For the second time in less than three months, the Wester Australian Premier Mark McGowan has locked up two million people in their homes over fears of community spread of coronavirus. Back in February, we only had one positive case. At the time of writing we have two. The differences end there. Again McGowan tells us he has no option. As the American baseball coach, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra once said: “It’s déjà vu all over again”. McGowan, like a lazy student, takes the easy option because he doesn’t do his homework.
Like last time, the positive case came from a quarantine hotel, the Mercure. On that occasion, it was a hotel quarantine worker who was not attired in full PPE because he did not have to be in accordance with the rules in place at the time. Those same rules did not prevent him from moonlighting as an Uber driver. This time the McGowan Government was warned on 8 April that the Mercure’s air ventilation system would present a serious risk for virus transmission and thus it should not be used for quarantine. Yet this advice was ignored – until now. Of course, the McGowan Government loves to repeat ad nauseum that it will not ‘challenge’ the health advice, which is why ANZAC Day services (had they gone ahead) would have been limited in numbers. So the health advice won’t be challenged, but it can be ignored, just like it was when the Chief Health Officer, Dr Andy Robertson, told the Federal Court last year that the chances of spread of the virus if state borders were open were 1%.
Has McGowan heard of the least infringement principle of public health, that civil liberties are limited to the least extent possible to protect public health? If Mr McGowan and his Deputy, Health Minister Roger Cook had done their homework, they might have learned how Taiwan, with a population of 25 million people crammed on an island, only had 7 coronavirus-related deaths and no lockdown. They might have learned how NSW managed 40 cases from the Crossroads Hotel without locking down the street, let alone an entire city. It is also worth reminding him that coronavirus has an infection mortality rate of less than 1% for those under 70 years of age but conveniently ignored, naturally, since fearmongering does wonders for your polling.
And just like a bad student, it’s always somebody else’s fault. On Saturday Mr McGowan laid the blame at the feet of the federal government, stating that hotels were not fit for purpose for quarantine, yet the state has to pick up the cost and risk and the Commonwealth doesn’t want to do it. He moaned that he was at the end of his tether with the Commonwealth handing responsibility to the states and not helping.
Well, we in the West are at the end of our tether with this buck-passing nonsense, blaming others for your own shortcomings. The states and Commonwealth share responsibilities all the time in a wide variety of areas, health being one of them. The states run their hospital systems, with funding contributions from the Commonwealth. Speaking of WA’s hospital system, since October last year at least there have been serious problems with ambulance ramping, which have only gotten worse. We have seen emergency departments put on code yellow, meaning they are at capacity, and we had the tragic death of a 7-year-old girl at the Children’s Hospital two weeks ago, after a two-hour wait in emergency, a death which could have been avoided. Could it be that our hospital system isn’t being managed properly, which is why the easy option of lockdown and shutting borders is preferred?
McGowan can’t have it both ways. Emergency services are a state responsibility, so according to his reasoning (if it can be called that), the states should carry the can alone. Yet, he didn’t mind when the Commonwealth chipped in to help after Cyclone Seroja devastated parts of the northwest, or when NSW sent its firefighters to help with the February bushfires (which occurred during the last lockdown, with firefighters had to observe social distancing rules, thus reducing their capacity to bring the fires under control).
In an interview on 6PR radio on Friday afternoon, the head of the Australian Hotels Association WA, Bradley Woods, estimated this latest lockdown would cost the WA economy around $100 million. In his Republic, Plato opined that one of the problems with democracy was that many of the individuals running for public office are not competent enough to rule, and if they are elected their incompetence causes problems to the governed. In Perth Anzac Day ceremonies have been cancelled. One can only imagine what those brave men and women, who gave their lives to preserve our freedom, are thinking upon seeing those freedoms being crushed by a hubristic government, which has learnt nothing and thus looks for the easy way out, blaming others for its own failings.
Maybe they would also be scathing in their judgement of the Prime Minister, who long ago could have spoken out against this lockdown madness, instead of supporting it in the interests of “national unity”. When it comes to standing up for a principle, like section 18C, the Brereton Report, Zoe Buhler, the rule of law generally, just to name a few, Scott Morrison is as lazy as he is vacuous.
Dr Rocco Loiacono is a Senior Lecturer at Curtin University Law School.
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