Leading article Australia

Covid maniacs running the asylum

16 January 2021

9:00 AM

16 January 2021

9:00 AM

It seems passing strange that the Victorian government’s arbitrary detention of its citizens, desperately flying home after Christmas, appears to have gone unnoticed by the nation’s usually vociferous defenders of human rights. The silence of the ABC has been deafening, given the lengths to which its journalists normally go to seek out the stories of those who are prohibited entry to Australia and the alacrity with which they broadcast the accounts of cruel and unusual detention at the hands of heartless bureaucrats.

Last year, the Human Rights Law Centre lodged a test case in the High Court seeking the release of illegal immigrants into the community on the grounds that detention centres were incubators of Covid-19. Yet when the Andrews government started the new year by impounding unsuspecting citizens arriving from NSW in mandatory detention, there was not so much as a squeak from the battalions of activist lawyers, most of them based in Melbourne incidentally, who would normally rush to profess their abhorrence of government officials who imprison poor unfortunates prohibited entry to this promised land by an imperious government. We have waited in vain for the ABC’s 7.30 scoop about the inhuman way in which passengers have been held in gate lounges or on buses for hours with no food, supervised access to the toilet and precious little water.

Premier Daniel Andrews’ declaration that he would decide who comes to Victoria and the circumstances in which they come is ripe for a Constitutional challenge if anyone has the guts to mount one. Only the Commonwealth government has the legal authority to close state borders. The power to quarantine individuals was also ceded to the Commonwealth by the states and territories. The pandemic of loopy thinking that struck our shores last year has led to repeated outbreaks of policy madness, foot-in-mouth disease, premier derangement syndrome and irritable populace disorder.  While our governing classes suffered from feverish delusions of grandeur, Australia’s well-established pandemic strategy was torn up by a dangerous throng of chief medical and health officers who, armed with dodgy modelling, unreliable tests and bogus health advice, have successfully mounted a coup d’état.

The closure of state borders is an act of public-health machismo that divides families, breaks businesses and delays national recovery. It rewards police and public servants with generous overtime while pushing small business owners and hosts of other, hitherto working, people on to welfare. The cost in human misery is too great to quantify, while the number of cases of infection that are prevented is negligible.

Only one premier has had the courage to reject the delusion of prophylactic parochialism. Gladys Berejiklian’s NSW government has managed the pandemic far more effectively than any other state, while remaining committed to economic freedom, freedom of movement and freedom from fear. While others scare voters into submission to cover their abject failures in service delivery, Ms Berejiklian seems to be the only adult left in the room. The results speak for themselves: Victorians have been five times more likely, per capita, to catch the virus than the residents of NSW and 18 times more likely to die from its effects. The so-called National Cabinet has been incapable of stopping this ludicrous state-of-origin competition of the absurd.  When the minutes are released, 20 years from now, we will read of a prime minister’s pusillanimous attempt to put a stop to this plague of provincialism, never once invoking the authority that is legally vested in the Commonwealth government to run a rational, national quarantine program that protects Australian lives and livelihoods and unites all citizens in the national interests. It is long past time for Mr Morrison to take responsibility for quarantining international arrivals, using all the resources in his hands, including offshore and isolated facilities, and ensure that our borders are not breached by the virus. The Commonwealth Department of Health was established precisely for that purpose.

The first-hand account in this week’s Spectator of a Victorian woman who unwittingly became a ‘prohibited person’ and was put in mandatory detention in Mr Andrews’ gulag archipelago of Holiday Inns makes shocking reading. The insensitivity and incompetence shown by the newly badged ‘authorised officers’ reads as if it were the joint work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Franz Kafka and George Orwell. It is not 2021, it is Covid-1984. Our correspondent, like Gregor Samsa, finds herself transformed into a gigantic insect that the state might eliminate with pest control. Why should we be surprised? As Solzhenitsyn warned, ‘Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty’.

But let’s not be too grim. In Australia, the grinning do-gooders cracking the whip are better drawn from the pages of Jaroslav Hasek’s Good Soldier Svejk when he describes life in a lunatic asylum, where he was unfortunately detained, in his usual eulogistic terms: ‘I really don’t know why those loonies get so angry when they’re kept there. You can crawl naked on the floor, howl like a jackal, rage and bite. … There’s a freedom there which not even Socialists have ever dreamed of”. We are all stuck in that lunatic asylum until this fit of Covid-mania passes.

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