All those who care about and have an interest in the protection of Australia’s free speech will have seen the video of a pyjama-clad, pregnant mother being handcuffed in her Ballarat home over an anti-lockdown protest event on Facebook. Daniel Andrews, however, says he has not deigned to watch the viral video. Whether this is a lie or an intentional decision so as to avoid expressing his opinion, Andrews has proven how disinterested he is in the mistreatment of those who criticise his governance. Not a particularly comforting attribute for the most powerful man in the state to have.
Where the Premier was not inclined to provide us with a satisfactory reason for the marked difference in the treatment of two political protests this year, it has been left it to us to imagine why this might be.
Perhaps where Ballarat mum Zoe Lee failed was not doing a good enough job of “incitement”. As we heard in June over the Black Lives Matter protest, so long as there are many thousands of people planning to attend there’s no point trying to intervene because, as Andrews kindly explained, “it just becomes impossible”. In other words, if the risk to human life is too great then it’s no longer worth the effort it would take to minimise it. It’s hard to know just how many people must be recruited to a protest before the police would not have enough paper to write all the necessary fines but after Saturday’s anti-lockdown protests at the Shrine of Remembrance, it seems that only a few hundred attendees won’t cut it.
The other explanation may be that constraints on free speech in the name of protecting public health are upheld only for those speaking against the state government and not for those whose cause is endorsed by the Premier and Victoria Police. There has been no retrospective mea culpa for this glaring double standard.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius was teeming with empathy for the “people of good faith and intent” attending the BLM protest yet used a broad brush to describe “selfish” anti-lockdown protesters as “batshit crazy” conspiracy theorists. Someone needs to tell Cornelis that to tar one political movement with unfair generalisations whilst heaping praise on another is an abuse of the platform he has been given as an upholder of not just the law, but justice.
How will Andrews respond to the understandable uproar from business that erupted virtually as soon as the vagueness of the Premier’s “roadmap” emerged yesterday? Business, small business and the self-employed in particular are other groups the Andrews government seems to have limited empathy for. Will their concerns be heard if they’re not among Andrews’ favourites?
More alarming still is the widespread Schadenfreude seen in response to Zoe Lee’s arrest by those who vehemently support Andrews and the lockdown. This is characteristic of the ever tolerant left being unable to see those with opposing views as worthy of respect. Among them are those who simultaneously express unwavering support for our iron-fisted lockdown and urge us all to comply, but also attended the Black Lives Matter protest on June 6 and who now condemn Zoe Lee for suggesting a protest in Stage 3 Ballarat when there were 4 active cases in the city. It’s a feat that so many contradictory views can be held in just a single brain. One can only hope that all that mental gymnastics might eventually make them more flexible in their views.
As a 20-something with an Instagram account, I have no shortage of peers who purport to be fierce human rights advocates yet my Instagram stories have been void of outrage at this bizarre, is-this-really-the-world-we-live-in video. Us young people are great at kicking up a fuss, creating a lot of noise and having our concerns heard far and wide. The Black Lives Matter movement has proven that.
But whether you think it was sensible to organise a protest during a pandemic or not, the reality is a woman faces a Magistrates Court date in January next year for the virtually inchoate crime of a social media post. But unless you’re on their side, the most that our hashtagging, black-square-posting champions of human rights can offer you is apathy.
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