by Edward Cranswick
Monday, 8
February 2021
Off grid
09:56

Letter from Victoria, capital of Authoritarian Australia

The state has implemented extremely draconian Covid measures
by Edward Cranswick
Credit: Getty

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.

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.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Yes, I’ve seen various videos about Dan Andrews over recent months. He is a nasty and totalitarian piece of work but so, it seems, are the vast majority of politicians. It is a long time since I’ve had any faith in any of them, and I have only very rarely voted, but even I have shocked at the nakedness of their authoritarian instincts over the last year. We are governed by the most appalling psychopaths.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

People can vote him out.

We are governed by the most appalling psychopaths.

Democratically elected by the people! So why are you b*tching?

Joe Francis
Joe Francis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I presume because he was “democratically elected” in accordance with certain constitutional restrictions. What you’re touching on here is the difference between what legal scholars define as positivism and natural law. Or alternatively, it’s the old devil’s bargain of trading liberty for security.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Francis

People (unlike you) don’t care much about political theory. They will have the chance to vote him out.
I don’t see how any political party could have a pandemic response policy in its election platform. And there are “checks” to his power.

In GE2005 the British people had the chance to punish the 2 political parties that institutionally supported the Iraq War. They did not. So unless the LibDems (the 3rd biggest party) was promising to eat their children in their election platform….?
In USA people always complain about their congressmen (and women to be PC) and every 2 years they re-elect (almost) the same people – over and over again.
The People are always sovereign but they are rarely right.

Aidan Collingwood
Aidan Collingwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

I think the problem is that people are given very little choice in who they can vote for. It’s certainly a problem in the Westminster system and our First Past the Post balloting which has the effect of keeping smaller parties from gaining seats in parliament. But then, in countries with a plethora of parties, like The Netherlands, democracy doesn’t work too well either. Perhaps it’s because no-one who dares to chart a genuinely contrarian course – eg. Geert Wilders – is ever treated like an acceptable alternative by the rest of the parties or, perhaps more importantly, by the monoculture that is the media hacktocracy. So people are funnelled into voting for the same old same old, and the status quo is preserved for another 4 or 5 years.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

Gert wilders destroyed himself and his party. AfD is tearing itself apart. Austrian populist were responsible for their downfall. (There is a pattern there).

The French people had a straight choice between Macron and LePen. LePen (TV debates – up to you to believe how much they affected the voting) couldn’t answer basic questions about her party’s policies. She simply waved the Flag – an old fashioned political trick by populists. Why bother with details and planning when you can wave the flag and tweet at midnight. Way more fun and far more easy.

Salvini pulled his party out of the coalition hoping to have an election. He failed. And for over year he has been tweeting with no power.

The “serious” politicians are not honest with the people, and populist are incompetent while promising the moon on a stick.
And I am sure The People don’t want to hear the truth.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Gert Wilders’ PVV party is currently second in the opinion polls on about 25 ‘retells’. This is an increase of 7 or 8 retells in recent months due to the collapse of FvD due to the usual internal battles etc. Check out de laatste Maurice de Honde peiling.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

This is a really important point. As politicians need money, Tories from business and Labour from unions, the idea of voting for a party means immediately that you are not really voting for whatever is in the manifesto – you are voting for the backers.

Ideally our system needs overhauling but to what? The Labour Party suggests removing the House of Lords and replacing it with another, smaller house elected by PR. The idea of this is to get people used to PR for every election. But, as you say, PR does not work.

Especially interesting to me is that Republics seem to work through their heads of state. So, when we talk about France it is Macron and when we talk about the USA it is Trump or Biden. Our Head of State keeps quiet and whispers things into BJs ear which makes us think of BJ as a president, when he isn’t.

In your post you say that people keep on voting for the same old, same old. Isn’t that because we don’t have a president?

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I would argue that UK political system has moved toward the American one.
A PM that basically runs for “president”. Team Teresa or vote Boris. Boris won over the Red Wall not the Tory Party.
But I could be wrong.

Martin Rossol
Martin Rossol
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Not a total solution, but certainly it would add a bit of balance, would be term limits for some/all? elected offices. We have it for US President, but not for national legislative offices. There are too many perks for many elected offices. In order to attract talent, I would argue: Give really good post-term benefits, but limit the term.

