In his famous political discourse, The Republic, the great philosopher Plato deemed tyranny the “fourth and worst disorder of a state.” Tyrants lack “the very faculty that is the instrument of judgment — reason”. As explained by the American Constitutional Rights Foundation, the tyrannical man is enslaved because the best part of him – reason — is enslaved, and likewise, the tyrannical state is enslaved, because it too lacks reason and order.
Listening to the Western Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, over the last year (and especially over the past week), it would seem that he has developed the tyrannical hallmark of a lack of reason that Plato described.
Last Sunday McGowan hit the panic button to put over 2 million West Australians in lockdown, over just one case, a security guard working in hotel quarantine (more on that below). At the time of writing, no other positive cases had been confirmed, after three days of lockdown.
One hallmark of tyranny is hubris. McGowan wants to eliminate coronavirus entirely. He says repeatedly at his press conferences that he wants to ‘crush the disease’. He has constantly lectured the other states on how this was the best approach since there had been no community transmission of the virus in WA since last April. He said on January 8: “We need to eliminate it. We are an island. We need to use our advantages to eliminate the virus. The idea that you keep the virus ticking along, and you close down postcodes or you deal with a cafe or a restaurant here or a suburb there, I don’t think is right.”
This was his justification for the knee-jerk reaction to shut off WA from the eastern seaboard once more over the Christmas break, heartlessly separating families yet again. With the virus getting out into Perth via a hotel security guard who, in Victorian-style incompetence, was allowed to moonlight as a rideshare driver and may not have always been appropriately attired in PPE while in the hotel, the ‘hard border’ policy has been shown up for the baloney it always was. Cockiness is no substitute for preparedness. Some might call it laziness. In WA a proper QR code check-in system was only implemented on December 5, and mandatory daily testing for hotel quarantine workers introduced on January 29, weeks, if not months, after the other States had these systems in place. McGowan’s response: it’s a big job and these things take time.
Aided and abetted by his main cheer squad, The West Australian, Mr 91% — that’s the approval rating the West’s polling gives him — must have gotten a huge head swell and thought we were all mugs. The fact is that McGowan was warned repeatedly that WA had to be better prepared. That wasn’t hard. As David Flint wrote recently in The Spectator, all the politicians needed to do was follow world’s best practice as exhibited by Taiwan. Over 900 Australians have died (130 times the number of deaths in Taiwan) because politicians here, such as McGowan, have the hubris to think they can eliminate a virus.
In imposing these lockdowns, we are told that this is the ‘health advice’ so we must follow it — ‘health advice’ that has never been made public and flies in the face of proper evidence-based research done by real infectious diseases experts, such as those at Stanford University, who wrote last month in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation that the costs of lockdowns (both health and economic) vastly outweigh any potential benefits. McGowan has displayed here two other characteristics of tyranny: secrecy and deception.
A further hallmark of tyranny is hypocrisy. Guess who made the following statement to the WA parliament on 18 March last year: “If we close the borders to the East what will happen to our markets of products and supply chains for important goods.” The answer? Mark McGowan.
Perhaps McGowan’s most frightening statement was that he believed the Victorian approach was the template to adopt if an outbreak were to occur in WA. This is now what he has done. This week no-one can be married, the dead remain unburied and the school holidays extended. Masks must be worn indoors and outdoors in searing heat in a city that covered in smoke haze and is bigger in area than Greater London, with nowhere near the same population density. All just for one case.
Total control over every aspect of our lives would suit McGowan perfectly, and if he wins control of both houses of the State Parliament after the March 13 election, it may well become a reality. What is more, in true Daniel Andrews style, McGowan has launched an inquiry to find out how the hotel quarantine system failed and what improvements can be made. For all its failings, even the Coate Inquiry was able to work that out. Common sense might also help.
It is possible that McGowan is following his own interpretation of the advice of Niccolò Machiavelli about the usefulness of fear for rulers. In his sixteenth-century political treatise The Prince, Machiavelli famously wrote: “It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
Fearmongering, rather than fear (as Machiavelli described), may well win McGowan the upcoming election, but the consequences of such an outcome for good governance cannot be understated. The Ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles understood this over 2,500 years ago when in Oedipus Rex he wrote:
The tyrant is a child of Pride
Who drinks from his sickening cup
Recklessness and vanity,
Until from his high crest headlong
He plummets to the dust of hope.
Dr Rocco Loiacono is Senior Lecturer at Curtin University Law School.
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