Leading article Australia

Speccie vs Stasiland

10 October 2020

9:00 AM

10 October 2020

9:00 AM

This week’s budget is a tale of Covid-induced devastation. Instead of being Back in the Black, there is a deficit of eye-watering proportions to last a decade and more, barring any additional shocks. The public debt ceiling is now $1.1 trillion, roughly half Australia’s GDP. PM Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg are driving welcome and significant tax cuts to stimulate recovery, camouflaging FDR-style big infrastructure and wage subsidy spends.

Mr Frydenberg says the budget assumes a Covid vaccine will become available and widespread in 2021. ‘Courageous, Minister,’ as Sir Humphrey would say. But there is another, more insidious threat than heroic budget assumptions to the economic, social and political health of the Commonwealth: Daniel Andrews’ Victoria.

Five million Melburnians cowering at home or behind mandatory face masks in fear of an invisible enemy enabled by the Andrews government’s hotel quarantine fiasco. Even as new infection rates tumble, and indeed have become negligible beyond nursing homes, the ludicrous five-kilometre limit on movement turns Melbourne homes and flats into gulags. As for Victoria’s private sector as the generator of wealth, the government’s rules are similarly arbitrary, unscientific, opaque and unexplained. Just one example: fixed-site dog-grooming safe, outdoor mobile dog-grooming dangerous. Huh?

Had it not been for Mr Andrews’ Colonel Klink and his cabinet gang of ‘I know nothing’ Sergeant Schulzes, Mr Frydenberg’s economic rescue and repair task would have been far easier than it is. With up to one in five Victorian workers unlikely to have a job to go back to when/if the second wave of the virus washes through, Victoria hoovers the bulk of JobKeeper, JobSeeker and other wage and welfare support paid for by other Australians’ taxes and federal borrowings, and is getting a disproportionate share of infrastructure largesse.

But another casualty of Victoria’s Dandemic has no tangible price tag: a trashing of personal freedoms and civil liberties never seen before in Australia, not even when the Japanese were bombing us and on the verge of invading. Five million people locked down under de facto house arrest. A curfew in greater Melbourne imposed on a premier’s whim and likely only withdrawn because he expected to lose a court challenge to it.  Mounted troopers and riot police patrolling Melbourne’s parks and beaches. The police commissioner urging Victorians to inform on fellow Victorians as if this is East Germany. And For Lease signs springing up all over Melbourne as businesses fail under deeply repressive emergency regulations imposed by Labor politicians and bureaucrats – cheered on by ABC journalists – all of whom have never worked a day in the private sector.

But these spirit-crushing restrictions are as nothing to the Andrews government’s Covid-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020. Until the premier blinked on Wednesday, public health emergency powers would have been extended to create ‘authorised officers’ able to detain Covid-related ‘high risk’ people without charge or trial, and empowering public servants and ‘classes of persons’ – potentially including union officials and ethnic community leaders – to be those authorised officers doing the detaining.

This magazine and our online Flat White were the first media to expose the horror of these Stasi State measures, thanks to the brilliant writing by our ace political insider Ian Hanke. When a battalion of retired judges, eminent QCs and other lawyers joined in, Mr Andrews backed down on the express detention powers. But the authorised officer provisions remain with their Witchfinder-General potential undiminished. For all we know, if an authorised officer simply doesn’t like you, or a social or political group you belong to, they can declare you a danger to others who must be locked up, provided they can make a link to Covid-19, however spurious. All that is apparently changing is they cannot order the detaining themselves.

Even watered down this vile legislation must not pass, but if it does, this magazine will not rest until it is gone. This is a national and state disgrace. If Mr Andrews won’t withdraw the controversial provisions and Victorian upper house MPs don’t join the state Coalition in voting against them, the Morrison government must not stand by as Australia’s liberal democratic heritage is shredded by a panicked, rogue state government whose only response to its own incompetence and massive failure is authoritarianism.

The PM should suspend all new financial aid and infrastructure funding to Victoria, excepting JobKeeper and JobSeeker, until Mr Andrews abandons his undemocratic police state travesty and restores Victorians’ basic freedoms. The premier’s authoritarianism, like Victoria’s economic tanking, hurts not just Victorians but all Australians.  For Australia’s sake, Mr Andrews’ Stasi State must be stopped.

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