My Fellow Australians,
It is now well more than one year since COVID-19 has been part of our lives, and looks as though this virus will be with us in one form or another for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has challenged us as individuals, families and communities. We can be proud of our resilience and fortitude in the face of adversity.
I urge everyone to stay calm. No good ever came of panic. For those of you who are interested, the Department of Health regularly updates its data on infection rates in Australia. To date, despite more than 30,000 infections nationally, only three people under the age of 40, and 58 people under the age of 70, have died from COVID-19. Most of these individuals were already sick with other illnesses. The media wants you to be fearful because their business model depends on it.
While all deaths are tragic, we must put this pandemic into some historical perspective. This is neither the Spanish flu nor the bubonic plague. The vast majority of us, should we become infected, will make a full recovery and get on with our lives. The immune system is a wonderful thing, and for most us is easily capable of defeating COVID-19. Our medical management of the infection has also become much more effective in a relatively short period, and a range of vaccines is available to vulnerable Australians.
We know that there is little evidence that lockdowns, the wearing of masks outdoors, or curbs on the freedom of movement significantly reduce the spread of this virus. There is good evidence that such crude measures disproportionately impact small businesses, disadvantage the poor, create uncertainties in the economy, and worsen the isolation and loneliness of the elderly and persons with disabilities and mental illness.
After watching both the heartbreak of the latest lockdown in Victoria, and the now predictable closure of state borders in response, I have formed a view that these knee-jerk reflexes jeopardise the integrity and cohesiveness of our great nation, while imperiling the freedom and autonomy of its citizens. Sadly, some premiers are responding to cases in other states by whipping up suspicion and parochialism.
The founders of our Federation would be horrified by this fragmenting of our Commonwealth. Given our geographical isolation, it is vital that all Australians enjoy the full freedom of interstate travel without the need for border passes or customs officers. Family cohesion depends on it. Tourism depends on it. Supply chains depend on it. Our prosperity depends on it. I will always oppose the introduction of vaccine passports.
We desperately need new, imaginative approaches to managing local outbreaks. The blunt-force trauma of our current ‘aggressive suppression’ strategy is not sustainable.
New South Wales has shown us that it is possible to thrive despite the ever present threat of infection. Compare this to the demoralisation and despair we are witnessing in Victoria, where repeated lockdowns threaten the viability of the arts, the restaurant industry and the AFL.
As a Liberal, I consider individual liberty to be the guiding principle of good government. I fear that our response to COVID-19 has brought out the worst authoritarian excesses of some state leaders and their police chiefs. Appeals to safety have permitted gross violations of civil liberties including the indefinite home detention of healthy individuals, the suspension of parliaments, the forced closure of businesses and schools, and troubling limits to freedom of association and the right to protest.
A Liberal government should treat everyone who calls Australia home as citizens, not subjects. This approach, and only this approach, is congruent with our ethical values.
I respect the rights of individuals, within the constraints of just laws, to take calculated risks and to make choices for themselves. This is what it is to be human. This is what it is to live in a modern democracy. This is what we fought two world wars to preserve.
If we want to stay relevant on the global stage as the rest of the world opens up, we will need to learn to live with this infection much as we have learned to live with other infections and health risks. Don’t ever listen to a politician who can promise to keep you completely safe. They are selling you a lie to buy votes.
International travel and immigration are this nation’s lifeblood. Our isolationism is leading to widespread labour shortages in the agriculture, hospitality, education and tourism sectors. We cannot expect our own airlines, let alone international carriers, to continue to operate where there is no capacity for overseas travel. Mandatory hotel quarantine for aircrew and passengers needs to be replaced with less onerous alternatives. ‘’Fortress Australia’ is rapidly becoming “Prison Australia”.
As your Prime Minister, I desire a return to normality, not just Covid-normality. I will strive to achieve this, and I am willing to stake my re-election on this aspiration. My government will set to work immediately on a timeline on reopening our nation for business. I call on our CEO’s to ask their employees to return to the workplace so that our cities may thrive again.
I will call for an urgent re-evaluation of the viability of the National Cabinet given its poor track record on collaboration, flexibility and creative problem solving. The Commonwealth will allocate GST revenues based on the capacity of states to manage the virus without resorting to restrictive practices. There will be no more ‘lockdown payments’. We will instead provide tax relief for small businesses who have been unfairly prohibited from operating, and will seek to freeze wages across the public sector.
The Commonwealth will institute an immediate relaxation of the rules preventing Australians from travelling overseas, and will demand that states increase their caps on international arrivals.
In future, the opinions and medical advice of our CHO’s will be evaluated in the broader healthcare and socioeconomic contexts, and shall be subjected to scrutiny and dispassionate cost/benefit analysis.
I believe that all Australians should be permitted to participate fully their lives with minimal interference by government, and must be allowed to make individual choices about the levels of risk they are willing to accept.
My fellow Australians, I remind you that we are one and free. The greatest threat to our unity and freedom is not from this virus, but from our response to it.