Opinion: Can we do better in striving for fairness?

This opinion piece was written by Darren Park, CEO, UCB Stores for the August/September issue of Convenience & Impulse Retailing magazine.

The last year has been a year like no other, and we aren’t talking about the circumstances of living through COVID. In this opinion piece, I want to share some thoughts that I’m increasingly hearing spoken about within our industry – it’s fairness.

I was staggered to read that the number of billionaires on Forbes’ 35th annual list of the worlds wealthiest people exploded to a new high of 2,755, that’s 660 more than a year ago! If my maths is correct that is almost two new billionaires per day for 365 days. In Australia, Gina Rinehart has an estimated wealth of $31 billion and Andrew Forrest has wealth estimated at $27 billion.

This is not a piece on wealth envy, far from it. The good thing about our industry in general is that hard work, done well over time can be well rewarded. High incomes can be the reward for innovation or risk taking, which contributes to making our communities better off. For many convenience retailers, we know way too much about risk!

Fairness is about more than just economics or who gets paid what. For me, inequality is a problem when it offers opportunity for some (whether through wealth or some government position for example) to have undue power and influence over others.

For example, is it fair that the Queensland Chief Medical Officer can place at risk our COVID recovery, by talking down one COVID vaccine over another? Shouldn’t that be a doctor/patient discussion? There seems to be so many different opinions from media commentators and political leaders which is very confusing to the general public. For politicians, it seems to be more about blaming each other than looking for a way out of this, whether it is the states blaming the Federal Government or the states blaming each other. What happened to us all being in this together? We now have health officers scaring people to make a headline:

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young, said:

“I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they got COVID, probably wouldn’t die,” she said during a press conference.

“We are not in a position that I need to ask young, fit, healthy ­people to put their health on the line (by) getting a vaccine that could potentially significantly harm them,” she added

Anyone listening to Dr Young’s comments would be left with the impression that a young person taking the AstraZeneca vaccine was a risky proposition.

So how did the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation – the group whose advice Dr Young is insistent young people follow – quantify the risk?

Source: The Australian 1 July, Natasha Robinson

These comments don’t help us out of the pandemic. It’s scaremongering allowing government to hold onto the ultimate power of closing the borders.

Looking at countries like the UK and Italy – the numbers below are for 29 June 2021:

CountryUnited KingdomItalyAustralia
Ist vaccination44,719,762 = 67%33,601,929 = 56%Approx 6,243,880 = 24%

*John Hopkins Universityhttps://github.com/CSSEGISandData/COVID-19

Looking at the above numbers, we have done a great job at minimising the cases with zero deaths, but at what point do we get back to a somewhat ‘normal’ way of life. Is it about being vaccinated?

The UK and Italy are moving forward with a level of normalcy. What happens as soon as our borders open? Do we go straight back into lockdown as COVID-19 will be throughout the rest of the world? Are borders conditional on us all, or at least the majority of us, to be vaccinated?

With leaders making outlandish statements and scaring people over vaccines, making statements like the one from Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, we will be an island that will never open again as we will be too scared to open due to the fact we might get a case of COVID.

The UK had 20,000 cases in a single day with 18 deaths, yet they are getting back to some sort of normal. We had 34 on 29 June with no deaths, and nearly half of the country is in lockdown.

So, what is the answer? A young person pointed out to me recently what she called a fun fact; Australia has had 30,000 positive COVID cases since the pandemic started with 900 deaths, the UK is having an average of 24,000 positive test cases per day during July 2021, and they are about to open. I checked and she was right. She asked when we will reopen and I didn’t have a credible answer, but what blew me away was the UK having as many positives per day as our total positives since COVID started in Australia in March 2021. 

We are sending many Australian athletes to Tokyo for the delayed 2020 Olympic Games. Now, I love sport, I love watching Australian’s win. But is this the right time to spend so much money on a few, when there’s a need to support the many? What about business people that are losing businesses that they have worked for 20 years to build, people losing everything? What happens when the athletes get back? They take 400 seats on a plane from people that may have waited 12 months to try and get home. How is that fair? Many Australians have watched horrified as some state leaders stopped families from visiting loved ones, with very little time to live. In the same breath, just in May 2021, Australia allowed and estimated 115,600 overseas arrivals to land and allowed 108,300 departures, 52,000 were from NZ (Source: ABS).

Once again, how is that fair? 400 Olympians doesn’t sound much but what if it was your family member that was one of the 400 people that missed out to fit the 400 Olympians to arrive back home?

Another question is how will rough sleepers across Australia be helped? Some of these homeless are people that have fought for our country, fought for the freedoms we all enjoy, yet nobody has a plan how we are going to help or offer them the vaccine.

Rev. Bill Crews has fought since December 2020 trying to get the government to help. Finally In May, he was able to start a homeless vaccine program administering up to 250 jabs at Ashfield. That’s one small part but how will we help them all and our community with COVID vaccination? How will we help them with housing and mental wellness support?

I know this will upset many but why can’t we have a Zoom Olympics! Run the events in your own country and log the time. Diverting all that Olympic spending or even a part of it could make a big difference In Australia and in the world. Imagine the billions it costs to put the Olympics on. Imagine the vaccines that money could buy to supply to a third world country.

Now, I’m not getting old and grumpy here. I’m flagging that while business and success is important, so is how we build a community for the better. “A rising tide lift all boats”, is a phrase I’ve really warmed to. It’s what we are trying to do as an industry for our communities.

As I continue on my journey of leadership both in the convenience and petroleum industry and my community, fairness has become a passion. It’s also the one tool that I have found that supports my growth and that of my team and colleagues.

Here are a few points that I am working on that might be useful to think about:

  • Hold all of your employees to the same standards;
  • Lead by example;
  • Establish the rules and make them crystal clear;
  • Don’t let bias affect your decisions;
  • Give employees a voice;
  • Apologise if you make a mistake

In an ideal community or workplace, everyone should be treated fairly and have access to equal opportunities. Fairness is the ideal I am aspiring to deliver against everyday and it’s one that I look for across our industry, in our political leaders, and in my team.

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