Australia has effectively become a police state. This happened without much complaint or dissatisfaction, although the signs that this could eventually happen were all too visible and on full display for everyone who has eyes to see.
I have never witnessed so much hatred in this country. The response to COVID-19 is prompting some Australians to effectively treat their fellow citizens as enemies – potential sources of infection. Daily, citizens are being patronised, spoken down to, as if it is beyond their ability to understand the complexities of the present crisis.
I also note that many Australians have developed an utterly distorted view of what governments can do for them. Such individuals now blindly worship at the altar of the all-powerful State, expecting it to be their almighty saviour, seeing in government the ultimate provider for all things. Perhaps this is a result of society’s lost faith in the God of Christianity. Be that as it may, the undeniable truth is that far too many Australians have acquired an unshakable faith in their political class. Call it a form of idolatry if you wish.
The only discernible benefit of this “pandemic” has been to expose the authoritarian behaviour of the nation’s ruling political class, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It is patently clear to me that such class is developing a real taste for the arbitrary exercise of power and control over the population. Indeed, the Prime Minister, premiers, senior advisors and politicians have never had such an energising time as the present. They are so full of importance and power that one can only expect them to continue running the country in such a heavy handed manner once this current crisis is over.
During this present crisis, it almost appears that the political class is promising to abolish even death itself, and create a new society entirely subordinated to the ultimate control of the State. The new politics exercised by such class is therefore the politics of total control. Perhaps nothing reveals more this authoritarian mindset than the recent statement of Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who declared there would be no changes to social-distancing rules in the next six months.
Why this needs to take precisely six months? On what medical-scientific evidence are the government mouthpieces basing this “six months” timeline? A six month lockdown of the country will cause massive damage to the economy and at the cost of countless Australian lives and livelihoods. On the other hand, the Prime Minister keeps telling us that his government is doing what a panel of scientists are telling them to do.
First of all, good leaders do not hide behind a few medical “experts”. An expert is only an expert in one field and this current crisis is not solely a medical issue. It therefore requires a holistic approach and the balancing of multiple considerations. These medical advisers to the Morrison government have no holistic understanding of the problem. They have no expertise in the other relevant fields of sociology, economics and constitutional law. Besides, there are a number of medical practitioners who strongly oppose these draconian measures on solely health grounds. For instance, a rural GP has recently explained:
The government should open up the economy for people under 65 to get back to socialising and working and those of us who are older to play it safe with continued social distancing and voluntary isolation. It appears our medical system will be able to cope with the much lower rates of hospitalisation and mortality becoming evident from the available data especially if we continue to protect the elderly. What can’t be coped with is the social and economic cost of this.
Published in the April 11 edition of The Economist, according to an important study carried out by Justin Silverman and Alex Washburne, the coronavirus mortality rate could be as low as 0.1 per cent, “similar to that of flu”. The Economist further explained:
The [Silverman and Washburne] paper reckons that 7 million Americans were infected from March 8th to 14th, and official data show 7,000 deaths three weeks later. The resulting fatality rate is 0.1 per cent, similar to that of flu. That is amazingly low, just a tenth of some other estimates.
As can be seen, even if most of us eventually catch the coronavirus, there will be mild or no symptoms for practically everyone. That being so, we should be taking special measures only for the most vulnerable – namely those very old people who are already suffering from chronic illnesses – and let the great majority get on with their lives. In Australia, of the 6,366 confirmed cases only 61 have died from COVID-19 (as of April 14). This means that of all those who have reported to have contracted the virus, only 0.9 per cent of them have died with the virus. If that is the actual death rate, paralysing the entire country with tremendous social and economic consequences can only be seen as utterly unreasonable.
Of course, nothing is said here about the many others who never became sick enough to get tested. The magazine Science reports that 86 per cent of infections are never documented. This would mean that the mortality rate for COVID-19 in this country is certainly lower than 0.9 per cent, and definitely much lower than one per cent.
