Leading article Australia

Say goodbye to freedom

26 September 2020

9:00 AM

26 September 2020

9:00 AM

If Victoria avoids becoming a Marxist failed state, it may very well be because of The Spectator Australia’s contributor Ian Hanke. On 18 September, Mr Hanke, writing on our Flat White blog, was ahead of the game in comprehending and warning Australians about ‘one of the most egregious attacks on civil liberties seen in war or peace time’ and certainly one of the very first individuals to fully grasp the incredible and terrifying ramifications of Dan Andrews’ Covid-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Amendment Bill. Within hours of the article going online it had become one of our most-read pieces of the year. Indeed, speaking a few days later in the New South Wales Legislative Council, the Rev. Fred Nile specifically referred to the ‘claims made by The Speccie’ regarding Victoria’s proposed laws that would ‘allow people to be detained indefinitely… by untrained personnel’ and raised concerns ‘about the violation of civil liberties by a neighbouring state.’

As Mr Hanke explains: ‘The Bill confers an extraordinary power to [Victoria’s] Secretary of the Department of Health to appoint public servants as “authorised officers” with the same powers as police.’ And what would these ‘officers’ be expected to do with this power, you may well ask.

Hanke: ‘The Bill provides an emergency power to detain any person or group of persons in an emergency area for the period reasonably necessary to eliminate or reduce a serious risk to public health. Once detained you have no rights under law and can be detained for an indefinite period. Put simply, this means you can be locked up and detained indefinitely at the whim of a designated officer. There is no provision whatsoever for a review of the detention… These laws are so broad and ill-defined that you could be detained for almost anything.’

Indeed. As Rebecca Weisser points out in this issue, this reeks of the dystopian novel Minority Report, where you get arrested on the presumption that you might intend to commit a crime; a ‘pre-crime’. And it gets even worse. In one of his pieces, Mr Hanke was the first to warn that, ‘the Bill would allow a unionist operating as an “authorised officer” to access businesses, building sites, office buildings and so on. Under Premier Andrews’ proposals a union official who is an “authorised officer” could enter a workplace to investigate so-called Covid-safe plans, noting they would have the powers of arrest and detention without review.’

This has now been confirmed, meaning Australia stands on the threshold of politically-appointed law officers able to detain you for your political opinions. Think this is still a joke? As Ms Weisser writes, ‘to be a “high risk” person you don’t need to test Covid positive, you just have to be a “close contact” of someone who has tested positive. According to a government spokesperson, those who might arouse suspicions of non-compliance include the drug addled, the mentally impaired, or “conspiracy theorists”.’ She goes on: ‘Who constitutes a conspiracy theorist hasn’t been defined. People who believe the government is using the corona virus as an excuse to deprive law-abiding citizens of their liberty have been dubbed conspiracy theorists….’

Given the Left’s loathing of those sceptical of anything from the power of unions to climate change to gender fluidity to multiculturalism, you don’t have to be a sci-fi novelist to envisage how this law will be used to crush political dissent to any number of leftist orthodoxies and to criminalise conservative thought or religious beliefs.

Indeed, the Bill could quite happily come straight out the scariest chapters of any number of dystopian novels. Comparisons with everything from the Gestapo to Mao’s Cultural Revolution to East Germany’s Stasi have been made on social media, and for once they are not hyperbole.

In a democracy, the rule of law relies on the trust the public places in the authorities to wield power responsibly and proportionately. There is certainly nothing about the death toll or the threat to public health from the corona virus, which for the vast majority of people poses no greater risk than being in a car accident or catching the flu, that demands the suspension of ancient democratic rights. The fact that the Andrews government, already exposed as one of the most bungling and incompetent governments in the world at handling the pandemic, should be entertaining such notions should be setting off alarm bells at the highest levels within legal and political circles.

Which it has. As Mr Hanke points out, in a ‘damning letter, 18 eminent jurist have written to the premier raising their concerns – concerns the premier blithely dismisses.’

This assault on Australian democracy must be stopped dead in its tracks. As Mr Hanke warns, however, if it does get passed its draconian and totalitarian measures will inevitably metastasise, invading many, many other aspects of Victorian and possibly Australian law. Say goodbye to freedom.

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