Guest Column

Eichmann in Ballarat

In early September alarming events have taken place in Victoria that have captured international attention. In Ballarat, a large rural city famed as the site of the historic Eureka Rebellion, three police officers went to the home of a modest working-class family and arrested Zoe Lee Buhler, a visibly pregnant young woman. They charged her with sedition. The whole matter was quite distressing and confusing for her, because Zoe Buhler, who evidently is not highly educated, didn’t seem even to know what sedition is. Neither did her agitated and uncomprehending husband, who live-streamed the arrest as it occurred in the family’s kitchen.

This column appears in October’s Quadrant.
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Zoe Buhler’s supposed crime was posting on social media her support for an upcoming protest rally critical of the state government’s heavy lockdown regulations. That was all. She didn’t even attend. But the police were charging her with sedition, a crime one step short of treason, and thereby treating her as a political dissident intent on destabilising our system of government. This is ridiculous. It beggars belief.

These police were carrying out orders issued not by the state’s Attorney-General, but by admin­istrators in the Health Department. Due to the unprecedented powers granted them under Victoria’s “State of Emergency”, health bureaucrats now carry serious weight—and don’t we know it, as the police follow their bidding during the COVID-19 crisis. Lacking all sense of proportion, health managers treat members of the public who are being cheeky nuisances, like Zoe Buhler, as dangerous threats to homeland security. So instead of giving her a polite yet firm warning, the administrators utilise laws intended for the likes of a Julian Assange.

Dare one add that the state’s Health Minister, Jenny Mikakos, has a law degree from Melbourne University and was herself formerly a solicitor in private practice, so she ought to know better. But she has escaped all criticism of her underlings’ cavalier excesses. (online editor’s note, Oct. 5: Ms Mikakos was soon after abandoned by her Premier and has resigned both her portfolio and her upper house seat.)

Many have noted something distinctly Orwellian in the way things now run across Victoria, and not just how the state’s Chief Health Officer has great power with next to no transparency, accountability or oversight. (A frustrated Scott Morrison told the media on September 7 that the Victorian government regards its modelling for the lockdown of the state as too secret even to reveal to the Prime Minister’s Department.)

Much as Orwell envisaged a Ministry of Peace responsible for waging war, and a Ministry of Truth which spread lies, in present-day Victoria our Department of Health uses police to harass a pregnant woman with little concern for her physical health and mental well-being, even preventing this expectant mum from getting to a medical appointment to check on her unborn baby. Department of Health? Health Minister? Chief Health Officer? Worse still, instructions were given for police to seize both Zoe Buhler’s and her husband’s mobile phones. Common sense stresses you don’t take away a pregnant woman’s phone, as it has those contact numbers she needs in the event of an obstetric emergency. Not in Victoria anymore.

What fascinates me is the subsequent uproar. If ever we needed evidence that younger generations are ignorant of history, and how it urgently needs to be studied not only in universities but in secondary and primary schools, the evidence is in the shallow tone of what has been said about the arrest of Zoe Buhler. The vast majority of people have been appalled at this disgraceful act by the Victorian government, and by other excesses occurring under a seemingly unending, and undemocratic, “State of Emergency”. For them it clarifies how wrong things are. But there is little depth, and no historical awareness, to the collective outcry. People lack moral co-ordinates to use in argument, while some Victorians have defended those country cops, insisting they were just obeying orders.

This is the famed “Nuremberg Defence” used by Nazi war criminals when put on trial. They claimed they bore no personal responsibility for the bad things they did. They were just carrying out orders, the defence line went, and so were morally obliged to follow instructions through. Obedience was a duty. The entire Nuremberg episode brought an end to that style of legal defence, and never again would the justice system in democratic countries accept that members of the police or military are innocent if they do bad things on orders from above.

Clearly, the people of Victoria have forgotten that golden principle. Unacquainted with how the Nuremberg Defence was so discredited, it therefore seems on the way back. Accused Nazi war criminals might well have a fighting chance if sent to trial in Victoria today.

It doesn’t stop there. Another opinion about the Ballarat incident went into instant circulation; this was most clearly expressed by a letter published in the Weekend Australian of September 5-6, titled “Pendulum Swings Too Far”. The correspondent made the point that irrespective of whether police officers were in the wrong or the right, the reason people were fussing was only because a pregnant woman had been arrested.

