Flat White

Lessons from the Anzacs as we navigate crisis

25 April 2020

8:24 AM

25 April 2020

8:24 AM

National crises challenge liberal democracy more than anything else. Citizens surrender civil liberties they couldn’t imagine living without in ordinary times. During the coronavirus pandemic, the adage “desperate times call for desperate measures” feels painfully apt. The coronavirus has effectively put all of Australia under house arrest, restricted our freedom of movement, and even taken away many of our livelihoods. For some reason when we are afraid, we look to the government. The era of our first Anzacs was no different.  

During the First World War, society navigated the same balancing act, between liberty and safety, we find ourselves in today. On the Home Front, citizens were called upon to make sacrifices. The Commonwealth Government passed the War Precautions Act 1914, which legitimised price-fixing goods and compulsory agricultural purchases. The government also imposed rationing to ensure the equitable distribution of goods. To all of these directives, Australians conceded with little resistance. 

However, prime minister Hughes held a referendum on conscription in 1916. It was defeated. The government again attempted to introduce conscription in 1917 only to be defeated once more. While Australians put up with much, they wouldn’t go so far as to allow it to cripple their conscience by compelling people to go to war.  


In 2020, coronavirus has forced Australians to navigate similar tensions. Australians have abided by government directives; adopting social distancing measures, temporarily shutting up shop, and are for the most part staying home. However, when Scott Morrison floated the idea of making the coronavirus phone tracking potentially mandatory, the public voiced their outrage at this infringement on privacy. 

Even though Australians will readily give up many freedoms to secure safety, there is a limit because we still identify as a free people. Our Anzacs fought for a country worth fighting for; strong, safe, and free. Part of honouring their memory includes restoring, not just normalcy, but the fundamental freedoms we have given up over the last few months. As an old poem goes “For you to go to school my lad and worship God at will, someone had to pay the price, so the Diggers paid the bill”.  

Time permitting, we will defeat this virus. In the meantime, let’s celebrate Anzac Day and do our best to conjure the resilience and forbearance of the Australians that lived through WWI. We have been through hardship before, and have come out stronger and freer than ever.  

Julia Kokic is a Research Associate for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance

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