I was due to be married in Australia on May 9. But, even six weeks away, it is not to be.
I understand this consideration is small compared to the looming economic collapse, joblessness and the weight of a global pandemic. But it is a case study for all of us tethered to, and at the complete mercy, of governments — something that, at least in the West, we’ve worked so hard to avoid.
Currently based in New Zealand, we woke to the Australian government travel advice mid-last week to get home “as soon as possible”. Hopping on flights within a day, we barely scraped back into Australia – a month early – only to be greeted the same day with a four-square-metre-ruling per person, from the Prime Minister, for indoor venues. This was a complete departure from the 100-person per venue, including staff, that consumers and businesses had continued to pin their hopes on for days prior – advice that we had also based our emergency travel on.
No matter, we thought. After some basic geometry and calls to a number of worried small local businesses, we were still willing to revisit numbers and push on with our own stimulus efforts. And the Church and Archdiocese, accommodating as ever, was doing everything it could to meet plans and respond, on a six-hour basis, to the changing nature of directions emerging from Canberra and George Street.
Yet, as things moved on, it became clear that any hope for an Obama-style health response, which David Flint reminded us here last week consisted of more actual health damage but much more measured restraint, began to evaporate.
For us, the progressive lockdowns for small business, and scaling up of uncertainty, finally ended when the Queensland Government was to shut its borders, enforcing an impossible two-week self-isolation for visitors, and reducing any chances of a wedding to only a handful of people (which, like schools and a 30-minute haircut, still remains a tad unclear).
Again, this is not to complain too loudly. The coming economic collapse is, we are told, going to dwarf the GFC, and our inconvenience is minor in the scale of things. But while the spread of the virus has been contained, I can’t help note the pandemic of government-ordered uncertainty has crossed borders and spread wildly. British writer Peter Hitchens, always the polemicist, has underlined the “Johnson Government’s stumbling retreat from reason into fear”, and the passing “into law a frightening series of restrictions on ancient liberties and vast increase in police and state powers”. Even my British Spectator update email has asked ‘Is this really a lockdown?’.
In the United States, questions are slowly emerging on if the data we have is reliable to be basing such catastrophic economic decisions, and whether shutting down the economy is actually the best way to combat the public health crisis. “How do you measure the human cost of these crushed dreams,” asks the Wall Street Journal, “lives upended, mental health damage that result from the orders of Federal and State governments?”.
Closer to home, it would be more than a pity if we were to prolong this shutdown and uncertainty any longer than needed. This, to be fair, is clearly not what ScoMo wants. But after sorting through the wreckage of the seismic decisions all western governments have made, we should also think about moving away from our only increased dependence on government.
Sean Jacobs writes at www.seanjacobs.com.au.
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