The Weekends Protests-We cannot ignore this double standard!
– Reprinted from IPA Keeping in Touch – 10 June 2020
The weekend’s protests and the reaction of politicians to them reveal something about this crisis that we discovered a long time ago – we’re not all in this together. When public servants get pay rises while the decisions they make ruin lives and businesses – we’re not all in this together. And we’re not all in this together when politicians say you can’t visit your mother on Mother’s Day but you can go to a protest to shout that Australia is a racist country.
How else can you explain the scenes we saw over the weekend? How else can you explain the extraordinary, bald-faced double standard that state premiers have now effectively endorsed?
“For months, we’ve been told that life as we know it is over, or at the very least put on hold. The most ordinary acts of everyday life – ranging from simple pleasures to basic human needs – have been conflated with a selfish callousness. Opening your business risks lives, going to work risks lives, sitting down at a café, going to the footy, playing golf, celebrating your wedding, attending a dawn service, shaking hands – all potentially lethal, and therefore unspeakably irresponsible. “
“But for reasons that I’m still trying to understand, none of that applied to the so-called ‘Black Lives Matter’ rallies on Saturday, in which tens of thousands did attend ‘mass gatherings’. Nobody left their contact details, only a fraction were wearing masks, and all were standing well within the now laughable directive of 1.5 metres apart, with which every single other Australian has at some point been asked to comply.”
And unbelievably, present at the rallies were a number of MPs. Four Labor MPs were there, despite their leader Anthony Albanese writing in April that “social distancing measures are difficult but necessary and Australians are showing tremendous discipline and care for others in their compliance”. As far as I’m aware, nobody has asked Mr Albanese what he makes of the lack of discipline and care for others that members of his own caucus – according to his own standard – showed on Saturday.
Worse still are the Greens, who called for a New Zealand-style ‘full lockdown’ in March. “If we want to flatten the curve and give our health system a fighting chance, we must now move to this highest level of lockdown,” thundered Adam Bandt’s media release, “and Australians should expect that we could be in this position for some time to come”. Two of Bandt’s senators – Janet Rice and Mehreen Faruqi – attended the rallies. They are in Parliament today, and are not getting tested.
Then there are the Premiers themselves, who have scrambled to defend the indefensible. Gladys Berejiklian at least tried to stay consistent, launching court proceedings to try to scuttle the protests, which ended up being overturned on appeal.
Annastacia Palaszczuk, on the other hand, fronted a press conference to “thank Queenslanders for social distancing,” adding “I understand that there was hand sanitiser”.
“Such platitudes are cold comfort to Queenslanders who have watched their businesses and livelihoods collapse as tourist numbers dry up. Most of them would have happily practiced social distancing and provided hand sanitiser. They never had the chance.”
But as always, the great villain is Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who has inflicted restrictions on Victoria so severe and nonsensical that they have bordered on sadistic, admonishing Victorians for all manner of minor infractions in his daily press conferences. His response to the protests? “Well, it’s a worthy act, but…”
Of course, the reason for all this is clear to anyone who knows Andrews’ modus operandi. ‘Getting tough’ on the coronavirus restrictions worked for him politically before, when people were scared and reliable information was scarce. Now, not so much.
Here in Melbourne, purple billboards with the Victorian government’s special COVID-19 branding still stand, like monuments to this spectacularly cruel exercise in political opportunism, complete with their exquisitely Orwellian slogan: ‘Staying Apart Keeps Us Together’.
“ As angry as I am about the double-standard, I’m happy that the protests went ahead. They have showed how pointless and arbitrary so many of the coronavirus restrictions have been. The protests have laid bare how hollow it has been when our political leaders have condescendingly praised everyone’s ‘hard work’ at ‘flatting the curve’, what a ‘good job’ everyone is doing in complying with restrictions which were rolled out with no public consultation and little democratic mandate, and enforced under threat of hefty fines or worse.”
It confirms something that many Australians have come to understand – too many politicians are enjoying too much power over our lives.
‘Going to that dinner party’ is indulgent and reckless, but marching around for ‘social justice’ is a ‘worthy act’. A thin cadre of well-heeled bureaucrats have assumed the responsibility of deciding what is ‘essential’ for every man, woman and child in Australia.”
That is how we have ended up in a situation in which there is one rule for law-abiding citizens and another for left-wing activists. You can’t go to church, but you can go to a protest. Ask your staff to come in and work at your shop and we’ll fine you; if you’re a card-carrying member of the AEU and you don’t feel like working, don’t worry because the schools are shut anyway. Lose your job and the government will give you $750 a week in compensation, if you’re lucky; end up in the public service and your job is safe, on full pay of course.
“Whatever anyone says now, the catch cry that ‘we are all in this together’ was a lie from the start. Like so much else that passes for public policy in Australia these days, the coronavirus response has been reduced to a lopsided matrix of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ – whose job is ‘essential’ and whose isn’t, which industries need a bailout and which do not, which businesses can reopen, and when, and which generation gets to enjoy government largesse and which has to pay through the nose when the debt bomb detonates.”
Even in a pandemic, we are still divided into givers and takers, with the majority of the country working – with their hands tied behind their backs – to generate the wealth that the permanent political class wantonly spends.
‘Staying Apart Keeps Us Together’ is more than just a bit of cute doublespeak. It is emblematic of the likes of Daniel Andrews and their underlying worldview, their particularly reductionist brand of ‘solidarity’ in which we’re both apart and together, always. A world in which the individual is erased, subsumed into a complex web of unions, tribes, interest groups and, eventually, the state.
It won’t work of course, because no matter how hard they try, mainstream Australians will not be divided, and have a habit of resenting it when noisy interest groups hold them to ransom.
Written by Gideon Rozner
Gideon Rozner is Director of Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs
This article is an excerpt from an email update sent to Institute of Public Affairs members last week. To become a member of the IPA visit ipa.org.au/join