You really have to live in Melbourne to appreciate the depressing and disturbing atmosphere that embraces it at the present. But to give you a taste of it, I decided to take up my role as Tintin again for a bit of undercover work in the previously lively and iconic shopping strip of Chapel Street. I could not work out why the shops were not only closed but why they looked so utterly forlorn and abandoned and why there were so many unopened letters gathering dust under the doors. After making a few discreet inquiries, I discovered it was because the tenants have all decamped and taken the fittings and stock with them. They will not be coming back. And they are certainly not interested in opening bills they cannot pay. I put it to a few of the locals that, surely, Daniel Andrews’ Pathway to Recovery meant that sunny days would soon be with us once again. They scoffed at this. ‘More likely, the road to ruin’, said one. The government has bled them dry of all hope. The so-called pathway out of the morass will only make it worse. The survivors will be able to open again by the end of November, but only if there are no Covid cases at all, an impossible objective. The saddest thing is that it was all so avoidable. If there had been some rational limit on the number of people allowed in shops and offices, the businesses now threatened with annihilation could have survived. Daniel Andrews’ response was to ask the parliament to give him a 12-month extension to the state of emergency, no doubt because, being such a left-wing martinet, he revels in controlling peoples’ lives. He loves it so much that he will not give it away voluntarily. The final insult is that the crossbenchers, who could have stopped this new power grab, were so spineless they agreed to a six months’ extension, which is probably what Chairman Dan wanted when asking for 12 months. You would expect the Greens to agree to the extension, which they obligingly did, but who would have thought that the Reason party, formerly the Sex party and the only libertarians in the upper house, would go along with it? It shows you how much they really believe in freedom.
Then, on Saturday morning, I took a walk with a chum around what we call The Tan, a delightful promenade around the elegant 19th century Botanic Gardens. It passes the monumental Shrine of Remembrance where, many times, I have contemplated the inscriptions and listened to speeches immortalising Australian soldiers who fought and died so that we could enjoy freedom of thought, speech and assembly. But there, barring our way with their vans and wagons were hundreds of police, determined to stamp out any sign of freedom of thought, speech or assembly. They were armed and swaggered around the Shrine in an intimidating phalanx of the sort you see in Hong Kong and Belarus. Overhead, the police helicopters hovered; reports that they are using drones over public parks to detect minor breaches of social distancing have also been confirmed. Then we saw on television the appalling spectacle of a pregnant woman being arrested and handcuffed for an alleged breach of the illegal assembly rules. Why is that appalling? Because arrest and handcuffing has never been the practice for a statutory offence when you could simply serve the offender with a summons. Marvellous Melbourne has become Miserable Melbourne.
But it is not only the Labor party that apes the power of the oppressive state. As a true conservative, I was thrilled with the evidence that emerged this week that there is at least one thing in politics that is not going to change: the Liberal party’s unrelenting commitment to big and ever-expanding government. They are mesmerised and besotted by it. Its members take secret blood oaths at midnight, swearing to devote their lives henceforth to creating new departments and advisory bodies, imposing new taxes and levies to pay for them and a matching battery of laws to cancel the few of our human rights that remain. Its latest achievement – and the one that renews my conviction as a conservative that nothing will ever change – is the secret plan to set up a Commonwealth mega-body that will control and regulate the management of all natural disasters, from floods to pandemics. It was apparently not enough to have the multitude of federal, state and municipal bodies that already exist to do exactly that. Indeed, we established the Department of Homeland Security that was supposed to co-ordinate all emergency bodies to cover everything and we equipped it with its own keystone cops subsidiary, Borderforce, complete with fancy new uniforms and powers. We also have Emergency Management Australia which is supposed to be the co-ordinating body. Why, then, do we need yet another body on top of this panoply of organisations to duplicate what is already being done? I know the answer: to be seen to be doing something, no matter how useless and expensive it may be. And because of a lust ingrained in the Liberal party to continue expanding the size of government. But this new emergency body will probably run out of emergencies. There are only so many floods, bushfires, cyclones, viruses and cyber attacks to go around. Even the creative Wuhan Bat, Rat and Snake Market will have its work cut out to to satisfy the gargantuan maw of this new behemoth. But you won’t be entirely excluded from the glory of this new creation; you will be paying for it.
Finally, I see the Council of the Order of Australia rightly refused to accede to the monstrous demand of several Liberals, led by Victoria’s Tim Smith, to cancel Bettina Arndt’s award, simply because they disagreed with her views on family violence.
Naturally, she had to be punished. Sometimes I think the once great Liberal party needs a course on basic liberalism.
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