The state has implemented extremely draconian Covid measures
Observing the United Kingdom’s response to Covid-19 from Melbourne, Australia, it seems pretty obvious which country has ‘performed’ better. In the UK, there have been 1646 deaths per million population compared with only 36 deaths per million in Australia. To date, there has been a total of 909 Covid deaths in total in Australia.
But we should be clear about the changes to society and long-term suspension of civil liberties that have gone along with that. In my home state of Victoria, where 820 of those 909 deaths have occurred, the Premier Daniel Andrews has implemented by far the most draconian measures.
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To begin with, there was a massive spike in cases in Victoria in July, caused by Daniel Andrews’ (Labor) government’s mishandling of their own ‘hotel quarantining’ system. Private security guards hired by the government — with improper training and even worse practical implementation — spread the virus to vulnerable parts of the community. The Premier rejected the offer of defence personnel from the federal government to assist with quarantining, and an inquiry into the fiasco revealed a complete lack of scrutiny and accountability in the decision-making process such that everyone involved claimed not to know who made the ultimate decision.
Following this disastrous episode, Premier Andrews’ seized the opportunity to implement the most extreme emergency measures modern Australia has seen. Victorians were only allowed out for one hour of exercise per day and one shopping trip per household per day. They couldn’t transgress a 5km radius from their home. Evening curfews were imposed without any evident public health justification, and heavy fines awaited anyone caught breaking any of these or myriad other rules.
During this period, some pieces of legislation were proposed that would be shocking at any other time. One of them — made possible by the invocation of ‘emergency powers’ — proposed allowing “public health officials” (broadly defined) to name ‘authorised officers’ (who required no other qualification other than being so named) to detain their fellow citizens merely upon the suspicion that they were violating public health regulations.
The bill was the subject of an open letter signed by 14 leading Australians lawyers and jurists — including High and Federal Court justices and top QCs. (Thankfully, the bill was strongly curtailed before it passed the Victorian upper house of review.)
Added to this, changes to the publicly-issued health department regulations have changed several times — and the government doesn’t provide a register of previous regulations so that subjects could know what changed unless they were willing to search through hundreds or thousands of pages of daily government gazettes.
But while Victorians will find it hard to keep an eye on the government, the government is keeping its eye on them: phone QR codes are a standard feature — names, addresses, telephone numbers must be provided — to gain entry to many venues. How long this regime will be in place, it’s hard to say.
But a Premier of this temperament doesn’t strike me as one with a future appetite for curtailing his own power. Even though Victoria has seemingly weathered the worst of the storm, three new cases last week provoked the Premier to return to more restrictions. He is currently seeking to extend his ‘state of emergency’ powers another six months so he can avoid the bothersome scrutiny that comes with proper cabinet process and effective parliamentary oversight.
Meanwhile, the Premier’s team celebrated his daily press updates — notably marking their achievement of 100 days of consecutive press conferences.
Even if you admire Premier Andrews’ policies, every citizen should have cause for concern over the governmental precedents he’s setting. If the UK is looking overseas for potential guidance on its Covid response, I’d caution against pointing to Victoria.
Edward Cranswick is an Australian writer. His work has appeared in The Spectator Australia, The Australian, Quadrant, and City Journal.