Australians have mostly done their bit to contain the spread of coronavirus. There have been some exceptions – because we haven’t bred the ‘dickhead’ gene out of the human race yet – but essentially, we have complied with the requests of governments: we worked from home, home-schooled our kids, washed our hands and maintained social distancing. All this, in the name of keeping Australians safe.
We also understood certain legislation had to be passed so federal and state governments could make provisions to support Australians and facilitate the containment of the virus.
No argument here.
However, despite the months passing and things mostly improving (save for a stunning governmental belly flop in Victoria) our governments don’t seem too keen on loosening their grip.
This week, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews nonchalantly floated the idea of extending the state of emergency for 12 months, sans explanation as to why but with the quip that it’s for Victorians’ own good. Such an extension would allow the Andrews Government to continue to largely bypass the Victorian parliament on COVID-19 related issues. As it turns out, Victorians aren’t too happy with police being able to enter and search their house without a warrant for another year, you know, just in case.
In WA, Premier Mark McGowan has recently introduced a catch-all ‘Omnibus Bill’ to manage COVID-19 related issues. This bill includes a provision which would allow the Governor, on ministerial advice, to postpone any end date stated in the bill, in yearly intervals, as far out as 30 June 2025. That means, it can extend these proposed laws, dealing with a range of matters, without the scrutiny of parliament.
Essentially, we are seeing the circumvention of state parliaments and the concentration of unfettered power in state governments. It’s become acceptable to make lazy policy and run roughshod over the rights of Australians rather than go to the effort of making good policy that respects individualism.
And instead of loosening their grip as the virus comes under control, they are doing their utmost to extend or at least retain the power they have grasped over the past few months. The political narrative comes heaped with a heavy scoop of fear, because if we don’t let them pass whichever law, we’ll all end up dead and piled into military trucks lined up outside the crematorium. Any nuance in virus-related discourse has evaporated.
Ultimately, a scared populace is easily controlled: all of a sudden, West Australians are in favour of return travellers wearing ankle bracelets and are applauding a woman being jailed for six months for breaching quarantine. We don’t even put ankle bracelets on all sex offenders, but apparently, because it relates to COVID-19, it’s totally fine.
So, where to from here?
Well, I refuse to call this the ‘new normal’. Frankly, I haven’t particularly enjoyed my free trial of Nineteen Eighty-Four. I want to go back to the old normal. You know, the old normal we went back to after the Spanish flu devastated the planet in 1918, which was coincidently the same as the old normal BEFORE the Spanish flu devastated the planet in 1918.
For those who are politically engaged, we need to speak up, and for those who aren’t politically engaged, you need to engage: our premiers are thriving in their budding autocracy. But they shouldn’t get too comfortable, the punter always works it out, and when they do, the electoral reckoning will be brutal.
In the meantime, we need to take account of the ground we recently gave up and make a fuss about getting it back. Part of Australia’s recovery is returning to the checks and balances of parliament. We shouldn’t be reckless with the health of Australians, but health is a multifaceted issue, and controlling COVID isn’t a panacea for all our problems. The impacts of the virus go beyond the infection itself.
We need to be rational and dispassionate, and we can’t let fear be our master. We need more government accountability, not less. Because flattening the curve has resulted in flattening the rights of Australians.
And it’s not good enough.
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