Scott Morrison’s massive $130 billion JobKeeper subsidy package shows how determined the government is to ‘do whatever it takes’ to keep the Australian economy turning over.
But the expansion of welfare in these straitened times has been accompanied by an equally massive expansion of powers given to the police to enforce social lockdowns.
A public health order issued in New South Walles on 30 March makes it unlawful to leave home unless for a specified reason – a measure now comparable to those being introduced in other states.
One reason for this is that NSW is the nation’s COVID-19 hotspot, with more than 2,000 confirmed cases and 8 deaths. This compares with just under 1,000 cases in Victoria.
Another is that NSW’s high rate was caused by the Ruby Princess fiasco which left the government red-faced as infected passengers disembarked at Circular Quay and vanished.
Since the majority of all cases of COVID-19 in this country acquired the infection overseas, NSW has been determined to catch up, stop further infections, and show it means business.
For the most part, Australians get this.
Debate rages about the appropriate levels of social isolation or levels of government assistance needed to support businesses and employees. But we accept government had to act – much as Boris Johnson had to act quickly with tough lockdowns once UK public health warnings were upgraded from moderate to urgent.
Both here and around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic restraints being imposed — on travel, movement, and association — that few of us have ever experienced.
In Australia, we already see that these measures have helped to stem the rise of new infections. And we also stand ready to help those in our community who are doing it tough.
But what we are not prepared to accept is the way the state, acting through the police, is now wielding unprecedented powers to march into the lives of ordinary people.
Police are now rounding on park-goers to stop mums pushing strollers and dads playing with the kids — while these parents are already observing social distancing rules.
Those with holiday houses have been told they may us them this Easter, but not leave them.
Such ‘whatever it takes’ policing will be counter-productive. Effective policing depends on an unspoken contract between constable and citizen which is founded on trust.
Aggressive policing, directed at citizens already strained by massive disruptions to daily life, threatens to erode this trust and to harm public estimation of the women and men in blue.
Peter Kurti is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and also Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
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