As Adam Creighton, economics editor of The Australian newspaper, asks rhetorically: “Does anyone seriously think only 6,400 [Australians] have been infected?” It is the infection fatality rate – not the official rate of infection – that matters: official tallies are meaningless when so many are asymptomatic”. For the Australian economy, he says, the costs to the response to COVID-19 will be enduring and catastrophic. As Creighton points out,
In Australia, with so few deaths and infections, the response to the virus is starting to appear to be a damaging over-reaction… – inducing a recession, destroying millions of jobs and business, and locking us all up … The Prime Minister has said COVID-19 is akin to one-in-100 even. It’s unlikely that’s true of the virus, but it’s looking true of damage caused by hysteria.
When this is over almost none of us will know someone who lost their lives due to this virus. We will all know, however, numerous others who actually have lost their jobs, their businesses or even their lives as a result of the government’s measures in shutting down the entire nation. Yet, according to Janet Albrechtsen,
No politician is going to be held responsible for the future suicide of an unemployed young man who has lost hope. But they imagine they will be held responsible for the immediate death of a 94-year old from, or with, COVID-19.
I certainly agree with her. As we speak, the state authorities of every Australian jurisdiction have acquired full powers to enforce people to return to their homes if they are supposedly not complying with any directions or regulations, under threat of hefty fines and imprisonment. These measures are in force across every jurisdiction, where there are rumblings of overzealous police officers abusing their power. Meanwhile, the Australian Premiers assure us that the police force will use its powers only in specific circumstances. The basic problem is that these circumstances presently include sitting on a park bench, walking too close to another person, meeting with a few friends for a barbecue, or even changing flowers’ at a late spouse’s grave. This happened in Melbourne last weekend, where a man was told to leave the cemetery shortly after arriving, or he would be receiving a $1,600 fine.
In this COVID-19 crisis we are effectively witnessing a ruling political class that claims absolute control over our private associations, our work or business, our school and churches, our families, and over ourselves. Police can interrogate anyone outside without “permission”. These politicians view people “not as citizens to be engaged with, but as disease carriers to be controlled.”
In the name of fighting COVID-19 security agencies are now acquiring new powers to monitor and detain citizens. This includes powers to use surveillance like drone technology, vehicle license plate recognition and electronic tracking devices. Presumably a couple sitting at a table in a public park observing the social distance and sipping water will also be found guilty of a crime. Indeed, anyone who deliberately engages in such activity may face arrest and imprisonment.
In New South Wales, and just after another person in his 90s died with coronavirus at Liverpool Hospital, Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared that “tough social-distancing laws will stay until a vaccine [for COVID-19] is found”. Although she acknowledged “how devastating this is for families”, the Premier went on to communicate that such restrictions will not be eased and that social-distancing is now “the new way of life until a vaccine can be discovered”.
In Western Australia (WA), police has been provided 200 electronic ankle bracelets with GPS tracking to be strapped on any member of the public, for monitoring purposes of non-compliance with police directions. “We are in a state of emergency … A non-compliant [person] in quarantine will have one of these devices fitted [to them]”, WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan stated.
The WA Parliament has recently passed the Labor government’s Emergency Management Amendment (COVID-19 Response) Bill 2020. Under this Act state authorities are allowed to issue directions to a ‘class’ or group of people, rather than an individual; as well as impose penalties of $12,000 fines and 12 months of imprisonment for non-compliance. According to the WA legislation, while these expanded security powers can only be used during a state of emergency, only one of the amendments to the Emergency Management Act actually carries a ‘sunset clause’, guaranteeing its expiry at the end of this particular emergency. In sum, the Act does not include a sunset clause and so it allows for expanded security powers during an unlimited period of time. Therefore, such extraordinary powers may very well last much longer than that of the duration of the present crisis, because there is no sunset clause contained in the orders which are made under these emergency powers.