But that is the point. It is a moral norm in our society to show special consideration for pregnant women, yet Zoe Buhler was treated unsympathetically by the police, as is evident from the video record. Again we must invoke Nuremberg, because a hallmark for immoral behaviour by authority is how it targets the vulnerable and weak. That came out time and again in those Nazi war trials and firmly established a moral code for what is acceptable. To argue or even think it is okay for police officers to follow questionable orders to harass a pregnant woman is to take a step towards an Adolf Eichmann.

It is from this prominent Nazi that we get another key term, “Little Eichmanns”. These are seemingly harmless ordinary people, officials who willingly do unethical things in their community, and whose actions collectively therefore make immoral systems possible. As was stressed at Eichmann’s 1961 trial in Jerusalem, if you get enough of these people going along with bad orders you’re on the path to a holocaust. History has repeatedly shown this. Eichmann himself insisted until the very end that he was just following orders, although what his trial made abundantly clear is the “banality of evil”—how evil is largely conducted by normal-seeming officials on an immediate very small scale: they try to pass off their personal actions as inconsequential against the grander scheme of things, but those actions set and affirm the moral tone.

Much as the Nuremberg excuse has surfaced again, no one has pointed out how the police at Ballarat were Little Eichmanns. They didn’t shout, they didn’t threaten, they just unemotionally processed a very pregnant, upset and bewildered woman, showing neither hostility nor empathy towards her throughout.

Witnesses at the Eichmann trial described his behaviour during the war, and how it took this same pattern; the official dispassionately got on with his daily work as if there were nothing ethically questionable about what he was doing. Eichmann treated people as livestock and calmly proceeded with his job, which is just how we see those Ballarat cops behaving in the video. Zoe Buhler explains to them repeatedly that she is about to go to a medical appointment to check on her unborn baby, and offers to take down her social media post. The three cops could have allowed this, given her a verbal warning and left it at that. They are empowered to do so in such circumstances. But instead of showing human decency, they dispassionately continued with the needless arrest of this agitated expectant mother, handcuffing her and hauling her off to the police station when she should have been getting an ultrasound.

For people of my generation this is all crystal clear. A proper sense of morality tells you to avoid following immoral orders; and you protect the vulnerable, not pounce on them as easy victims. These were principles for our lives, what formative figures like Gandhi, Bertrand Russell and Martin Luther King preached when I was young. But that’s history, a discipline nowadays ridiculed as irrelevant to how we conduct our lives.

At the time of writing Dr Christopher Heathcote has spent 178 days in virtual solitary confinement under Victoria’s State of Emergency. As a single person, he is forbidden by the emergency laws to meet with any other individual.

UPDATE: Victoria Police take another pregnant woman into custody, this one for being apprehended more than 5km from her home. Those who prefer to avoid foul language might wish to kill the sound.

18 comments
  • Biggles

    ‘I vas only followink orders’ was the standard reply of the Nazis tried at Nuremberg. They were hanged anyway. Members of Victoria Police take note; you can’t get away with it forever.

  • Stephen Due

    “The official dispassionately got on with his daily work as if there were nothing ethically questionable about what he was doing”.
    This description of Eichmann, applied above to the Ballarat police, applies equally well to the Victorian Premier. It is a trait often noted in psychopaths when they occupy positions of power.
    Another such trait is arbitrary rule. The main reason the Victorian government’s modelling is kept secret is undoubtedly that it bears no relation to the regulations being imposed on the public. In Britain, where there is more incisive media commentary on the lockdowns, it has often been noted that the rules are constantly changing for no obvious reason. The same applies in Victoria. Regulations that are arbitrary and confusing as well as punitive – the Premier threatens to make the rules harsher and the penalties higher if people do not comply – are a hallmark of the psychopath in office.
    Refusal to be held accountable to the public, as exhibited by Daniel Andrews at the recent hotel quarantine inquiry and during his interminable press conferences, is another sign of the same syndrome.
    Finally, note the typical, cold-blooded rejection of any moral standard governing the use of state power. Here is the Premier answering a question about the lockdown: “This is not about human rights”. Indeed.

