On Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrision said it was ‘the right decision’ of the Victorian Premier to impose lockdown draconian measures that have been responsible for the greatest violation of fundamental rights in Australia’s history in response to a motion moved by opposition leader Anthony Albanese ahead of question time celebrating Victoria’s reopening after defeating a second wave of coronavirus infections.
Dr Rocco Loiacono is senior lecturer at Curtin Law School. In his most recent piece for The Spectator Australia’s Flat White, he reminded us that ‘the Prime Minister’s weak criticism of the Victorian government in the parliament while at the same time justifying his actions is consistent with that of a man who has in the past displayed his authoritarian tendencies on several occasions’. Loiacono went so far to say that, ‘as Australia faces its biggest economic and social crisis since World War II, the biggest threat, along with Dictator Dan, to our democracy, the freedoms that underpin it, along with the physical, economic and social well-being of Australians, is in fact the Prime Minister himself’.
Dr Loiacono asked rhetorically: ‘Why is the [federal] government – and the Prime Minister in particular – so hostile to the exercise of fundamental freedoms?’
In answer to this question, James Allan, the Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, wrote in The Australian earlier this week that we do not have just a Coalition government that does next to nothing to protect free speech and other fundamental freedoms of the citizen. In fact, Professor Allan comments: ‘Prime Minister Scott Morrison has never shown any real interest in free speech and freedom generally. He once remarked sardonically that it didn’t create jobs – this from a government that has destroyed more jobs than any other Australian government’.
The Morrison government has so far spent a staggering $677 billion this year, with the national debt heading towards one–trillion dollars. In other words, this grossly incompetent government is taking taxpayers straight to a one-trillion dollar debt burden; and progressing towards a one-and-a-half trillion dollar debt but eventually a two-trillion dollar debt.
This is all done allegedly to protect our jobs, although the unemployment rate is now well above 20 per cent in states like Victoria. According to an analysis by the Institute of Public Affairs, over 230,000 small businesses are expected to close once Covid-19 measures are finally removed. The closure of these small businesses will permanently destroy 470,000 jobs, based on the average small business employment.
Back in March this year I wrote an open letter to Scott Morrison. Published in Quadrant, I humbly asked the Prime Minister to re-consider what was happening to the national economy, our civil rights, and to our next generation of Australians. I acknowledged that he was working off the advice of a few health experts but advised him to be careful about group-thinking, and aware that even small wrong decisions could have very bad and unpredictable consequences.
With this in mind I referred the Prime Minister to the comments of Dr John Ionnidis, a professor of medicine, of epidemiology and population health, of biomedical data science, and of statistics at Stanford University in California. When discussing the death rate for Covid-19, Professor Ionnidis authoritatively stated that the official 3.4 per cent rate from the World Health Organisation (WHO) might have caused horror but they were meaningless because the real rate, adjusted from wide age range, could be as low as 0.05 per cent.
Not only Scott Morrison completely ignored my advice but his so-called “National Cabinet” entirely accepted the very alarmist and totally inaccurate WHO prediction of 3.4 per cent mortality, and suddenly brought about all these disruptions of personal freedoms that have cost millions of jobs and the closing down of countless businesses. In reality, on 26th October 2020, global cumulative rates were around 43 million and deaths approximately one million – a death rate of 0.02 per cent.
The Prime Minister keeps telling us that his government is simply doing what a panel of scientists are telling them to do. However, there are a number of leading medical practitioners who strongly oppose any measures of social distancing and lockdowns solely on health grounds. For example, hundreds of U.S. physicians composed an authoritative document on May 19th referring precisely to these health problems, and asking governments to immediately end the coronavirus shutdown.
Although people under 65 have an extremely small chance of dying from coronavirus, the Prime Minister strongly believes that 95 per cent of the population must take the vaccine against such a virus. He initially wanted the vaccine to be as mandatory as possible. ‘I expect that it would be mandatory as you can possibly make it’, Morrison said, adding that he is ‘talking about a pandemic which has destroyed the global economy and taking the lives of … 430 Australians’.
Of course, what is effectively undermining our economy is the arrogant and incompetent behaviour of the Prime Minister. There were far better and more efficient ways to fight this virus apart from savage bans and gross violations of constitutional rights. For example, Mr Morrison is presently using his so-called ‘cabinet’ to ban Australians from leaving their country. He oversees a regime that has shut down international travel, enforcing prohibitions matched only by some of the world’s worst totalitarian regimes, notably North Korea and Cuba.
So far about 60,000 people have so far been allowed to leave Australia, but approximately 18,000 have not. Numerous other Australians did not even bother to apply since they know their application would be summarily rejected. What is more, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (‘DFAT’), there are about 20,000 Australians who desire to return but are not being allowed to come back. They are trapped overseas and some effectively running out of money, thus experiencing a desperate situation overseas.
Incidentally, the constitutionality of board control measures in Western Australia have the object of impeding interstate intercourse. These directions attack a basic constitutional right, namely our freedom of movement guaranteed in Section 92 of the Australian Constitution. Enshrined in our Constitution, this basic right is what gave effect to the very concept of Australia as a free, united and independent nation, reflecting in the eyes of our founding fathers one of the primary reasons for the country’s very establishment and existence.
According to law professor Anthony Gray, the High Court of Australia has consistently adopted ‘an essentially absolutist prohibition on laws which have the object of impending interstate intercourse’. However, in a August 7 official letter addressed to Premier Mark McGowan, the Prime Minister assures him and his state government that the Commonwealth will do absolutely nothing to challenge the unconstitutionality of these boarder control measures in Western Australia; that the Coalition government will ‘immediately and completely withdraw from the proceedings, doing exactly what was asked of it by [the WA Labor government].
It goes without mentioning the support of the Prime Minister towards what is happening in Victoria, where a state government imposed what is by far the greatest violation of fundamental rights in Australia’s history. Mr Morrison, in his own words, ‘encourag[ed] the Victorian government to ensure that there are appropriate penalties for those who do break public health notices’.
Premier Andrews may be a ruthless political ruler, but the Prime Minister has tacitly endorsed the undermining of the rule of law and oppression of the people in that particular State. To be sure, according to Janet Albrechtsen in her latest column in The Australian, ‘few expected Morrison would criticise hefty restrictions on fundamental rights in Victoria. He has admitted publicly that these matters are of little interest to him.’
When will the Prime Minister stop compromising the future of our nation as a free and prosperous nation? In fact, I am seriously starting to agree with Dr Loiacono that Scott Morrison, indeed, poses a great and imminent danger to the future of Australia. As noted by Dr Paul Collits, ‘Morrison and Andrews need one another. While Andrews exists, Morrison escapes even the merest modicum of scrutiny. While Morrison exists, with his “national cabinet”, Andrews get protection’.
There is little doubt that Scott Morrison is one of the worst prime ministers this country has ever had. Perhaps it is time for the Australian people to start looking for another federal leader – one who can respect the Constitution, have any proper regard for fundamental rights and freedoms, and demonstrate an authentic desire to hold State Premiers such as Daniel Andrews more fully accountable for the great damage done to our society, law and economy.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education, Perth. He is also adjunct law professor at The University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus) and President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA) and former Law Reform Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia. He is co-editor of the forthcoming ‘Fundamental Rights in the Age of Covid-19’, a book to be published by Connor Court with contributions from leading law academics and policy makers in the field.
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