 Mar 20

I'm imagining the massive amount of wasted food this will generate. Many people throw out food now, so they have no idea how not to waste (or don't care), so this is going to lead to masses of waste.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:29 pm 23 Mar 20

“Stockpiling and price gouging were a breach of the implicit norms of home front life, namely that the nation should suffer together. As a crime black marketing was more difficult because every demographic of the city was represented; from the working-man’s pubs in the C.B.D which never appeared to run out of beer, and whose busiest hours appeared to be well after six o’clock closing, to the cheerful suburban grocer who kept something extra under the counter for his best customers. ”

That’s from a History Honours thesis entitled ‘Profits Over Patriotism: Black Market Crime in World War II Sydney’ which turned up in the first (of many) pages of results when I searched for info about black market activities in Australia in the Second World War – Before Patriotism.pdf

So with the rose-coloured specs removed, we probably need to acknowledge that what’s been going on here is much more about human nature than it is about passing economic and political theories.

Some of the panic and confusion might be avoided if our leaders – of all political persuasions – could avoid efforts like we had yesterday, with leaks from late morning, dramatic press conferences, absence of crucial details (to be released over a couple of days after someone worked out what was actually going to happen), and then a collective walkback in the later evening.

Without necessarily following the same sequence, a system which lets people know what might be coming, and what the triggers would be, along the lines of the NZ Alert Levels, might be better than the veiled threats which Australians are getting from their leaders –

Bec White Bec White 4:13 pm 23 Mar 20

MY e I’ll be lucky enough to get actually get essentials f they take the next step, 2 weeks of shops everyday and no toilet paper has been found

Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 11:00 am 23 Mar 20

For anyone who thinks we are over reacting - Italy has by far the world’s highest infection rate, but fewer than 1 percent of Italians have been infected so far, even allowing for many undetected cases. With zero immunity to the new virus, 60 percent or more of any given population may eventually get the disease, so there’s still a long way to go

Dory Johns Dory Johns 10:42 am 23 Mar 20

I will not be lectured to by any politician. If it's a once-in-100-year event there has been plenty of time to develop a pandemic/disaster plan and educate the public about what each stage involves. Clearly, none of this has been done at any level of Government.

    Phil Hopkins Phil Hopkins 8:35 pm 25 Mar 20

    Dory Johns NZ has it broken down into stages.

    Dory Johns Dory Johns 10:12 pm 25 Mar 20

    Phil. Yes. As it should be. People need As much certainty as possible in times like these and will accept changes if they understand what's happening. Bravo to NZ.

Ree Marando Ree Marando 10:35 am 23 Mar 20

Frank Marando Silvana Marando Maryanne Drinkwater checkout the front page photo.

Matt Frawley Matt Frawley 9:19 am 23 Mar 20

Sadly, it's the people who heeded the advice from the Government and supermarkets not to panic buy and hoard, that are being screwed now.

Kelli Trinidad Kelli Trinidad 9:12 am 23 Mar 20

Be kind to the hoarders, in a months time when we may run out of stuff we will be wishing we knew one and asking for a roll of toilet paper and a cup of sugar....

Kathy Schneider Kathy Schneider 9:05 am 23 Mar 20

Yes, the Seniors early hour at Coles in Chatswood Sydney had no toilet paper at all right at opening. Although there was plenty of meat and veggies. So much for “there is plenty of stock for everyone”! I think they should start rationing for scarce items.

    Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 10:52 am 23 Mar 20

    Kathy Schneider there is enough for our needs but not for our greed

Mark Ryan Mark Ryan 8:39 am 23 Mar 20

We certainly dont want t o go down the road of marshal law and police state thats just not who we are. Common sense and caution along with heeding all the warnings is a must.

Jill Lyall Jill Lyall 8:16 am 23 Mar 20

There is no professionally produced sustained education campaign. People need good, clear and engaging messages about what this is all about and why social distancing is needed

Steph Burgess Steph Burgess 7:59 am 23 Mar 20

If Hawke had said ‘Get into your homes and bloody well stay there, we’ll look after everything else!’ the community would have said ‘Yep, righto Bob, we trust you’ and done it. The fact that Morrison’s finger wagging is being greeted with a raspberry, is pretty telling.

    Mark Ryan Mark Ryan 8:36 am 23 Mar 20

    Steph Burgess perhaps this shows just how far respect for leaders and common sense has slipped in our society in 30 years.

    Steph Burgess Steph Burgess 8:37 am 23 Mar 20

    Mark Ryan On the back of the appalling lack of quality of said leadership.

    David Warwick David Warwick 8:43 am 23 Mar 20

    Steph Burgess yeah, i don't think so.