Samir Zulfiquar
Samir Zulfiquar
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

What good does voting do when all the viable candidates support the same things?

I don’t know much about Australian politics, but here in the U.S. we rarely have any good options available so we end up electing the candidate we hate less than the other.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
1 year ago

Democratic presidential field had something like 15 candidates…you got Biden

Janet G
Janet G
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

Australian elections are decided by Rupert Murdoch.

Aidan Collingwood
Aidan Collingwood
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Very worrying indeed. What chance that such lockdowns will become the policy of choice for any number of “emergencies” in future? This is worrying. Governments believe lockdowns work – heck, many citizens do too and want them harder and longer in the UK – and to an extent they do, by suppressing social contact, but at the cost of economic development, so government have a new tool in their arsenal with which to control those who voted them into power. Once a power has been given to a government, how easily do they relinquish such power?

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago

I am afraid to say that lockdowns come at the cost of so much more than just economic development.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yup – over in the Scottish Highlands we still have the daily Nicki show tso she can tell us how good she is.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

Oh, gosh. Don’t mention that, please!

Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
1 year ago

Australia has basically adopted a zero Covid policy, isolated itself, and put all its eggs in the vaccination basket. Unfortunately, Covid is not going to be eliminated in the rest of the world and new variants will proliferate, with some, undermining the vaccines. The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been found to be of limited use against the SA variant. Is Australia going to stay closed forever? If so, at what cost? If it does open up, how will it manage the new variants that will inevitably enter? The UK already has many cases of the SA variant and people who have received their first AstraZeneca dose are quite likely to be given their second dose from a different manufacturer. A cycle of ongoing vaccine dependency is being established in a desperate bid to keep up with just one disease.

Like it or not, we are going to have to learn to live with this virus and there is a limit as to how much debt Governments can incur. Lockdowns are not sustainable and we are already seeing livelihoods and health being severely and adversely affected across the world.

As Australia comes into Winter, Victoria and other southern areas will once again see cases cropping up – no doubt sparking further lockdowns. The vaccine will be rolled out, but is there a plan B?

Judy Simpson
Judy Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

You don’t understand do you? This is the “new normal”. There is no plan B because plan A is working so well. State borders closed again? Well, there was one new case yesterday. Not allowed to visit your elderly mother in QLD? Use Zoom, you idiot. Travelling overseas? Forget it. We don’t do that anymore. Lost you job? We’ve all had to make sacrifices. And don’t say we’ll have to learn to live with the virus too loudly, I’ve been called a Granny killer for less.

Peter Gardner
Peter Gardner
1 year ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

Oh no, not the it’s seasonal myth. You really haven’t a clue.

Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Gardner

It may play less of a role in Australia because there is no herd immunity, but otherwise I’m not aware of any real scientific debate questioning seasonality – just the degree of impact and the causes. If you’ve got significant evidence to the contrary, I’d be interested.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

But a Premier of this temperament doesn’t strike me as one with a future appetite for curtailing his own power.
You don’t say.

Frances An
Frances An
1 year ago

Dear Edward, thank you for your comments from Victoria. I’m based in Perth (WA), although moved here from Sydney in late-March 2020. You have my sympathy regarding the COVID situation(s) occurring in Victoria: it’s been difficult to watch VIC civilians bear the consequences of poor management. I wonder if the VIC Premier’s responses to the latest problem(s) are so much power hunger as opposed to paranoia about having a repeat of the first quarantine disaster (which was awful). I’ve found cross-state differences in responses to authorities’ directions fascinating. In WA’s COVID response, I believe that McGowan’s enhanced popularity relate to several factors: McGowan adhered to a distinctive brand/character of being risk-averse and decisive (consistency). This character led to WA’s early elimination of COVID (concrete change), validating the majority of WA’s frustration of being left out from the social and cultural resources concentrated in the eastern states during pre-COVID times (spiritual dimension). This success leaves McGowan with a ‘margin for error’ (e.g., potential that the recent 5-day snap lockdown was an overreaction) compared to other Premiers, whose many failures to form fruitful brands/characters has led to their populations’ suspicions in the leaders’ sense of integrity/principle. Cross-state comparisons are somewhat unfair though. I imagine organising VIC is a challenge compared to WA: the VIC population is more heterogenous, so an unsatisfied minority has a significant size and loudness compared to what it might be in WA. In any case, if the current VIC government cannot inspire the state, it will hopefully just lose the next State election. Good luck and stay well.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

We are a year into this thing and I still don’t know anybody who has died. I never “lockdowned” and I work with over 400 people plus about 100 contractors everyday. Everybody who has had it…whatever “it” is has recovered. I don’t know anyone with “long covid”. As far as I can tell 80 year olds in poor health seem to be the majority who die. Cant tell if this is from a virus or poor healthcare since the totalitarians have cut off and isolated the elderly from their families. Is this even real? Is this just a way for the totalitarians amongst us to take control?

andrew harman
andrew harman
1 year ago

You ought to have heard Cristina “we’re all gonna die” Patterson on the radio earlier – it really is trying to find the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

https://m.youtube.com/watch

This is the real reason for the lockdowns.

Peter Gardner
Peter Gardner
1 year ago

Edward Cranswick should check his facts before writing click bait for the anti-lockdown brigade, the new Woke on the Right.
The second wave in Victoria was not caused as he claims by security guards spreading the virus in the community. It was started by one family breaching quarantine rules. True, the guards were culpable for allowing the breach, through negligence or other reasons.
Then it was spread interstate by a party of girls who had visited Melbourne and lied their way across the border into NSW. They were rightly charged in court and got no sumpathy from the public.
All this was proven by genomic mapping.
So bad news for the anti-lockdown brigade. The virus is spread by individual members of the public behaving idiotically thinking they know better with catastrophic results for the innocent victims of their selfishness, arrogance and stupidity.
Cranswick is conflating this story with the spread in care homes in Victoria where workers in the privately run homes spread the virus by working in many different sites. That did not happen in those run by the state.
The State Government got a lot wrong including poor training of quarantine guards but let’s get the facts right. It cannot all be dumped on the Government. The public must accept responsibility, too.
The problem is not the lockdown. Freedoms are not permanently lost and are being restored wherever feasible. The government is not a dictatorship. All the government’s powers are approved in parliament and are time limited.
The problem in Victoria was breaches of the lockdown.

Swiveleyed Loon
Swiveleyed Loon
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Gardner

I don’t have any knowledge of the facts you state but I downvoted you for your statement ‘Freedoms are not permanently lost’. I bet you’re wrong about that.

Mike Lotrean
Mike Lotrean
1 year ago

Cranswick seems to have lived in a a mental bubble. The reason Australia has done so well is because Dan Andrews has the guts to do what needs to be done to stop people being infected and dying. (Yes mistakes were made a the beginning). There is no liberty when you are dead. And yes, Australia is a democracy and we can vote our leaders out in an election. By the way, I would rather have responsible Dan Andrews and Mark McGowan than the irresponsible, scatter brain laissez faire (in health care terms) Boris Johnson and even worse, Donald Trump.

Linda Ethell
Linda Ethell
1 year ago

I returned to Australia from the uk at the end of April. I am genuinely impressed by Andrews’ sincerity and willingness to follow his scientific advisers’ advice despite the opposition’s attempts to whip up a frenzy of fear.
All the more when I see every day on the news the consequences of half hearted and ineffective response of Boris Johnson’s government to the pandemic.If saving our lives requires a degree of authoritarianism, I’m all for it. It’s an improvement on the worship of business that would happily sacrifice our lives to the futile attempt to maintain shareholders’ returns at pre-pandemic levels.

Swiveleyed Loon
Swiveleyed Loon
1 year ago
Reply to  Linda Ethell

Just to explain why I downvoted you, I think the cure is worse than the disease.

Peter C
Peter C
1 year ago
Reply to  Linda Ethell

It is frightening that you – and many others – have said that you are more than willing to accept living under a form of authoritarianism for this purpose. What is the limit that you are prepared to accept? What precedent does it set? I had thought that most people who have been prepared to accept a lockdown, have done so reluctantly and conditionally for a finite period, but it seems that some are increasingly enjoying it and dangerously shifting the goalposts.