Leading article Australia

Reviving Australian liberalism

8 January 2022

9:00 AM

8 January 2022

9:00 AM

New Year is a time for resolutions and for reflecting on the year passed. After the last two years of a thoroughly mismanaged pandemic, it’s hard not to look back in anger. It is not just that so many mistakes have been made, it is that so few of them have been corrected.

Yet of all the many errors committed perhaps the most regrettable was the abandonment of the spirit of Australian liberalism. What makes this an even more bitter pill to swallow is that it was at the hands, in so many cases, of Liberal governments. The Liberal Party should have in its DNA that it is the party of small government, of individual opportunity, of personal responsibility. Yet everywhere Australians were subjected to government overreach at the expense of individual liberty.

A certain amount of confusion was understandable when the Wuhan flu first escaped from the confines of a Chinese laboratory and started wreaking havoc on its whirlwind trip around the globe. It is now painfully clear however that federal and state governments should never have abandoned their pandemic plans. Governments should have stuck to the tried-and-true policies of protecting the vulnerable and letting the rest of the community get on with their lives. As Swedish epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said, a pandemic is a marathon not a sprint. Policies should never have been introduced that could not be sustained. The cost, in terms of health, as well as social and economic impacts of lockdowns was enormous and the benefits vanishingly small. Small businesses should never have been shut while corporates were allowed to remain open and prosper at the expense of individual and family-owned enterprises.

The National Cabinet has been a dispiriting example of the worst kind of federalism. State premiers have wielded enormous, virtually unchecked powers, reaching into the homes of every citizen, and devastating the economy, while the federal government looked on, mutely waiving its right to intervene, and picking up the bill, which our children will be paying off for decades. As Judith Sloan writes this week, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has no grounds to be complacent about the mountain of debt that the nation has incurred.

The price of the politics of fear, which was shamelessly exploited by politicians, is still being felt. People are convinced that Covid is as lethal as Ebola, not an illness that even most elderly people survive. The truth about Covid is that its primary victims are the ill, the frail elderly and the overweight. Yet, this fact is hidden from people. The statistics are not collected or presented and in two years, we have not had a single public health official talk about the importance of taking responsibility for your health, eating a nutritious diet, losing weight, getting fit, and getting enough fresh air and sunshine.

Protection of minorities and their right to equal and fair treatment is a crucial test of the civility of a society. Yet, instead of focusing on building social cohesion and inspiring Australians with a vision of the future, politicians took the lowest road of demonising those who chose not to be vaccinated. Rather than treat people as adults and allow them to make a genuine choice about the best way to protect their health, Australians have been bullied into a one-size-fits-all solution and some lost their jobs for no good reason, simply because the government refuses to accept the simple fact that as with measles, mumps and chicken pox, infection-acquired immunity is real.

In this gloomy scenario, the arrival of NSW Premier Dominic Perrotet has been a breath of fresh air. In opening NSW, he has changed the dynamic of the nation, urging it to move beyond the pandemic. Clearly, as Maurice Newman writes this week, he has his work cut out for him, swimming against a tide of big spending, fearmongering, authoritarian premiers.

Latterly, the Prime Minister has shown leadership uniting the nation to ride the Omicron wave which will hopefully usher in the end of the pandemic, as the milder variant appears to be living up to its promise of fewer hospitalisations and mercifully fewer deaths.

Overhauling the testing regime was borne of necessity and comes not a moment too soon. There is no point in testing those who are asymptomatic or only mildly ill.

Now, the national cabinet must overhaul, that is abolish, the state border controls.  For too long, Australians have been stuck in what amounts to penal colonies. Omicron makes a mockery of this, as it works its way even into the hermit state of Western Australia. Australians must once more be able to freely travel around their nation.

As the federal government readies itself to meet the judgement of voters at the polls this year, it is time for it to rediscover its values and recommit to the vision of a government that recognises that freedom and prosperity are only possible when individuals are empowered to take control of their destiny.

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