Flat White

One continent, eight nations

26 July 2021

3:05 PM

26 July 2021

3:05 PM

The British rugby fans have their Six Nations. Well, we now have eight nations, if you count our beloved territories. 

Never in our history have we been so divided on colonial era boundary lines. Not only are we not young, certainly, in the age of lockdown, we are not free. Now, we aren’t even “one”. I guess being girt by sea is about all we have left. 

First, there were the sulky border closures, on a whim. In the outlier states, especially. Then there was the emergence of the newly elevated, all-important premier. And we had the unedifying Covid death league tables, with the endless poring over interstate case differences. We had our interstate bubbles. And I don’t mean the product of Great Western or the Yarra Valley. And now we are all hanging on to our vaccines. State by greedy state. 

In October 2019, the ABC headlined a story thus: 

Sydney news: Interstate firefighters to aid bushfire efforts. 

They came from South Australia. And from the other states. No one gave a second thought to helping out their “fellow Australians”. They even came from America and from Canada. From New Zealand, too.   

The Sydney Morning Herald noted: 

A new crew of firefighters from the United States is heading to Australia to work alongside fire experts from Canada, as state and federal authorities field growing offers of help from abroad. 

The response from Canadians volunteering to fight fires has been so strong that authorities have had to tell them Australia has specific regulations for firefighters and to try helping in other ways. 

New Zealand, Singapore and Papua New Guinea have all offered military support and French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he had called Prime Minister Scott Morrison to offer operational assistance. 

“I express our solidarity with the Australian people in the face of wildfires that are currently ravaging their country,” Mr Macron said on Twitter, joining world leaders including the British royal family. “I called Scott Morrison this morning to offer immediate French operational assistance to fight fires, protect affected population and preserve biodiversity.” 

They were the days! And fighting real dangers, too. 

Fast forward to today. There are those in Britain currently suggesting that “surplus” vaccines should be sent to places like India to help out countries worse off, vaccine-wise. In May this year UNICEF urged Britain to give 20 per cent of its vaccines to other countries in urgent need. 

The BBC reported in June: 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the UK will donate more than 100 million doses of Covid vaccine to poorer countries in the next year. 

It follows President Biden’s announcement ahead of this weekend’s G7summit that the US will donate 500 million doses. 

Of course, unlike Australia, Britain is “jabbed up” and more in a position to help others less vaccine-rich then themselves. Yet Britain is also still experiencing daily Covid cases in the tens of thousands, and not in the “tens” like several of Australia’s more stingy states. Our mean-spirited state leaders might have recalled their generosity in sharing resources a mere two years ago when New South Wales was on fire. 

Clearly the old adage “never get between a premier and a bucket of money” will have to be refashioned in the age of Covid. Now the national currency is vaccines. “Never get between a premier and a bucket of Pfizer”, especially when the other one is under such a cloud. 

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said he felt apprehensive about handing over any of his state’s vaccines to NSW. 

“I’m not wanting to send any of our vaccination doses anywhere else, we’re in the middle of a major emergency declaration and a lockdown in South Australia,” he said. 

As of 23 July, South Australia has had four Covid deaths in eighteen months. The number of active cases is currently 25. There is one person in hospital. There are no people in ICU. A major emergency declaration? Perspective, Mr Premier, perspective. We are all Australians, I thought. 

You might think that it was ever thus. Just recall all those grisly COAG meetings and the pathetic fights over GST revenues. But when we were in the trenches at Gallipoli or at the Western Front, I cannot imagine anyone, even in those very early years of the Federation, baulking at the thought of offering a hand to an interstate comrade in trouble. 

What on earth have we become?   

Far be it from me to suggest that these Claytons vaccines will achieve anything in relation to the insane policy of “suppressing the virus”. At best, they may prevent some deaths and alleviate some symptoms in some people, especially the metabolically challenged and the elderly. And no, despite the imagery and grim demagoguery, we are decidedly not at war “agin the virus”. Arguing over buckets of Pfizer is a fool’s errand.  But that isn’t the point here. The point is that jumped-up, power hungry politicians drunk with Covid celebrity status and strutting around like they are actually important have been rendered totally irrational. They are unable to think straight. They are in bubbles of their own, unable to hear anything of the outside world. They are certainly unable to muster any grace under pressure. To even appear to have a modicum of charity towards fellow Australians under stress is now beyond the wit of the strutting premier class. 

The swift and unedifying descent from a Commonwealth to a bunch of warring state tribes seems, weirdly, to have avoided all the considerable benefits of competitive federalism that we still witness in the United States. We have no Florida here. We have no South Dakota. No place to move to, or at least to visit, to just escape from the madness and hysteria, even for a short time. Living in New South Wales, the regions once offered respite from “Greater” Sydney. Not any more. Now, with the QR Code State introduced by stealth under our noses last week and the mask mandates extending outdoors, every single trip outside the home has become a tedious chore. 

Sadly, Australia has all of the ugliness of competitive federalism and none of the benefits. It ain’t pretty. Eight nations, indeed. 

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