Leading article Australia

One and free? If only we were

9 January 2021

9:00 AM

9 January 2021

9:00 AM

The paradox of our age of abundance, is that we fret incessantly about scarcity, and yet, like the wisdom of the Lord, the stupidity of our governing classes is infinite. In a field cluttered by state premiers vying to outdo each other, Prime Minister Morrison has made a bold bid to move ahead of the pack with the modest announcement that he has edited the national anthem, deleting the offending phrase – ‘young and free’ – and replacing it, with ‘one and free.’

Oh, if only we were! After 12 months of living in a collection of penal colonies that make Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon look like Club Med, most Australians – even the toddlers and school kids – do not feel ‘young and free,’ we feel worn out and fed up.

Yet our nation is young. It was only 120 years ago, on 1 January, that Australia became a nation. The Prime Minister partially concedes this point, admitting that Australia ’may be relatively young’, but he rushes to add that the country’s story is ancient, as if the concepts were mutually exclusive. They are not.

The Egyptians trace their civilisation back to 6000 BC, when hunter-gatherers settled (or invaded in today’s parlance) the Nile River Valley but Egypt’s first dynasty dates from only 3100 BC, when King Menes united the country and established its capital near modern-day Cairo. On this basis it is considered to be the oldest country in the world, albeit a young nation, with China, India, Ethiopia, Greece, Japan and Persia the runners up.

Bruce Pascoe has yet to claim that indigenous Australians constructed pyramids, although there is no reason to doubt that he might, at some point in the future. Yet, it would be bold, even for him, to claim that there was an indigenous leader who united and ruled all Gondwanaland. Until he does, it is safe to say that Australia is a young country.

Mr Albanese chimed in claiming that the country ‘should be proud of the fact that we have the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet, right here with First Nations people.’ But do we? If our ancestors arrived, as ‘the science’ tells us, out of Africa, then it seems quite possible that the oldest continuous civilisation is to be found on that continent, rather than the Antipodes. Or are our cultural custodians suggesting that the First Nations of Africa were not also continuously civilised?  And is there really no civilisational continuity between the ancient people, the First Nations if you will, of Briton or India or China, for example, and the modern day inhabitants of those lands?

The Prime Minister says that changing the anthem will foster a ‘spirit of unity’ more fully in our national anthem. Presumably, the opening stanza, which calls on ‘Australians all’ to rejoice is not inclusive enough in these Woke times, when every oppressed intersectional minority must not only be named but be honoured with a verbal genuflection.  During the past year, Mr Morrison says, we have shown the united effort that has always enabled us to prevail as a nation and ’it is time to ensure this great unity is reflected more fully in our national anthem.’ After the past 12 months, the Prime Minister and Opposition leader might feel united but most Australians have never felt more isolated and divided, locked in our homes or tower blocks, in hot spot suburbs or metropolises, walled in or out by rings of steel or state borders, unable to travel overseas, or to return home, unable to visit friends and families, even at death’s door and beyond, to grieve at their burial.

The founding fathers of our federation, and yes, they were fathers (not mothers) would be astonished. Bubonic plague broke out just before federation in 1900 and quarantine became an essential part of the vision of Australia. Public health is mentioned twice in the constitution, giving the parliament the power to quarantine, and requiring the states and territories to transfer quarantine services to the Commonwealth. As a former immigration minister, Mr Morrison should know that the Quarantine Act was merged to form the Immigration Restriction Act, a federal responsibility.

The chaotic response of the states to the Spanish flu illustrates the dictum that those who do not learn from their history are forced to repeat it. Victoria and NSW were at odds over how to respond and Queensland unconstitutionally closed its borders. After the chaos that ensued, the states and territories finally ceded quarantine control to the Commonwealth, which created its own health department to coordinate the response to pandemics.

Instead of repeating the fiasco, the federal government should have run quarantine from the outset, in remote locations where appropriate, studying the practices of world leaders, such as Taiwan, so that as few people as possible would risk infection, and allowing all Australians to travel, not just the rich and government apparatchiks.

The Coalition government, under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, declared Australia an ‘innovation nation’. Why then have we starved of funds major Australian scientific breakthroughs such as rapid tests and the use of ivermectin as a safe and effective prophylactic and treatment  for Covid? If the Prime Minister wants us to sing that we are ‘one and free’ then he must redouble his efforts to make it so.

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