Covering discrete events, the ten days from 16-26 September were surreal. It began with the announcement from President Joe Biden and PMs Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison of a trilateral security alliance, AUKUS, that will see eight nuclear-powered submarines delivered to Australia. The 2016 deal with France, that required Australia to pay extra and wait longer in order to convert their existing nuclear propulsion system to diesel-electric, is scuttled. Industrial policy had trumped strategic logic. There is a legendary, perhaps apocryphal story from the Calcutta High Court during the Raj. ‘My Lord’, said the lawyer, ‘my learned opponent has made a very fine point, so fine it cannot be seen’. Similarly, to us mere mortals not blessed with the financial genius of Malcolm Turnbull and the political genius of Christopher Pyne, the deal was always a dud.
Morrison accompanied that announcement with the insistence that a domestic civilian nuclear industry and nuclear energy remain off limits. Say what? A country that holds one third of world uranium reserves in the most geologically stable continent, mines and exports it to bomb-possessing countries and faces mounting pressures to curb fossil fuel reliance, will continue to reject nuclear electricity? Nuclear power is not one of the many sources of fear about personal safety when I visit family in India and no consideration at all in Europe, although it was a constant worry in earthquake and tsunami-prone Japan for a decade. Next we’ll have the Greens describing the submarines as floating Chernobyls. Oh wait…
Then we had construction workers taking out their anger on their own union leaders for capitulating to vaccine coercion. Swelling numbers of people took to Melbourne’s streets to vent frustrations at the mounting toll of endlessly repeating serial lockdowns imposed by the increasingly detached-from-reality premier. Thugs masquerading as cops were let loose on citizens denied the right to peaceful protest, yet the media largely bought the union and Labor leaders’ line that protesters were mostly extreme far-right activists and Bill Shorten’s so-called ‘Nazi man-babies’. There is a neat logical symmetry to how reporters solemnly intoned about the ‘mostly peaceful’ Black Lives Matter protests last year against the visual backdrops of burning buildings and widespread lootings. Right. Faced with falling favourability, BLM quietly dropped its call to ‘disrupt the nuclear family structure’. Confronting BLM marchers, our courageous cops were more likely to take the knee but with freedom protesters, kneeing them in the groin is just a gentle build-up to the real fun of violently assaulting them.
The weekend papers included what looks like a ‘sponsored content’ special report on vaccination rollout. The lead article was by Lt.-Gen. John Frewen, coordinator general of Operation Covid Shield. I have the highest respect for the military profession but I am troubled by the increasing militarisation of Australian public life, including successive former generals as Governor-General. Judging by Frewen’s article, the military academies may be mistakenly prescribing Orwell’s 1984 as a training manual. In order to regain our freedoms – to eat out, go to a hairdresser, see a family member (this is his order of listing them) – so we can return to pre-Covid normal, Frewen instructs us, with no hint of irony and self-awareness, we must all get jabbed. Other articles in the special report foreshadow multiples apps to show our immunisation status to different governments and airlines as part of the new ‘ask, tell and fly’ Covid normal that violates all pre-Covid strictures against accessing private medical history. Professor Margie Danchin speaks in cliched generalities that for kids, ‘we think that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the small risks’. She quantifies the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis in 12-24-year-old boys as 30-70 per million but not the mortality risk from Covid. A Stanford University team calculated the mortality rates by age groups in a WHO-peer reviewed study published in July that gave an estimate of 27-140 deaths per million for 0-29 year olds. In the US a major study last month found that ‘teenage boys are six times more likely to suffer from heart problems from the vaccine than be hospitalised from Covid-19’. Because the ‘margin of benefit’ was too small, the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended against vaccinating healthy teenagers, only to be overruled by the government. Dr Sebastian Rushworth warns that as with antibiotics against bacterial infections, indiscriminate vaccination of the very low-risk could put evolutionary pressure on coronavirus to mutate into variants with sturdier resistance. Could this explain why UK data show age-standardised all-cause mortality is higher among vaccinated than unvaccinated?
Morrison also gave a speech at the UN General Assembly that was completely detached from the ground realities back home. He boasted of Australia’s enduring commitment to and promotion of human rights, including a starring role in drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet he is the only democratic leader to have imprisoned citizens (but not ministers and celebrities) in the world’s biggest open air penal colony and to have threatened citizens attempting to come home from Covid-ravaged India with hefty fines and even imprisonment, very likely against international human rights law. Gabriel Moens and Augusto Zimmermann argue that vaccine mandates also would violate international law. One YouTube blogger posted a telling video (https://youtu.be/AoIPToh-i3k) juxtaposing Morrison’s words to the UN with images of police beating up protesters, crash tackling a man engaged in a conversation with officers to the hard pavement, knocking a 74-year old woman to the ground and pepper spraying her and handcuffing a pyjama-clad, pregnant and clearly frightened woman in the presence of her family during a dawn raid.
Finally, speaking to reporters in Washington on Saturday morning, Morrison promised that Australians who had been stranded overseas by his policies for more than a year, will be able to return home once we hit the 80 per cent full vaccination target. Yet the reality is, as documented in Table 1 in my Flat White article on 20 September, in both Israel and the UK, in September this year, when both countries were heavily vaccinated, infections, hospitalisations and deaths are substantially higher – between 40 to 190 per cent for Israel and 600-980 per cent for the UK – than they were a year ago when vaccines had not yet been discovered.
I know that the Morrison government has a touching faith in the Doherty Institute modelling that completely belies that organisation’s track record, but it is fitting that the ten days of surrealism should end on a note that represents a triumph of modelling optimism over hard data.
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