Fans of Outsiders – Sky’s best current affairs program – will recall Ross Cameron and his love of the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Indeed, during Cameron’s tenure it was a running gag on the show that some insight of Aurelius’s would each week be worked into the show. You see, Marcus Aurelius was not only one of the great Roman Emperors, reigning in the late second century A.D. (anno domini for those of us who hate all things PC such as the now demanded C.E.), and after whose reign that Empire began on its slow path of decline and fall. Aurelius was also a famous Stoic philosopher best known for his Meditations (written in Greek). So this was a successful soldier, statesman and bilingual stoic philosopher.
Now given all that, you might think it absurd to find yourself, as I did, comparing our Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Marcus Aurelius. And, of course, it is laughable, on just about every level going. But let me explain.
Yesterday I was flipping through some of the better-known quotes from Aurelius, as the man is a treasure trove of maxims. And it hit me what a hollow, principle-free man our supposedly liberal Prime Minister is, a truth this government’s response to the pandemic has lain bare.
Take just these three adages or aphorisms from the great Stoic Aurelius’s Meditations. ‘If you have been placed in a position above others, are you automatically going to behave like a despot? Remember who you are and whom you govern.’ Or ‘Take a good hard look at people’s ruling principle … what they run away from and what they seek.’ Or again, ‘The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.’
Reading those insights, I couldn’t help thinking, yet again, that this Coalition government’s response to the Covid virus has been awful and that Morrison’s lack of ruling principles has been both telling as well as very, very costly to the rest of us, especially the young.
Basically, Australia’s response has stunk and the costs of our political class’s decisions will become ever more evident and keep piling up for decades and decades to come. I know, I know, I know. Outside the pages of this wonderful publication mine is a distinctly minority view amongst the media classes; amongst much of the medical-industrial complex; amongst the bureaucratic, university and lawyerly classes; and amongst pusillanimous Coalition politicians across Australia.
Where, I ask, is this country’s equivalent to Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis? This is the man who opened up Florida completely over seven months ago despite the fear porn media’s wails and screams of ‘you’re a grandmother hating, science-ignoring, Neanderthal murderer’, or sentiments to that effect.
It turns out that since then Florida (no lockdown at all and with more oldies than anywhere else in the US) has had fewer Covid deaths per million than lockdown mad California and way fewer than Andrew Cuomo’s New York (the Governor the fear porn media claimed was delivering best Covid practice until New York’s deaths per million became higher than any country’s in the world).
Governor DeSantis was brave. He stood up for freedom and civil liberties. He weathered vitriolic abuse in the name of a ‘ruling principle’ and of not ‘behaving like a despot’. He has treated how each Floridian responds to the virus and whether he or she gets the vaccine as up to them, outlawing any Covid passport schemes and not demanding masks. (Sidenote: On the vaccine issue I think the relative-risk evidence is that you should get it if you’re over 50 but not bother if you’re under (unless you need to for government-imposed reasons) as Covid simply is not dangerous to under 50s – on US data if 50,000 under 50s catch the virus one will die.) And now Americans can see DeSantis’s principle-based approach was miles better. Significant numbers of US citizens are moving to Florida from lockdown States. I would too. And much the same that I’ve said about Governor DeSantis in Florida could be said of Texas’s Governor Greg Abbott, South Dakota’s Governor Kristi Noem, and a few other Republican Governors. Democrats, by contrast and as with most left-leaning politicians and our Team ScoMo, have been lockdownista, mask-displaying, despots.
But here’s my question again. Where are Australia’s equivalents of DeSantis, Abbott or Noem? And if you answer NSW’s Gladys Berejiklian you’re kidding yourself. Sure, she’s been gold standard compared to the rest of the despotic Premiers. But compared to Sweden’s PM or these Republican US Governors? Forget it.
Meantime we have a PM who regularly mouths such idiocies as ‘we’re all in this together’. No, we’re not! Our politicians and the public servants are paying none of the costs they’re imposing; they have no skin the game. The young, by contrast, have needlessly missed huge chunks of proper schooling, had to pretend zoom university classes were worth anything at all, and will be paying off Josh’s world-beating budget extravagance their whole lives, as will their children in turn. But they face zero risk from Covid. The poor have also been smashed by Team Morrison’s response to the virus while the wealthy have done magnificently out of it. Ditto big business, whereas small businesses have been smashed. They’re lucky if they’ve not been bankrupted.
I understand the effects of over a year of scaring people to death with pointless reporting of cases – not deaths, cases – and pretending that the only matrix in life that matters is ‘not dying’ (or rather, ‘not dying of Covid’ as loads and loads of people will die from other things because of despotic government lockdowns).
In normal times having a PM (and most of his Cabinet) with no ruling principle and no core commitment to people’s freedom is probably not a big deal. But these past 18 months it surely has been. This is the man who castigated Craig Kelly for referring to peer-reviewed studies of Ivermectin’s worth as a treatment. Who from the start has only ever praised the heavy-handed actions of our premiers. Who never himself took a pay cut despite bankrupting myriad others. Who does not seem to have a single ‘ruling principle’, indeed was not even prepared to fight the s.92 State border closures in the High Court.
Yes, yes, yes Team ScoMo is better than Labor. But really, do you have the stomach to vote for this bunch of principle-free (sorry, ‘pragmatic’) clowns at the next election? I don’t.
James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland.
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