No one with two neurones to rub together trusts the Australian government. Their actions during the pandemic are being wildly and widely condemned. Australians have been suffering a slow death of democracy for years. A sclerotic bureaucracy and a greedy, dismally inept political class ensures a once optimistic country is optimistic no longer. Over the past decade Australians have experienced their worst period of government in the nation’s history. And the pandemic has just proved the critics right.
Here is a sampling of the often scathing commentary.
Professor of Law Augusto Zimmermann.
Society is not a machine: it can’t be switched on and off at government will.
One of the few positive aspects of this current crisis is that some politicians are finally revealing their true authoritarian colours — including Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The management of the current crisis clearly exposes their authoritarian inclinations.
As a fellow academic and good friend of mine recently pointed out, “civil society is not a machine that can be switched on and off at will. Much is in the process of being entirely destroyed and at the cost of many lives’”.
While emergency powers are sometimes needed, we are seeing examples of draconian measures that dramatically increase the arbitrary power of the state, thus allowing government to exercise mass surveillance powers over citizens and alarming restriction of civil liberties.
In this present health crisis, argues Brendan O’Neill, the ruling elites are tirelessly agitating “for the government to shut down everyday life and send the police and the army to interrogate anyone who is outside without permission. They view us not as citizens to be engaged with, but as disease carriers to be controlled.”
O’Neill is the editor of Spiked Online and a columnist for The Australian. As he correctly advises: “Remember everything that is being said” by these anti-democratic elites who are presently ruling over us. “Because when this horrible crisis is over we are going to need to renew the fight for freedom and democracy with real vigour. These people have got to go”, he says.
“We live under staggeringly anti-democratic elites”, O’Neill adds. Indeed, writes British journalist Peter Hitchens, governments all over the world are currently “resorting to risky, frantic measures”, including “the curfew, the presumption of guilt and the power of arbitrary arrest”.
Hitchens is renowned for his rational and sensible approach. Here he offers a rather controversial view of the situation.
After reminding us that the key word here is precaution (because there is nothing wrong with practical precautions), Hitchens then goes on to admonish us that “the current panic measures do far more harm than good. They create the idea that we are in the midst of a terrifying plague that will kill us all, when the truth — though disturbing — is far less frightening”.
I wholeheartedly agree with him. And the recent speech by the Australian Prime Minister further threatens to spread irrational fear in our communities. It causes us to lose our jobs, and it harms democracy itself.
Resisting the speech of such doom-mongers who rule over us is unquestionably the first step to challenging Covid-19.
Caitlin Johnstone, an Australian journalist with a significant international following:
There are individual issues coming up which we can shake our fists at, like massive bailouts for corporations and governments implementing dangerously authoritarian measures while refusing to adequately provide for their citizenry, but a full picture of what’s happening and where this is all going remains unclear.
You don’t need to put that extra layer of stress on yourself. If you’re looking at a mountain of disparate and conflicting information about which you can’t form a single unified narrative, that’s okay. That’s what we’re all seeing. Some of us are just more honest with ourselves about this than others.
It is true that we don’t yet fully understand this new virus and can’t predict exactly how destructive it’s going to be. It is also true that people are experiencing a frightening amount of financial pressure. It is also true that authoritarian government policies are very dangerous and might not be rolled back once implemented.
Jack Waterford, esteemed elder statesman of Australian journalism and former Editor-in-Chief of The Canberra Times:
As governments have ratcheted up non-medical measures against COVID-19, the communications performance of an array of public officials has been lamentable and embarrassing — agony to watch. Some reporters and commentators, possibly at the urging of editors, have markedly softened their questions. They are doing so for fear that apparent hostility or exasperation after failing to get straight answers might actually undermine confidence in public health measures that all reasonable observers believe to be necessary.
The biggest problem for good management of the epidemic is that the government is not really getting “independent” advice from its independent professional committees. One can expect that the advice is focused on what is achievable, given the constraints. But the committees are being too conscious of other pressures on government, too focused on keeping governments broadly on message, and too focused on protecting the leaders.
They may think that public interest is their foremost concern. But the public has only slight ownership of the processes. Indeed, even health workers actually dealing with patients are complaining of not being consulted, being unable to get basic information about matters such as medical supplies, and of being ignored.
Mark Ragg, Editor at Australia’s leading independent health policy site Croakey:
The health sector has reacted with horror to the National Cabinet’s backdown on plans to suspend elective surgery in public and private hospitals at short notice.
On the morning of 25 March the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said all non-urgent elective surgery would be suspended “until further notice” from midnight on 26 March.
The Prime Minister said the decision was based on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee the evening before.
Yet the next day a statement on the website of the National Cabinet said: “National Cabinet agreed to extend the deadline for the suspension of semi urgent Category 2 and 3 elective surgeries at private hospitals to 11.59pm on 1 April 2020. … The changes will allow greater transition for the community to the new arrangements and ensure the national supply of essential PPE — such as masks, gowns, gloves and goggles for the healthcare workforce.”
There is no mention in that announcement of the decision being based on health advice.
The announcement has been met with scorn. In a joint statement, Australian medical colleges said they were: “extremely disappointed by the Federal Government’s move to reverse its decision to cancel non-urgent elective surgery and allow private hospitals to continue operations for another week as COVID-19 cases and fatalities continue to increase.”
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists and the College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand said the reversal of the original decision “was inconsistent with advice from leading medical experts and clearly increases the risk to patients and health care workers.”