Flat White

Three decades on and John Hewson is still getting it wrong

3 January 2021

6:32 PM

3 January 2021

6:32 PM

Australia’s most illiberal former Liberal leader John Hewson wants governments to begin randomly testing people for coronavirus.

“Is it too much of a stretch to ask why not Random Covid Testing?” he tweeted on last week. 

Well, it might have been a stretch 12 months ago.

But that was before governments started banning midnight kisses, limiting the number of friends we could host in our homes and determining which of us were essential workers.

These days no amount of government interference is a stretch.

The question is not whether police should begin stopping people in the street with shouts of “Swab or I’ll shoot”; the question is why they haven’t done so already.

Random Covid testing would work just like random breath testing, except that instead of removing drunken drivers from our roads we would be removing plague-riddled citizens from our streets.


Shoppers could be routinely pulled from supermarket aisles by police officers who have been instructed to target people not wearing masks, much like police officers pull over tradies driving utes home on a Friday afternoon.

“Good morning madam, you’ve been stopped for the purpose of a Random Covid Test. Have you had a cough today?” the officer will ask.

“I did have one cough,” she will reply. “But that was a couple of hours ago so I thought it was safe to get behind a shopping trolley.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” the officer will inform her as he uses a swab stick to poke at the base of her brain through her nose.

While the test is being conducted a second officer will check her social media pages for any posts critical of Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.

If her Covid test returns positive, she will be forced to leave her shopping trolley where it is as government officials, clothed in personal protective equipment, march her off to a police station for a second test, or to a quarantine hotel or to a hospital or home to isolate.

Admittedly, it’s more complicated than the GST to be paid on a birthday cake — and will either use up health resources that could be directed to, you know, actual cases or create even higher costs (those whacky economics PhDs!) .

Random Covid testing would result in laboratories having to process many more tests and therefore delay the testing of samples that need to be processed immediately such as those from people with symptoms.

And Covid tests, while free to individuals, are costly for taxpayers. If the current rate of positive cases is less than .001% for people with symptoms or who have been asked to come forward due to close contact, random testing would likely yield a far lower percentage of positive results. Covid tests are expensive darts to be throwing around blindly.

And so on and so on. You get the general notion. You get the general idea. After putting together an inspiring economic platform 30 years ago, Hewson got the politics wrong. To mark his fall for all things left, he’s now advocating ideas that are an affront against rational economics and personal liberty.

Some might say “What about to cost to free enterprise of coronavirus?” The answer is, of course, that there’s very little of it left thanks to coronavirus control measures — and what’s there is on life support.

So would random Covid testing be a stretch too far? It would be if we were concerned about things like consent, cost and utility.

We should therefore expect our Premiers to enthusiastically embrace the idea.

And isn’t it fantastic to see how Hewson can not only keep it up, but now get the economics wrong, not just the politics?

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