From one of the most open, rowdy, and proudly untameable nations in all of Western Civ, to…this nightmarish obscenity?
Up to now one of Earth’s freest societies, Australia has become a hermit continent. How long can a country maintain emergency restrictions on its citizens’ lives while still calling itself a liberal democracy?
Australia has been testing the limits.
Before 2020, the idea of Australia all but forbidding its citizens from leaving the country, a restriction associated with Communist regimes, was unthinkable. Today, it is a widely accepted policy. “Australia’s borders are currently closed and international travel from Australia remains strictly controlled to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” a government website declares. “International travel from Australia is only available if you are exempt or you have been granted an individual exemption.” The rule is enforced despite assurances on another government website, dedicated to setting forth Australia’s human-rights-treaty obligations, that the freedom to leave a country “cannot be made dependent on establishing a purpose or reason for leaving.”
The nation’s high court struck down a challenge to the country’s COVID-19 restrictions. “It may be accepted that the travel restrictions are harsh. It may also be accepted that they intrude upon individual rights,” it ruled. “But Parliament was aware of that.” Until last month, Australians who are residents of foreign countries were exempt from the rule so they could return to their residence. But the government tightened the restrictions further, trapping many of them in the country too.
All deeply dismaying, even if you aren’t an Ocker. But no matter where you reside, if you love freedom even slightly this next ought to scare the living bejeesus out of you.
Intrastate travel within Australia is also severely restricted. And the government of South Australia, one of the country’s six states, developed and is now testing an app as Orwellian as any in the free world to enforce its quarantine rules. People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person. “We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,” Premier Steven Marshall explained. “I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.”
Ye gods and little fishes. That buries the needle on the Creepy-O-Meter dial, violently enough to shatter the glass cover. Proud? Thou fool. No South Australian has any right to feel proud ever again, unless and until they’ve seen to it that you and your malignant compatriots have all been hanged.
Other states also curtailed their citizens’ liberty in the name of safety. The state of Victoria announced a curfew and suspended its Parliament for key parts of the pandemic. “To put this in context, federal and state parliaments sat during both world wars and the Spanish Flu, and curfews have never been imposed,” the scholar John Lee observed in an article for the Brookings Institution. “In responding to a question about whether he had gone too far with respect to imposing a curfew (avoiding the question of why a curfew was needed when no other state had one), Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews replied: ‘it is not about human rights. It is about human life.’”
In New South Wales, Police Minister David Elliott defended the deployment of the Australian military to enforce lockdowns, telling the BBC that some residents of the state thought “the rules didn’t apply to them.” In Sydney, where more than 5 million people have been in lockdown for more than two months, and Melbourne, the country’s second-biggest city, anti-lockdown protests were banned, and when dissenters gathered anyway, hundreds were arrested and fined, Reuters reported.
Australia is undoubtedly a democracy, with multiple political parties, regular elections, and the peaceful transfer of power. But if a country indefinitely forbids its own citizens from leaving its borders, strands tens of thousands of its citizens abroad, puts strict rules on intrastate travel, prohibits citizens from leaving home without an excuse from an official government list, mandates masks even when people are outdoors and socially distanced, deploys the military to enforce those rules, bans protest, and arrests and fines dissenters, is that country still a liberal democracy?
Oh hell no. What that country is is a bare-knuckle, full-on dictatorship, using the trappings of liberal democracy as flimsy cover to conceal the monstrous face of tyranny and oppression.
To give Australia’s approach its due, temporary restrictions on liberty were far more defensible early in the pandemic, when many countries locked down and scientists understood little about COVID-19’s attributes or trajectory. Australian leaders hoped to “flatten the curve” of infection in an effort to prevent overcrowded hospitals and degraded care, and the higher death rates that would follow. The country was also betting that, within a time period short enough that restrictions could be sustained, scientists would develop a vaccine that protected against morbidity and mortality.