    Fred Colon Fred Colon 9:22 am 23 Mar 20

    Morrison is too lightweight. Even Abbott would have been better in these circumstances and I don't say that easily.

    We'd be in a much better place if we had someone like Hawke or Fraser in charge .

    Alexandra Hughes Alexandra Hughes 11:12 am 23 Mar 20

    Steph Burgess I agree in part, that was the case at the time, but unfortunately Morrison is talking to a far less compliant population. We did what we were told, today, most people don't due to societal changes far too complex for FB posts. Would be great to go back though. 🙂

    Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 12:59 pm 23 Mar 20

    Steph Burgess especially a week after he said go out and enjoy yourselves for the weekend, it’s as of Monday. So hillsong wouldn’t be disrupted, and he could go to the footy.

    Susan Williams Susan Williams 3:36 pm 23 Mar 20

    Steph Burgess I think Morrison is relying on people doing the right thing but there are too many greedy selfish people out there.

    Just goes to show you can’t rely on a lot of people to do the right thing

    Paul Dowden Paul Dowden 4:13 pm 23 Mar 20

    Fred Colon he’s so liteweight (deliberate spelling) I’m surprised he’s not nailed down to stop him blowing away.

Leigh Brady Leigh Brady 7:52 am 23 Mar 20

People are panicking because they don’t trust this government to look after them in a crisis. Given their track record I don’t really blame them.

    Dorinda Lillington Dorinda Lillington 10:16 am 23 Mar 20

    I think personnel survival has something to do with it. I would really like someone to do the statistics and tell me how many people die in the world yearly of flu, malaria, tuberculosis etc and put COVID into perspective. We are killing our economy by over reacting. Any thoughts?

    Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 10:49 am 23 Mar 20

    Dorinda Lillington I personally have read and listened intently to all the information. I’ve watched the big army trucks in Italy carrying all the bodies out of the city for cremation. I am of the firm belief that we are not over reacting rather under reacting too late

    Helen Walker Helen Walker 8:01 pm 23 Mar 20

    Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Dorinda Lillington definitely underreacting too late. This disease is more or less equivalent to the Spanish flu in 1918 which killed at least 50 million people in under 2 years.

    There are countries that have managed this outbreak well.

    Australia had a heads up and watched what was happening around the world and decided to model ourselves on the countries heading for disaster rather than on those who managed the disease well.

    NZ has the right approach and might avoid the scenes we are seeing in Europe and the US. We are on track to follow Europe.

Jeannine Lee Jeannine Lee 7:49 am 23 Mar 20

Gee. Do you need a drum to beat with that rant?

Claire Cat Claire Cat 7:45 am 23 Mar 20

Wish they had of locked down prices when this all started! The profiteering at the wholesale level is disgraceful.

Lisey Lou Lisey Lou 7:38 am 23 Mar 20

I think that the writer hit on something, talking about how neo liberalism has changed our society, and not for the better - it’s the individual focus above being a member of a functioning society...

    Bee Haych Bee Haych 7:38 am 23 Mar 20

    Jim Andrews strike a chord?

    Cath King Cath King 7:58 pm 23 Mar 20

    Lisey Lou Zen saying... "How does a rain drop know itself to be a river?"

Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 7:28 am 23 Mar 20

I've had my groceries delivered every week for the past 2 years.

It worries me that I have not been able to order groceries online for the past 2 weeks. I now have to mingle with people in the supermarket instead.

Is anyone looking into why they cannot keep up? Is it a lack of trucks? Staff?

I'm fine with not getting some of the products I try to order. Happens all the time. I usually have enough food in the freezer to last us a while. I just want my deliveries back!

    Iaian Ross Iaian Ross 7:49 am 23 Mar 20

    Lin Van Oevelen Lots of people are staying home and not going to cafes, bars restaurants as much due to reduced capacity. People need to eat and if not there then they'll need to purchase more food than they otherwise would for themselves. With the impending shutdown, and people needing to take into account of being housebound for 2 weeks at any given time. People are needing to buy 3-4 weeks worth of goods from the supermarkets, instead of 1-2 weeks or less. If everyone's buying 2-3 times more than before that's a huge difference when you multiply that by the number of usual shoppers.

    Rooster James Rooster James 8:01 am 23 Mar 20

    Lin Van Oevelen no it’s just morons taking more than they need.

    Lin Van Oevelen Lin Van Oevelen 8:04 am 23 Mar 20

    Iaian, this started way before the announcement of the shutdown.

    And I would ask like to know why Woolies could not cope with the demand for online ordering and delivery well before the shutdown too.

    Lauren Jean Massey Lauren Jean Massey 8:23 am 23 Mar 20

    Because they need the staff restocking shelves and the trucks for the logistics of getting supplies into the stores.

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