This basically means that the WA government will be using high technology to analyse, control and determine every person’s action in terms of an over-all plan designed by the political class. This is, of course, not care for the people’s health, it is oppression. For nothing will produce a police state more quickly than such draconian measures that we are, by our unquestioning obedience, consenting to.
The Constitution, of course, asserts the sovereignty of the people and supremacy of the law over all classes and individuals. Under our legal-institutional framework, the rule of law basically means that neither the elected political rulers, nor any agency of government, is above the law. But because of our own ignorance of our own legal traditions, the erosion of fundamental rights is both deep and widespread in this country.
No free and democratic society can possibly exist without the rule of law. When a legal system turns out to be so much anti-freedom, instead of government under the law there will be only arbitrary rule by “law” and by brute force. The basic question is, which authority? The authority of the law that is equitable and valid for all, or the authority of the political ruler that is arbitrary and devoid of any accountability? If Australians chose the latter, they will have no right to complain against the inevitable rise of authoritarian government, because they have effectively decided to take the road that inevitably leads to oppression and tyranny.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann PhD, LLM, LLB, DipEd, CertIntArb is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College in Perth/WA, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), and former Law Reform Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia, from 2012-2017 (appointed by then state Attorney General Christian Porter). Dr Zimmermann was chair and professor of constitutional law at Murdoch University from 2007 to 2017.
 Richard Ferguson, ‘Coronavirus Australia: NO Early End to Six-Month Lockdwn, says Morrison Government’, The Australian, April 11, 2020, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/coronavirus-no-early-end-to-sixmonth-lockdown-says-morrison-government/news-story/5cdf7db1f8a3ce598f8672d58cdc38d1
 The Economist, ‘Why a Study Showing that Covid-19 is Everywhere is Good News’, April 11, 2020, at https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/04/11/why-a-study-showing-that-covid-19-is-everywhere-is-good-news. See also: Edwin Mora, ‘Study: Coronavirus Fatality Rate Lower than Expected, Close to Flu’s 0.1%’, Breitbart, April 13, 2020, at https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2020/04/13/study-coronavirus-fatality-rate-lower-than-expected-close-to-flus-0-1/?fbclid=IwAR3_We1yIPw9ILaFvUnEoyfg60MnUkycuYY7_QEAWckRp5Fwgl7p2WR0CF4
 Adam Creighton, ‘We May Be Over-reacting to an Unremarkable Coronavirus’, The Australian, April 14, 2020, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/we-may-be-overreacting-to-an-unremarkable-coronavirus/news-story/3d78be873fac364af49f5fc949e3eaeb
 Janet Albrechtsen, ‘Coronavirus: Charting a way out of this crippling Pollyanna world’, The Australian, April 11, 2020, at https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/coronavirus-charting-a-way-out-of-this-crippling-pollyanna-world/news-story/cfd6913dfc2c5c7e082b7e8d398d0075
 Elizabeth Daoud, ‘Melbourne Man Devastated After Turned Away From Wife’s Grave Amid Coronavirus Restrictions’, 7 News, April13, 2020, at https://7news.com.au/news/vic/melbourne-man-devastated-after-turned-away-from-wifes-grave-amid-coronavirus-restrictions-c-973169
 Brendan O’Neill, ‘The Luxury of Apocalypticism’, Spyked, March 17, 2020, at https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/03/17/the-luxury-of-apocalypticism/
 Paige Cockburn, ‘NSW Coronavirus Social-Distancing to Stay Until Vaccine is found, Premier Gladys Berejiklian says’, ABC News, April 7, 2020, at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-07/nsw-coronavirus-social-distancing-to-stay-until-vaccine-found/12126802
 Aaron Fernandes, ‘Electronic Tracking Devices Among New Coronavirus Powers for WA Security Agencies’, SBSNews, April 12, 2020, at https://www.sbs.com.au/news/electronic-tracking-devices-among-new-coronavirus-powers-for-wa-security-agencies