Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series detailing how freedoms have been lost in Australia due to the fear of COVID-19, how politics have placed millions of citizens under virtual house arrest, and how Australians have responded to the encroaching authoritarianism.
“Build Back Better” and “Great Reset” are the catchphrases of the post-COVID world, but Australian health official Dr. Kerry Chant may have let the cat out of the bag when she used the term “New World Order” to describe the society emerging in the Land Down Under. Living under some of the world’s harshest COVID measures over the longest period of time, Australians have been divided by the pandemic – with conflicts between each state, the left and the right, and, now, the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated.
Writing for The Exposé, Dr. Bella d’Abrera of the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne described the fundamental change in the Australian psyche that the pandemic has wrought:
“The country has been reshaped to such an extent that the rest of the world is having trouble recognising Australians as the freedom-loving ‘larrikins’ they imagined us to be. Some mainstream media commentators in the US are now asking if Australia can still legitimately continue to call itself a liberal democracy. I think the answer is no.
“We have been disciplined into authoritarianism. This may take decades to undo.”
Arising from authority-flouting street gangs and outlaws, the term “larrikin” eventually came to refer affectionately to a mischievous but good-natured scoundrel. Yet the mythos of the cheerful nonconformist can no longer be said to represent the Australian character of the 21st century, which has proven itself quick to submit to the power of the state.
Early on in the pandemic, a social media video went viral of a pregnant woman being arrested for “incitement” when she criticized a lockdown online and promoted a protest event. Since then, Australian COVID enforcement has only gotten more heavy-handed.
In a nation of six states and two territories, it seems to be every state for itself. Some have gotten through without harsh lockdowns by simply shutting down their borders and remaining isolated – at all costs.
Social distancing from the nation’s other states has been the chosen strategy of Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan. At the onset of the outbreak, he slammed shut his state’s border. With only a brief lockdown, a lack of mask mandates, and even a growing economy, residents have largely been able to continue living normally, rewarding McGowan with a 91% approval rating and a landslide re-election.
It seems borders work – but the price has been high. Little consideration has been given to families separated on either side of the border. While some “compassionate” exemptions can be applied for, as of August, the state’s police have refused to divulge the number of residents who remain locked outside their own state borders. That is hardly surprising, however, as, on a national level, thousands of Australians have been refused entry back into their own country, remaining stranded overseas.
“In relatively COVID-free South Australia, my thoughts were, ‘Keep ’em out, we don’t want COVID here’ … [Now I see] everybody has a story, and there are people here that should be able to go home,” admitted one Debra Rushani upon becoming trapped outside her state, leaving her unable to care for her terminally ill husband. Other terrible stories include children separated from their parents, people refused access to attend funerals or visit dying relatives, and the huge financial burden of hotel or other accommodation.
“We are not in lockdown, we are the freest community anywhere in Australia, perhaps anywhere in the world. We don’t have any restrictions,” McGowan recently boasted. Of course, this thin veil of security only remains in place as long as threats are kept under strict control. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that McGowan has said Western Australia’s police will be authorized to put an ankle bracelet on “someone who is identified as a risk” and keep such people quarantined in a specially assigned hotel.
Meanwhile, other states have decided to lock people in. Victoria is on its sixth lockdown, having endured perhaps the longest shutdowns globally.
Do the locals support these harsh lockdowns? According to one resident who spoke to Liberty Nation, the answer depends on who you are. With Premier Daniel Andrews coming from a socialist and Labor Party background, he has easily won over a left-wing urban base. Those who have avoided the negative effects of the many lockdowns – namely, public servants and unions – have supported the harsh restrictions, while small business owners and workers “hate it because they are the ones losing their livelihood.”
One local told LN, “I find the biggest problem is the state governments who seem to have no idea what they are doing after all this time. The government speaks to us as if we are two years old, it is very belittling … They are retaining their positions and still getting paid whilst putting hundreds of thousands of people out of work.”
Yet Andrews will brook no dissent. August protests in Melbourne ended in violence amid a heavy police presence, while another protest scheduled for the weekend has not only been forbidden, but all travel into the city center location has been banned. Those who do make it to the area will face an AU$5,000 fine unless they can provide a permit to the two thousand police officers scheduled to be on patrol.
“It is not about human rights. It is about human life,” Andrews has commented. While signaling a desire to save lives, politicians and indeed many Australians have disregarded those whose lives have been irreparably harmed not by the virus but by the harsh restrictions. Fear of the virus and an increasingly left-wing urban population have ensured that political leaders continue to poll well, with “Dictator Dan” or “Red Dan” as – Andrews’ critics have dubbed him – planning confidently for re-election in 2022.
Read more from Laura Valkovic.