I’ve travelled to Melbourne several times a year since I was a child and visited last month for the first time since the start of the pandemic. The residents of Melbourne, who believe ‘we are all in this together’ are unaware of just how stuffed the joint has become. This quickly becomes clear to every visitor from interstate within moments of arrival. In late March, I disembarked at Tullamarine to be confronted by a man in high-vis demanding my ‘border pass’. This wasn’t July last year. It was last month and I hadn’t heard the words ‘border pass’ since Annastacia Palaszczuk’s election win cured Covid, so hadn’t even contemplated that I’d have needed one.
Nor had the dozens of other passengers around me. ‘No worries,’ said Mr Friendly Official thrusting a QR code under our noses, ‘you can apply online.’ Grateful I wasn’t about to be hauled off to hotel quarantine, I visited the website.
Question one: Have you been in any red zones? No – you see according to the online map every square millimetre of Australia was a green zone and had been so for some time. Which prompted me to ask the friendly official what was the point of the exercise? Clearly having had a gutful of that question he said, ‘It’s in case anyone on the plane has the virus, we’ll know who was on the plane’. Apparently airlines don’t keep lists of such things.
Question two: Where are you staying? I was booked at the Crown Towers (James needs the money) so started typing Crown T… at which point the website autofilled the rest. Crown Towers, Surfers Paradise.
To be clear, I was standing in Melbourne Airport, using a Victorian government website yet the only Crown hotel on offer by a website for passengers arriving in Victoria was 1,700kms north in Queensland. The website sternly warned of the penalties for making a false statement so I shall leave it to readers’ imagination as to how I got past this technical obstacle.
When I arrived at the Crown, a sign at the entry demanded I SMS my first name to a mobile number, which I did, receiving a reply ‘Thank you for registering for Crown’s Covid-19 contact tracing’. Two minutes later when I entered a bar within the same complex, I had to register again, this time using a different QR code. That night at dinner, a restaurant at Southbank required me to register using yet another private service called ‘Ordermate’. What became clear is that Victoria has a hotchpotch of disparate, disconnected systems and nothing even resembling an effective and consistent contact tracing system. Visit NSW and you can walk into any cafe, restaurant, school, taxi, dental surgery, hairdresser or cinema and use one app which takes three seconds to deal with. Should anyone be tested positive for Covid-19 it takes NSW Health a few minutes to identify every single place they’d been and every other person who’d been there, sending all of them an SMS in moments.
Victoria’s so-called ‘contact tracing’ requires a patient to first identify where they’d been – not easy after a big night out. Vic Health would then need to contact those businesses to find out how they were capturing their visitors’ information and then contact the various software companies involved. There is no possible way the Victorian government or health department could have faith in this hopeless system. At Crown I attended the guest services counter to register for a member’s card. When I got to the window, the casino staff member admonished me that I was obliged to wear a mask at all times while ‘at the tables’. Which I wasn’t. By this stage, Melburnians weren’t obliged to wear masks everywhere, however needed to carry them just in case they were asked by a business to wear one. Which I had been. Never one to argue I pulled the dirty rag out of my back pocket and placed it over my nose and mouth. I then proceeded to talk to the clerk, comforted we were both protected from virus transmission not only by our masks but by the full-height glass security screen between us.
Whilst I don’t pretend to be an epidemiologist, as a risk professional I can confidently say the risk at that counter, if not the entire state, was approaching zero, yet nobody around me thought this was in any way strange, let alone bloody ridiculous. Fifteen seconds later having completed my membership paperwork, the clerk now needed to take my ID photograph and asked me… to take off my mask. To his credit he knew his request was silly and smiled at me knowingly. I joked, ‘I think I looked better with the mask on,’ and glancing at the others within earshot realised my joke went down like a gag about a bomb in your luggage at the Qantas check-in.
To be clear, I was not slowing anyone in the queue down or affecting others in any way yet I was acutely aware of shaking heads and their profound discomfort by my behaviour or that anyone dare to question the ridiculousness of this entire ‘Covid-safe’ situation. I could absolutely imagine how in another time and country they would have reported me to the secret police for daring to question the system.
Having not visited Melbourne in a year, I was shocked by how barren the city has become. Even the vending machines at the bus station were empty. Vending machines! I ducked into the Ganache chocolatier on Collins Street to be greeted by a sign on the door explaining the business had closed after taking only $76 for Valentines Day. A chocolate shop! Boarded-up shop after boarded-up shop displayed signs spelling out why they had closed. Of course none of them would have dared say these things while they were still trading. To do so would risk a heavy visit from the hordes of Victorian Police, ‘Authorised Officers’ and other public servants, all of whom still have their job and need not worry about such things.
Although Covid is to all intents and purposes no threat to them, a huge number of young people are still wearing masks, even outside in the fresh air. A stunning example of how easily they can be led. Melbourne seems to have lost its soul and feels like North Korea – with coffee.
Like the frog in the boiling pot, Victorians don’t appreciate how dysfunctional their Covid response is nor how vulnerable they remain to another lockdown. They don’t recognise the business owners who have lost everything and those who shortly will. Meanwhile the ABC, Twitter and left-wing media cheer for the public servants and government which have tricked them into believing they’ve been saved. And they crush anyone who dares question the wisdom of their fearless leader. I refuse to cheer incompetence or defend stupidity. And I weep for how the once Garden State is fast becoming a dystopian wasteland.
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Daniel Lewkovitz is a security expert and CEO of Calamity. (www.calamity.com.au)
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