As it turned out, the bet paid off. Had it behaved rationally and adequately valued liberty, a rich nation like Australia would have spent lavishly—before knowing which vaccines would turn out to be most effective—to secure an adequate supply of many options for its people. It could afford to eat the cost of any extra doses and donate them to poorer countries. Australia then could have marshaled its military and civil society to vaccinate the nation as quickly as possible, lifted restrictions more fully than Europe and the United States did, and argued that the combination of fewer deaths and the more rapid return to normalcy made their approach a net win.
Beside the point and entirely irrelevant, every bit of it. The crucial point being the same one I’ve been adamant about from the earliest days of the Covid ploy: Freedom lost, or abandoned, cannot be regained without violence. Anyone who surrenders even the most seemingly insignificant or trivial scrap of his freedom must do so in the full realization that it is now forever lost to him. You never, EVER allow the government—any government, EVERY government—to take your freedom without a fight. Not for any reason, rationalization, or emergency. Period.
Bad as the above article is, dismaying and terrifying as it is, it’s still not the worst of it. This is:
What the hell is happening Down Under? “Totalitarianism,” says Tucker Carlson. “Australia has lost its collective mind,” according to Ben Shapiro. “If we invade Australia we will be greeted as liberators,” argues Jack Posobiec. Has Covid-19 really turned one of the world’s oldest democracies into a dystopian health dictatorship? As my Polish grandmother used to say, things are rarely as good or as bad as they appear.
To those half-jokingly tweeting about invading and liberating Australia, I have some bad news: Australia does not want to be liberated. Strong majorities support the harsh measures. Several state elections over this time have seen incumbents comfortably reelected on platforms of acting tough against Covid, amid messaging that those advocating a lighter touch want to kill your grandma. In Victoria, where the left-wing Labor government has been by far the harshest and most trigger-happy—Melbourne has been under “hard” lockdown for more than 200 days so far—polling suggests only a small dip in support, not nearly enough to unseat the administration. The consensus can be distilled into the following: Look at the rest of the world! Our government has kept us safe so far. We can’t allow what has happened in the United States or Europe to happen here.
American readers might be surprised at such a supine public attitude in the face of some of the hardest and longest-lasting Covid restrictions in the developed world. To the extent that Americans think of Australia, they might think of a staunch ally in wartime, or perhaps a relaxed but tough and rough-around-the-edges country that has produced Crocodile Dundee and a long procession of Hollywood’s leading action men. All that might be accurate, but the truth is that Australia simply does not (and never did) possess as strong a libertarian streak as America. For all the jokes about theirs being a “nation of convicts,” Australians have always been far more statist and beholden to authority than Americans.
How long can this last? If it was up to the drunk-on-power politicians and bureaucrats who have found a winning electoral formula, health experts who have found relevance, and the deathly scared who have found a sense of safety (and, for some at least, the frisson of being a part of something big and important), the answer is “forever.” Which is why the federal government—belatedly trying to orchestrate a return to some normalcy once certain vaccination levels are reached—finds its efforts contradicted by state governments and health experts arguing that the vaccination target actually needs to be (the unreachable and unrealistic) 90 percent or 95 percent, that lockdowns should continue even with a highly vaccinated population, and that international borders should stay closed indefinitely. That this is not great marketing—get vaccinated, but you still won’t be able to do anything!—needs no genius to recognize. Sadly, little evidence has materialized of any major shift in public sentiment. The powers that be still find it easy to taint the opposition to their “zero Covid” policies as callous, anti-science, anti-vax, right-wing extremists.
Crikey. It appears that poor Crocodile Dundee is well and truly dead—struck down in his prime not by the Dread Chinkenpox but by the hysterical, cowardly response to it from his easily-herded countrymen. From the looks of it, he never even existed in the first place. May the docile Australian people have joy of their horrifying choices. And may my own countrymen pay careful heed to the lesson the Land Down Under’s willful suicide offers us, before it’s too late to avoid succumbing to the same disgraceful fate ourselves.