Victoria Premier Dan Andrews’ attempt to introduce repressive new pandemic legislation in the Australian state is the latest misstep in a response to the virus characterised by incompetence and disregard for citizens’ freedoms.
The pandemic has generated a series of political crises in many Western liberal democracies over the past two years. Leaders who have failed to deal with it effectively have been brutally punished by voters.
It was arguably one of the key reasons Donald Trump lost office and, in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is facing defeat at the upcoming election because of his bungling of the vaccine rollout.
Even those politicians who have managed the pandemic well have had to deal with a severe backlash from voters deeply resentful of lockdowns and other restrictions imposed upon them. Even now, as lockdowns are being lifted and restrictions eased in most countries, political divisions and disputes have emerged in relation to whether vaccines should be mandatory or not.
Mass pandemic protests – that often turn violent – are still commonplace in the West.
Politicians, no matter what their persuasion, have found it inordinately difficult to master the delicate balancing act of protecting their citizens, while at the same time trying to limit the infringement of basic rights that this necessarily entails.
In Australia, the bitter political controversies generated by Covid-19 have played out most dramatically and violently in Victoria – once described by current Labor Premier “Chairman” Dan Andrews as “the most progressive state in Australia.”
Those controversies have culminated in the dramatic protests taking place this week against a new pandemic law recently introduced into the Victorian parliament by “Chairman Dan.” It is somewhat ironic – but perhaps not surprising – that the irredeemably woke Andrews should find himself besieged by outraged citizens claiming that their basic rights have been trampled on yet again.
The Victorian government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic has, from the beginning, been characterised by gross incompetence and a brutal disregard for the rights of its citizens. It was the Andrews government’s criminally defective quarantine system that caused the Covid-19 second wave in that state late last year, which resulted in around 800 deaths and thousands of infections.
“Chairman Dan” responded to this avoidable catastrophe by commissioning a tame inquiry which concluded that no one – least of all Andrews himself – was responsible for this debacle.
Months of draconian lockdowns and restrictions followed for Victorians – the capital Melbourne achieved the distinction of becoming the most locked down city in the world – and the heavy-handed behaviour of the Victorian police attracted worldwide condemnation.
“Chairman Dan” virtually suspended the Victorian parliament, and it has sat only intermittently over the past 12 months. Violent protests have occurred regularly during this entire period. Last month, as double vaccination rates in Victoria reached 80%, “Chairman Dan” began lifting the lockdowns and easing restrictions. This coincided with plans to open up state borders in Australia before Christmas, and allow overseas travellers to enter the country.
One would have thought that, in such circumstances, the last thing that any responsible politician would contemplate would be the introduction of wide-ranging, repressive pandemic legislation.
That, however, would be to ignore “Chairman Dan’s” uncontrollable urge to control the citizens of Victoria in a totalitarian manner. Last month, the Andrews government introduced into the Victorian parliament its Orwellian-titled “Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021.” The bill was quickly approved by the Labor majority in the lower house.
The bill replaces existing emergency laws, due to expire in December, and empowers the premier and health minister – rather than the state’s chief health officer as is currently the case – to declare pandemics and issue wide-ranging health directions.
The original bill permitted citizens to be detained indefinitely with no right of appeal to a court. Fines of up to $90,500 could be imposed on those who disobey health directions, and the bill does not provide for any proper parliamentary or judicial oversight.
The bill has been condemned by lawyers’ associations, human rights advocates, and the political opposition parties in Victoria as an attack on democracy and the rule of law.
More importantly, it has provoked ongoing intense protests outside the Victorian parliament, and death threats being made against the premier and other politicians. The protests have featured a prop gallows and a noose, together with chants to “kill” and “hang” Andrews.
“Chairman Dan” has responded in typical fashion by saying “I will not be deterred,” and characterising the protesters as a “small, ugly mob” of rabid right-wing extremists.
The bill was due to be debated in the Victorian upper house this week – where the Andrews government needed the support of a number of independents in order to pass the bill into law. On Wednesday, a former Labor member of the upper house, who had been expelled from the party for engaging in corrupt conduct and now sits as an independent, indicated that he would vote against the bill.
In the circumstances, it appeared that the bill would not pass, and debate was adjourned. The bill is now in limbo for the time being.
How has Victoria come to find itself in this sad and parlous situation – one that resembles the irreversible division and chaos that now characterises politics in the United States? Perhaps the answer lies in the so-called “progressive” nature of the Andrews government.
It is not a Labor government in the traditional sense at all – it has long ignored the interests of its former working-class base. Nor is it genuinely “progressive” in the traditional political sense. It is a government that exclusively promotes the interests of the globalised elites that rule most Western democracies, and it is fanatically committed to implementing the various woke ideologies adhered to by those elites.
In this respect, it closely resembles the American Democratic Party – and in precisely the same way that globalised elites in America and the Democrats created the politics of division in that country, so too has the Andrews government gone down the same path in Victoria.
Unlike in America, this process is in its very early stages in Victoria – but the tell-tale signs are there. Victoria is a deeply divided state – economically, politically and ideologically. The so-called “culture wars,” for example, are fought with particular virulence in Victoria.
The conservative political opposition parties are completely ineffective – which has allowed the Andrews regime to dominate politics in recent years, and implement its agenda in a more comprehensive manner than in other states. Those many Victorians who oppose “Chairman Dan’s” politically correct agenda have been forced to embrace the politics of protest (one component of which is violent, extremist and irrational) – because of the absolute refusal of the Andrews regime to acknowledge the legitimacy of their views or compromise with them.
No Trump-like political leader has yet emerged to give those who oppose Andrews a political voice. The emergence of such a figure would require a fundamental political realignment of the kind that occurred when Trump took over the Republican Party – and such a prospect is not on the political horizon at present, even in Victoria.
In the circumstances, the current political crisis engendered by “Chairman Dan’s” attempt to pass his totalitarian pandemic bill – whether it becomes law or not – can only intensify. Unfortunately, Victorians can look forward to more protests and ongoing political dysfunction for the foreseeable future.