As a constitutional lawyer and legal theorist who appreciates our classical liberal tradition of constitutional government and the rule of law, I have been against the imposition of lockdown measures since they began, thinking that they are not only unnecessary but also completely arbitrary and ultimately a gross violation of fundamental rights and freedoms.
We have been harassed for sitting on park benches. We have been forced to cancel weddings, and have not been not allowed even to say goodbye to our loved ones or go to their funerals. But at least I took some comfort in the idea that “we are all in this together”.
This is now all gone, seeing how the rules have been flouted by the protests of the far left. As the Australian governments have introduced draconian measures to allegedly contain COVID-19, thousands of left-wing activists have defied the law to take part in the Black Lives Matter and other Leftist protests and marches across Australia.
I am deeply disappointed with the authorities who tacitly consented to these protests. They have turned such activists into a small group of privileged individuals who can go ahead with their disruptions despite the official health advice about COVID-19. For those “mortal beings” who have more fully complied with these draconian measures, it has resulted in severe disruption of their private lives and social gatherings. Their businesses and livelihoods have been seriously compromised.
It’s one rule for them and another rule for the rest of us. You may even call it ‘Leftist Privilege’ if you wish. The rules that apply to these Leftists are entirely different. They can freely protest because their illiberal worldview is considered more valid and more important by the country’s equally illiberal ruling elites.
In fact, it seems to me that the greatest privilege on offer in our society today is the privilege of being a Leftist. If one is a Leftist, it appears that you will be entitled to special privileges in exercising your intolerance with absolute freedom and be immune from the law. Such people can attend rallies that spread their bigotry, although they are also the very ones that, for purely ideological reasons, have been calling for an extended lockdown.
The level of hypocrisy is truly staggering, especially because we, law-abiding citizens, have been forced to withhold wedding ceremonies or been excluded from the funerals of our loved ones. Because our businesses have been forced into ‘hibernation’, some of us have now had our livelihoods entirely destroyed.
How can such politicians look their victims in the eye and say it was worth it?
Until the protests erupted during past few weeks, the order of Australian governments, both federal and state, was that people should not attend gatherings of any kind. The Australian people, who felt their concerns about long-term economic and mental health costs were brushed aside just a few weeks ago, are now increasingly asking why these politicians are allowing the left-wing mobs to occupy the streets in blatant disregard of lockdown measures.
Ironically, these rallies provide more compelling evidence of how the so-called “pandemic” has been fabricated for ideological reasons, and successfully used to undermine individual rights, the market economy, and to further empower the coercive apparatuses of the State at every single level of government.
Spreading new cases of coronavirus and force more governmental intervention may very well have been the hidden agenda of some protest organisers. They might have hoped that these protests could result in more infections which would then lead to further deaths and government interventions, the greatest burden falling on black communities.
These Leftist rallies were organised in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and elsewhere. They were held throughout the country following the death of an American citizen, Mr George Floyd, by an American police officer, in the US on May 25. Protesters took to the streets on Saturday, campaigning for, among other things, an end to Aboriginal deaths in custody, for open borders and a new influx of undocumented migrants.
Once again these unpopular Leftist groups have achieved their ultimate goal and proven that laws which are supposedly valid for all, and passed to protect us, mean absolutely nothing to them. Of course, it will now become extremely difficult for these governments to impose their dictatorial powers on ordinary people, who have so far consented to the oppressive commands of their political masters without a more proper questioning of their constitutional validity.
In Sydney, these protests initially defied a court order to take to the city’s streets. But organisers took the case to the State Court of Appeal and the ban was astonishingly lifted at the last minute. Although health ministry directions would normally prohibit public gatherings of more than 10 people, the protest in Sydney was legally authorised for 5,000 people. There were violent scenes in the evening at Sydney’s Central Station and police used pepper spray to protect themselves, but there were only three arrests in the city overall, police said.
In Victoria, it is still illegal to go to work if you can work from home, with fines of $100,000 for employers. However, it is perfectly acceptable to break social distancing rules and gather thousands of people to protest something that happened overseas. A Victorian man who attended the weekend protest in Melbourne was later diagnosed with the virus, with health authorities saying he was likely infected before the rally.
In Perth, the turnout was at least double the 8,000 organisers had expected. They completely ignored the pleas of West Australian Premier Mark McGowan and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt to delay the protest until after the coronavirus pandemic was over. Instead of punishing the protesters for breaking the law, WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson had earlier ruled out shutting down the protest amidst concerns that this would further extend the draconian restrictions on businesses, social gatherings, and interstate travel currently imposed by the State government.