  • Alan moran

    The Opposition is equally culpable in not calling for civil disobedience and public protests agaisnst laws that are both unjust and harmful

  • Biggles

    Stephen Due et al. Re the situation in Britain: see the attached by Paul Weston. It shows what a farce the reaction to Covid has been there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG1YlF8PH9E&list=WL&index=7&t=2s

  • Elizabeth Beare

    Yes, the opposition are also culpable by not calling out this terrible abuse of power. In part, they are not calling it out because to some extent they are also doing it. New South Wales has had its moments of ridiculous bans – as on golf – and heavy handed policing; although nothing quite in the Stasi style we have seen so often in Victoria, and doubtless also which so often we have not seen even though it happened. Cameras aren’t everywhere, phones can be confiscated, and live streaming, which brought Zoe’s case to notice as it happened, is not easily done by all phone users.

  • Ian MacKenzie

    You have to hand it to them, after perverting the course of justice with Lawyer X, scoring a seven-nil loss to the High Court on the Pell case and demonstrating overt political bias in the policing of BLM vs other protests, you wouldn’t have thought the Victorian Police could stoop any lower. Sedition for expressing political beliefs for heaven’s sake!
    And now we hear that bribes may have been paid to encourage the prosecution of Cardinal Pell. Going the extra mile and advertising for victims doesn’t seem so smart now, does it.

  • DougD

    I wrote to Commissioner Hilton, the commander of the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, asking her Commission to investigate whether Victoria Police officers involved in the hand cuffing of the pregnant Ballarat woman breached sec 10 the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act, the prohibition against degrading treatment. I said that the police conduct in hand-cuffing this woman dressed only in pyjamas in her home and in front of her young children appeared not just unjustifiably heavy-handed and intimidatory conduct by the police but a breach of the Victorian Charter of Rights that claims to protect citizens like this woman from degrading treatment.
    The Commission says on its website:
    “Under the Charter, you cannot be … treated … in a … degrading way. Such treatment might occur when public authorities such as the police use force, …
    As well as being covered by the Charter, the right to protection from …degrading treatment is also covered by international law. It is considered a non-derogable right – that means the government cannot limit or suspend this right under any circumstances.”
    Well sort of – it’s Dan Andrews ‘ Victoria after all. Here’s the reply I got from Commissioner Hilton’s commission:
    “Unfortunately the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission doesn’t have the power to investigate breaches of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). Our limited functions under that Act are set out at section 41.”

    That may explain the silence about what is going on in Victoria by all those Victorian human rights paladins who constantly attack Minister Dutton for breaching various international human rights charters and treaties by denying visas to non-refugees and by deporting alien criminals.

  • Stephen Due

    FYI three top epidemiologists and infectious disease experts, Martin Kulldorff (Harvard), Sunetra Gupta (Oxford) and Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford) met today in Massachusetts to issue a joint declaration calling for an end to lockdowns and a return to traditional public health policy, based on solid science. This is an important move by scientists who have individually worked tirelessly to educate policymakers regarding the horrendous worldwide economic and social consequences of current policies. Their evidence invalidates the costly and tyrannical approach now being imposed on Victorians through what can only be described as the ignorance and incompetence of the authorities.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz_Z7Gf1aRE

  • gray_rm

    I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for him to get involved before VicPol killed someone because Covid. The response was a damp squib. Apparently the Prime Minister advises taking care of my health. Who needs principles?

  • RB

    I didn’t get a reply from either Anna stazi or the leader of Danistan to my letters. All I wanted to know if goosestepping was considered an acceptable form of exercise.
    I am so glad I shut my operations in Melbourne and moved our warehouse to NSW.

  • DG

    The treatment of this poor and needless to say, brave woman is typical of the left: trample on the individual to preserve the power of the leftist ruling oligarchy.
    We see in Andrew’s government the very same impulses and motives of the East German governments. It suggests that given the opportunity, they would go full bore Stazi. Thus is democracy a fragile treasure.

  • ianl

    Not psychopaths, but rather sociopaths. VicPol have been told harsh treatment of “normies” is to be carried out so as to terrify most of the population into obedience. Conducting this treatment unemotionally but ruthlessly is meant to add weight to the terror.

