The exclusion of the unvaccinated from public places cannot be justified on public health grounds unless the object is deterrence through humiliation. If that was a rent-a-crowd demonstration in Melbourne on Saturday, you wouldn’t want to be picking up the tab. Attendance estimates are rubbery and memories are short but you would have to go back to February 1967 to find a middle-class revolt of similar size against an intransigent Victorian premier.
Daniel Andrews’ goose is not yet cooked, any more than Henry Bolte’s was when thousands protested outside Pentridge Prison against the hanging of Ronald Ryan. History records that Bolte picked up six more seats at the following election. Yet the protest should serve as a warning to Andrews that even patient, civilly obedient Victorians eventually reach breaking point.
The protests are not limited to Victoria or Australia. Huge demonstrations occurred last weekend in dozens of European cities including Belfast, Rotterdam and Milan. The biggest was in Vienna, which is about to enter another fruitless lockdown despite mounting evidence that lockdowns are a sadistic experiment with unintended consequences.
As in Victoria, the demonstrators have been characterised as vaccination refuseniks whose idiocy endangers their fellow citizens. Yet the sentiment that united protesters in Melbourne with those in Europe is born from the realisation that the public health dystopia of Covid-19 shows no sign of abating.
Setting aside the atrocious state of the Victorian budget, the biggest deficit Andrews has chalked up is a deficit of trust. On July 15 he slammed the state into a hard lockdown he said would last for five days to stamp out an outbreak of 18 cases of the Delta variant that had arrived from Sydney. Andrews ordered the works: mask wearing became compulsory indoors and out; a 5km travel radius was imposed; the border with NSW was closed.
Andrews called a press conference, jabbing his finger in defiance. “These cases started in NSW, but I’m determined that they’ll end here,” he said. “Because we will put this out with the help of every single Victorian.”
On Friday, 127 days, 87,000 cases, 9.2 million jabs and 460 deaths later, Andrews revoked the mask rule. There was no explanation or attempt to hide behind the fig leaf of health advice. If there was any advice, it would have contradicted the advice on which he claimed to be acting when he imposed mandatory mask wearing four months ago. With more than 9000 active cases in the now unmasked community, Victorians are 530 times more likely to run into an infected person than they were in the middle of masked-up July.
Andrews’ zero-Covid promise of July turned out to be utterly worthless and the pain he inflicted was degrading and ineffective. Lockdowns did nothing to halt the spread of the virus; indeed, the number of people infected in the past four months of the pandemic in Victoria is four times larger than the number infected in the first 14 months.
Neither have vaccines provided the immunity from infection we were led to expect. It provides personal protection against severe illness but will not slow the spread or remove the risk of death altogether. Victorian health authorities remain coy about how many of the 330 people in intensive care were double vaccinated, but the data from more open jurisdictions such as Britain suggests many of them are. The same data also suggests vaccinated people are more likely to spread the virus than the unvaccinated because they might be asymptomatic and not know they have it. The exclusion of the unvaccinated from public places is untenable on public health grounds unless the object is deterrence through humiliation.
Andrews’ brutal style of politics can allow for no admission of defeat or personal culpability. It demands a steady supply of scapegoats, the so-called idiots but for whom the virus would now be under control.
Idiocy has assumed many forms in Andrews’ rhetoric in the past 20 months. There were the idiots followed home by police from KFC after they were reported to have bought an abnormally large quantity of fried chicken. There were the idiot removalists from the idiot state of NSW who trucked the Delta variant over the Murray. There were the idiot man-baby Nazis protesting on the streets because lockdown had cost them their idiot jobs. Idiocy on such a scale required a show of force by Victorian police greater than any previous public order response in Australia.
Today’s idiots are those who exercise their right not to consent to taking the vaccine. In doing so they are denying themselves the benefits the vaccine bestows but that hardly makes them idiots. They simply may be distrustful, and the more coercive public health measures become, the more sceptical they become.
Of the many who should be awarded medals for managing this pandemic, it is hard to think of a public health official who deserves to be among them. The public health advice and the orders that flow from it have been laughable for the most part and the politicians who have empowered them have been negligent.
Football crowds in South Australia have been told not to touch a ball should it come their way. Victorians have been threatened with arrest by the Premier for watching the sunset. Federal politicians returning to Western Australia from Canberra have been quarantined in their garages for 14 days to keep them apart from their families. Our intelligence has been insulted and our lives disrupted by these buffoons, safe behind their laptops, churning out executive orders, randomly enforced, that run to 83,000 words across 254 pages in Victoria, none of which has been endorsed by the elected parliament.
The social fabric is disintegrating as police are conscripted to enforce these garbled decrees that change on a whim. Police officers are calling in sick or resigning in disgust, uncomfortable with the declining public trust in the uniform they were once proud to wear. The permanent expansion of executive power Andrews seeks with the extension of emergency power legislation will further entrench the tyranny of ineptitude that is driving Victorians on to the streets.
Journalist Nick Cater is the Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre, a Canberra based think tank.