BY THE AUSTRALIAN autumn of 2020, following straight on from a Christmas of bushfires and extreme loss, the warning signs were clear.
An uneducated public makes for easy victims. Australia of 2020 faced not only plummeting educational outcomes and a highly manipulated media easily turned to the narratives of fear, but, in a government-engineered fiasco, some of the world’s slowest, most expensive and most unreliable internet.
All at a time when the rest of the world was rushing online, when you could be complicit in a thousand people’s lives anytime you chose.
It suited the government to have an ignorant population; to be the puppet masters of information channels which were “a vacuum at the heart of the public sphere”. It didn’t suit Old Alex.
Australia had slower internet speeds than the US, Canada, most of Asia and Europe, Kenya, Latvia or Kazakhstan — and was continuing to sink down the world rankings. Artificial Intelligences and their human adjuncts grew smarter by the day, by the hour. Australia just got dumber. This manufacturing of ignorance fed into the remarkable acceptance by the Australian population of the destruction of their freedoms.
Infamous whistle blower Edward Snowden, in an interview conducted on behalf of Reporters Without Borders, put it bluntly: “Everybody who looks around right now, they can see, they can feel what’s in the air. Everything is changing rapidly. We are seeing new powers being claimed. We are seeing new powers being abused.
“We are seeing governments tearing open new avenues into our private lives under the justification of emergency measures.
“You know, they always say these are temporary, it is for this reason and that reason … But there is nothing more permanent than a temporary measure.
“The system is now failing.”
Snowden said efforts to resist were being stymied in large part because the first step towards fixing a problem is understanding it, and humanity’s traditional method for rapidly digesting and sharing information, journalism, was under attack.
“I think that is an intentional strategy. I don’t think it is a coincidence, I don’t think it is a mistake; I don’t think it is an unintentional overreach.
“The sources of true information — the sources of journalism — are under the kind of threat that we have really never seen before. If we cannot or do not protect journalism, the system of our world will fail and the cost will be measured in freedoms.”
Reporters Without Borders were also quick to expose multiple heavy handed suppressions of information under the cover of COVID. They launched #Tracker_19 under the title “Live Updates of Cov-19: Impacts of Press Freedom”.
In India the government repeatedly tried to stop journalists from publishing anything but government-approved information.
In Hungary there were fears the government would seize the national media, with jail and fines for anyone publishing what it deemed to be fake news.
In Myanmar more than 200 websites were blocked, including leading news sites and several pitched at ethnic minorities.
Twelve months on, Reporters Without Borders’ Tracker_19 was still going strong, reporting on a string of oppressive actions by governments under the cover of COVID.
The Australian public remained almost entirely unaware that there was vigorous debate and no medical or scientific consensus over the veracity of everything to do with COVID; lockdowns, masks, social distancing, closed borders, curfews, arrests, punitive fines, jail time, the lot.
Nor any understanding of how governments around the world were using COVID to entrench their own power.
For members of the public, the endless stream of government announcements simply meant one compounding loss of personal control after another.
Morrison’s exceptionally long and confusing press conferences, far from laying calm into a disturbed and frightened public, added to the panic. Paradoxically, after his press conferences, the opposite of effective messaging, the prime minister’s polling went up. The nation had switched off to the detail, and assumed all that talk was a sign someone was in control, that the nation’s leaders were acting in the people’s best interests.
On 25 March, in a lengthy statement, Morrison declared: “I said in the Parliament that 2020, for most Australians, was going to be their toughest year. And what we have seen unfold just this week has been demonstrating just that.
“Australians who have lost their jobs, lost hours of work, businesses that have been forced to close their business — these are heartbreaking events in our nation’s history and story.
“And I want to assure all Australians the National Cabinet has been meeting, and state governments also, and we’ve considered the many, many difficult issues we’re having to address.
“We are not unconscious of the real impacts that these measures are having on the daily lives of Australians and so we will continue to do everything we can, both as a federal government and as state and territory governments around the country, to do all we can to support our people through what is going to be an incredibly difficult time.
“The queues that we saw outside Centrelink, the challenges and frustrations people have had in gaining access is a sheer function of the extraordinary and overwhelming demand, and we will work night and day to ensure that we can get more capacity into these systems.
“But our goal is to get through this together and by following common sense rules, and doing the right thing, that’s how we slow the spread of this virus and that’s how we save lives.
“And so, from midnight tomorrow night, all of these following activities — and they include some I have already announced from earlier — will no longer be taking place. Cafes, I have already said, but for takeaway, that will continue. So, no change to the issues around cafes. Food courts and shopping centres will not be allowed to continue. But getting takeaway from those food outlets in those shopping centres, that can continue because takeaway is able to be done.”
There was so much more: “So with those changes, there was still a lot more we needed to deal with tonight, but we knew we needed to report tonight and the National Cabinet will meet again tomorrow evening at the same time to work through a series of other issues which includes further considering possible measures down the track. I apologise for the
length. It has been a busy night and hopefully that’s been very clear.”
And more. So much, much more.
SNAPSHOTS OF AUSTRALIA: THE SERIES