    There was also an accurate comment on the supposed “arrest warrant” presented to Zoe Buhler in that it was signed by the same VicPol member who had dallied with Gobbo. Not a magistrate nor a judge, but a policeman, signing a pretend warrant for the Facebook audience.

  • en passant

    Compared t the Dandemic Gulag Goon Squad, Eichmann is beginning to look like quite a reasonable sort of public servant. It would be interesting to know if there is any lower IQ limit for joining VicPol as it appears being a moron is a key criteria.
    Also, all those highly paid Human Rights armchair warriors willing to fight those taking on the bad people we imported, but not able to do or say anything about the native thugs in politics and police.
    Ianl: you should also have mentioned that while busy assaulting and arresting a pregnant woman on a beach, the police announced they were taking no action against a large group of dark-skinned youths socialising. playing soccer and BBQing as (wait for it) that would be socially insensitive.

  • Occidental

    I spent a career dealing with police when I was legal practitioner. I can assure you that most police would be mystified at reading the commentary here. Not because they are intellectually challenged, for as I found out on numerous occasions the intelligence of police particularly those in the CI Branch is very high,- though not as high as their level of laziness . The reason they would be mystified is because of how restrained they are in these videos. The police in Ballarat and on the beach are showing uncommon restraint, compared to their normal standards. No tasering, no pepper spray, no discharge of service weapons, no kicking or punching of the detained suspect. To be honest many of the comments including the article itself show an underlying naivete as to the raison d’etre of police forces every where. The primary and most important is the protection of the property of and the status of the bourgeois middle class, their use in Australia as an instrument for executive power is usually insignificant. Unlike Eichmann, Australian police get their power from the public not the government. They have been operating often and with impugnity in a much more brutal fashion than this for a century, but their brutality is usually visited upon the detritus of the community, and hence is rarely discussed with any interest from the commentariat conservative or radical.

  • en passant

    I should have added: “Also, all those highly paid Human Rights armchair warriors willing to fight those taking on the bad people we imported, but not able to do or say anything about the native thugs in politics and police. They are a waste of space, time and money. Defund them along with half the ‘universities’ and their ABC. I am really looking forward to Dandemic stopping all this pussy-footing around through the introduction of his tyrannical ‘thought police’. I recommend he begin by rounding up all those politicians who fail to swear personal allegiance to him. Its been done before!
    Where is the State Governor, The Prime Minister and Federal Parliament and the Governor-General in all of this travesty of democracy and my right to take care of myself and decide what risks are acceptable?”

  • Doubting Thomas

    ep, Unless I’m seriously mistaken, State Governors have no power to intervene unless, as occurred in the Lang-Game instance in NSW, the Premier is acting in breach of the law. The Prime Minister, the Federal Parliament and the G-G have no power to intervene in State politics unless there is some breach of the Federal laws.
    If the polls are correct, Andrews is acting in accordance with the wishes of a significant majority of the Victorian population.
    So it looks like Victorians, at least, are getting the government they deserve.

  • Simon

    The amazing thing to me is that constitutionally it appears the PM of Australia is completely unable to intervene in what this communist is doing in Victoria.

    Whether he has the necessary wherewithal and balls to do so is another question. But for now the Victorian people have been abandoned.

  • pgang

    Simon I think this shows that Federation still survives in principle. The states need to maintain their autonomy, and in this Morrison actually has my support, rather than taking the easy path to full dictatorship.
    Victoria, with the rest of Australia watching, is learning what governmental power actually is. A parliamentary democracy is a fragile and chimeric beast indeed, surrounded by bogey men slavering to tear it apart. All the states have been pulped in the mill of power to various extents. The only question now is whether we are willing to let this abuse of power slink into the shadows, by drifting back to our comfortably numb status quo and letting 2020 becoming a forgotten bad dream. Or will the electorate remain unsettled about what it has learned from the more sinister nature of the power that holds sway over it?
    Whenever I hear people ridicule Americans for their obsessive belief in the right to own weapons, I know that they have been seduced by the easiness of a comfortable life. Americans get it – there is an avoidable, brutal reality and then there are high-minded, worthy ideals such as rule of law which must be tenderly nurtured into being: Australians are too naive to understand the difference.

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