Curiously, the WA Premier did not ban the rally but simply urged protesters to maintain some physical distance. He has promised to conveniently use the protest to further expand the powers of the State, as an excuse to further prolong the current restrictions and to confirm that the State border will now remain closed for a “considerable period” amid concerns “the protests could add to community transmission of the virus”.
My thoughts and sympathy go to those in Western Australia who cannot travel interstate. They go also to all the owners of shops that have closed their doors forever, to shop owners that have been living on the edge for this time, to old people, stuck inside, and to all who have cancelled their holidays of a lifetime and will never get to do it now.
Entitled by the mainstream media, more protests of this kind are planned despite possible court orders and health experts pleading for them to not go ahead at the risk of exposing people to coronavirus infection. But the number of people infected is likely to be much lower than they might expect, which then ironically exposes the measures to fight a “pandemic” in which the mortality rates are extremely low, and much lower than a normal flu.
The authority of these Premiers, their medical officers and their police commissioners have now been seriously undermined by their visible Leftist bias and lack of consistency in the application of the law. These authorities have done nothing to stop these protests. Instead, they have allowed demonstrations to go ahead in complete disregard for social distancing rules. Their recommendations were ignored and the protests have made a complete mockery of their extreme measures.
Of course, there was never an emergency that could possibly justify the use of such extreme measures. Relying on a few experts, our federal and state politicians have used their powers beyond the limits of constitutionality, to destroy jobs and much of the productive sector of society, while leaving the bloated public sector intact.5 Inevitably, the job losses caused by these unconstitutional measures will lead to more homelessness and financial pressures, leading to higher suicide rates, drug abuse, poverty, and a dramatic growth in crime, which always increases in times of recession.
This leads some people to the reasonable assumption such protests may have assisted the population to better understand the political agenda behind a “pandemic” disaster that now appears to be entirely fabricated, and essentially justifying the concentration of power on a minority of privileged individuals, especially “experts”, bureaucrats and politicians.
If that was the hidden agenda behind the “pandemic”, perhaps even more significant is how these protests unintentionally expose the political elite’s illiberal agenda, with dramatic implications for the rule of law and basic rights of the Australian people. Since the rates of community transmission of coronavirus are extremely low, and many states are simply not being able to report any new cases for days in a row, there is a real chance that these protests unwillingly expose the anti-democratic and illiberal nature of the country’s ruling elites.
With the public sector wholly protected, ordinary citizens are now being controlled minutely by extraordinary measures which are based on an arbitrary exercise of power. Of course, it will now become extremely difficult for the political elites to impose these measures on ordinary people, who have so far consented to them without a more proper questioning of their constitutional validity.
I personally find the latest developments truly disgusting and basically a sign that the Australian people have been miserably betrayed by an uncaring, uncompassionate political elite in their insatiable desire for more power and control. In particular, those protests over the weekend have revealed the authoritarian agenda and reckless indifference of the political elites to the suffering of the Australian people.
In this context, our political leaders should be reminded of John Locke, that great ‘Founder of Liberalism’. Locke, whose political philosophy underpins the 1688 Glorious Revolution and the UScDeclaration of Independence, argued that governments have no other end ‘but the preservation of these rights, and therefore can never have a right to destroy, enslave, or designedly to impoverish the subjects’. If a government exceeds the limits of its legitimate power, citizens have the lawful right to resist such acts of political oppression. As Locke famously put it: s
Whenever the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the rights of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any further obedience, and are left to the common refuge which God hath provided for all men against force and violence.
We should not be too hasty in dismissing Locke’s idea of lawful resistance. This is our classical liberal tradition of constitutional government and it firmly communicates that there cannot be one rule for some and another for the rest of us. To be sure, the only positive outcome from these protests is that the population are finally getting an insight into the real mentality of their ruling elites.
Federal, state, and territory leaders have been considerably exposed. The people have the basic right to demand the lifting of arbitrary restrictions and restoration of our individual rights and freedoms. We have sacrificed our freedoms. We have lost our jobs and businesses apparently for nothing. End these draconian restrictions right now or face the lawful (and constitutional) resistance of the Australian people.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College, Perth. He is also adjunct law professor at The University of Notre Dame Australia (Sydney campus), President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA) and a former Law Reform Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia and former chair and professor of constitutional law at Murdoch University. A fully footnoted version of this piece is available by contacting Dr Zimmerman directly.
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