Every nation cherishes an image of itself. We are often told that ours was formed on the beaches of Gallipoli, but long before the Australian union the people of the Australian colonies came to self-awareness. Few were proud of the ‘convict stain’, but almost all stressed our independent spirit, our impudent mockery of authority, our strength and toughness in the face of adversity. The much-loved poet Henry Lawson, in his 1888 piece Andy’s Gone with Cattle, asked: when Andy’s gone away over the Queensland border, who’s left behind now to ‘cheek the squatter?’ That nicely sums up the spirit of an age when most people barracked for the underdog – including even outlawed bushrangers. Our other great poet Banjo Paterson, Lawson’s rival for popular acclaim, met ‘Breaker’ Morant and didn’t like him much as a man (he does seem to have had a brutal streak) but being shot by a British court martial made him a hero in the eyes of many. Bruce Beresford’s 1980 movie is worth watching. Squatters of course had their own self-image as ‘rural toffs’ and ‘bunyip aristocrats’, but such pretensions cut little ice with average working people.
When the states finally agreed to form a federation they drew many of their constitutional ideas from the United States and chose to call their new union a Commonwealth, which is actually a very respectable English translation of the Latin term res publica. That choice reveals that there was a tension even then, as there still is, between our nation as a monarchy and as a republic. The term ‘crowned republic’ is an apt one to describe the unique Australian political compromise. To borrow from Frank Sinatra, we did it our way.
But Covid seems to have done what no other calamity succeeded in doing. It affected the psyche of the nation. Clive James reportedly claimed that Australia’s problem is not that there are too many descendants of convicts, but too many of the offspring of their gaolers and prison officers!
The words disinformation and misin
The two terms are not interchangeable. The proposed law defines misinformation as ‘
It simply beggars belief that the loudest demands for the suppression of so-called disinformation and misinformation seem to come from the biggest offenders against truth and integrity, who ran with the official Covid line from the beginning and worked hard to silence those who questioned the narrative. People were sacked for refusing the vaccine. They were not respected as conscientious objectors should be in a civil society, but denounced and gloated over – ‘serves them right’ was the cry of far too many of us.
It was a spectacularly nasty couple of years. From the beginning of 2020 there was no shortage internationally of responsible medical practitioners and researchers who questioned some of the measures adopted by governments to combat Covid. But they were effectively kept in the shadows. The so-called social media were transformed into tools of oppression. On Facebook opinions that ran counter to received wisdom were abruptly taken down. Wikipedia likewise practised a kind of informational cleansing, adulterating any entries that appeared to contradict the accepted narrative.
It now seems clear, at last, that the large pharmaceutical companies played fast and loose with the truth, connived at silencing opposition, suppressed research that questioned the effectiveness of vaccines, and persuaded (to put it most tactfully) government bodies from the WHO downwards to buy the drugs and enforce some of the toughest regulations and restrictions on human liberty ever experienced in peacetime.
And all for what? Covid took lives, of course, but apparently no more in those countries that refused to impose lockdowns than in those that did. It was a nasty illness, but the miseries inflicted by isolating or deferring the treatment of those who were sick and dying from other causes, and by driving so many small businesses into bankruptcy, were in the final analysis even greater.
In many ways the performance of the mainstream media was even more heinous than all the others combined. Those that are funded by the people (such as our ABC) have a moral duty to report facts without interpretation. Of course, there is a place for commentary and opinion in the media – but not at the news desk!
The government has now launched an enquiry into our national responses to Covid. That would be good and heartening news, if it weren’t for the fact that the performance of the states is to be excluded from the terms of reference. Yet state governments were the prime offenders! It was they that mandated masks outdoors while walking, playing or even driving tractors, restricted travel across borders or even between suburbs, and imposed quite irrational minimum distance rules. All these things were absurd beyond imagining. Did they really happen? Was it just a bad dream? How could we have so far departed from our traditional Australian larrikinism as to submit quietly to such nonsense, and even to thank our governments for ‘looking after us’? Here was the Nanny State in full flower.
One of the most unpleasant things about a nanny state is that it doesn’t trust its own people. Do we really need to be protected from mis- or dis-information? Can’t we be allowed to make up our own minds, to debate, to analyse, to think for ourselves? The Left has never really trusted the people.
Dr David Daintree AM is Director of the Hobart-based Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies