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Britain rediscovers liberal democracy over vaccine passports – while Australia trashes it

15 September 2021

4:00 AM

15 September 2021

4:00 AM

As noted in yesterday’s Morning Double Shot newsletter, in Britain and Australia we have two countries, two contrasting approaches to the same issue. 

In the UK, Boris Johnson, the master of the political u-turn, has rediscovered in some way what it means to be a conservative. Not only has he ditched vaccine passports,. On the same day Johnson also published a statement that his government will repeal in the near future some of the emergency powers enacted by the Coronavirus Act 2020. 

The powers that are “no longer necessary” include powers to close down sectors of the economy, apply restrictions on events and gatherings, disrupt education and child care, extend time limits for urgent warrants, or detain infectious people. 

In Australia, we are being steamrolled every day towards medical Jim Crowwhere unvaccinated people will be considered unfit to participate in society. 

The report in The Sunday Times on Boris’ manoeuvrings made some interesting observations that should not go unnoticed. The article stated that: “Vaccine passports are being viewed as a redundant measure in light of ongoing community transmission. New research also suggests that domestic vaccine passports increase hesitancy and distrust of governments.” 

In terms of ongoing transmission, the report noted that, with a high percentage of the population double dosed, between 1 February and 29 August, there have been – wait for it – 1054 vaccinated deaths and 536 unvaccinated deaths. So much for the ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’. 

Further, while in the UK laws restricting basic freedoms are being repealed, here in Australia the government is doubling down on surveillance. The federal parliament has just passed legislation that will grant top law enforcement agencies new and intrusive powers to combat cybercrime on the dark web, but the new law has some groups worried about the extent of the capabilities it unleashes. 

The rushed passage of the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identity and Disrupt) Bill 2020 has been heavily criticised by some legal bodies who argue the Morrison government did not fully take into account recommendations provided by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.  

The Law Council of Australia has expressed concerns over the bill, claiming it left out key recommendations made by the PJCIS, particularly in relation to the implementation of critical safeguards. 

Fears about the use of the new extraordinary and unprecedented powers were also raised by the Human Rights Law Centre, particularly relating to their possible use against journalists and whistleblowers:

Given the powers are unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive, they should have been narrowed to what is strictly necessary and subject to robust safeguards. That is why the Committee unanimously recommended significant changes. 

It is alarming that, instead of accepting the Committee’s recommendations and allowing time for scrutiny of subsequent amendments, the Morrison Government rushed these laws through Parliament in less than 24 hours.

As Double Shot said yesterday, the message supposedly liberal governments are sending is that freedom of thought goes only as far as what those governments will allow their citizens to think. Liberal democracy in Australia is in intensive care, while in other parts of the world, life is being breathed back into it. 

Dr Rocco Loiacono is a senior lecturer at Curtin Law School.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Curtin University. 

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