Dobbing on your neighbour is not the Australian way. Yet governments have divided the community by turning many Australians into informants and snitches. And far too many Australians have been willing and, in some cases, eager to cooperate.
In our latest episode of Australia’s Heartland with Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister and IPA Distinguished Fellow Tony Abbott said this “Stasi-like” behaviour “should disturb us all.”
You can listen to the episode in your web browser here, on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, or wherever else you listen to your podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.
If you have something you would like to ask Tony, leave your question at the Australian Heartland Hotline on 03 9946 4307. We get to as many of your questions each episode as we can.
In this weeks’ The Discussion I consider what the right response is from conservatives and liberals when the laws imposed upon us are so deeply unjust, arbitrary, and wildly disproportionate.
And this weeks’ The Must Read is a “must watch” interview of Senator Jim Molan by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson on his podcast series Conversations with John Anderson. Molan and Anderson argue that the first line of defence is for a nation to be united around its shared values.
Thank you for your support of the Australian way of life.
Former Prime Minister and IPA Distinguished Fellow Tony Abbott provided some very important and deep insights into the changing nature of Australia’s culture. Whereas we were once an irreverent people, always looking to find the best in one another, today too many of us are willing to dob on one another and serve as de-facto government informants. Tony didn’t hold back. He lamented the “Stasi-like” behaviour and the authoritarian enforcement of often petty restrictions by the police.
Tony also discussed one of the legacies of the pandemic which will be a “permanently larger and more overbearing government” which is “much bossier, much more intrusive, and much less respectful of its citizens.”
We also took your questions about why conservatives need to fight the culture war with arguments and debate, and what can be done to get more mainstream Australians into parliament.
You can listen to the episode in your web browser here or listen to it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube, or wherever else you listen to your podcasts. And don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.
On the ABC’s 7:30 program on 15 March 2017, the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Sally McManus said “I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and when the law is right. But when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”
McManus’ comments were in reference to a question put to her by host Leigh Sales who asked whether the ACTU would distance itself from the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union (CFMEU), which had faced 118 separate legal proceedings where it had been found to have broken the law or to be in contempt of court.
McManus conceded that some industrial action which had been undertaken by the CFMEU was illegal “according to our current laws”. But, McManus went on, “our current laws are wrong” and so while the CFMEU’s actions were unlawful they were not unethical.
The thousands of workers who have protested against lockdowns across Australia because of the impact on their jobs and livelihoods were also acting illegally according to our current laws. However, Sally McManus did not defend their actions, or their right to protest laws many consider to be unjust. Rather McManus mocked them.
Writing on her Twitter account on the day of the recent protests in Melbourne on 21 August, McManus said “went for my daily walk and unfortunately came across this.” McManus went on to say that there were “lots of muscle men in black with no masks running up to join the protest.”
“In Victoria and much of Australia, if you are not a public sector or big business bureaucrat there is no one who is representing you or speaking up on your behalf.”
Not once did McManus mention the impact that the lockdowns were having on jobs. Perhaps that’s because the jobs of outer-suburban “muscle men in black with no masks” don’t matter to her or the union movement.
Or perhaps it is because very few of those at the protests belong to a union. Some 86% of workers in Australia choose not to be represented by a union. And those who do remain in a union are increasingly ageing public sector and big business employees who have not faced mass unemployment and wage cuts caused by lockdowns.
Research by the Institute of Public Affairs has demonstrated that all of the economic costs of lockdowns in terms of unemployment and wage cuts have been inflicted on private sector workers, and those employed by small businesses in particular. For example, research undertaken in June of this year by IPA research fellow Cian Hussey estimated that in the second half of 2020 when Victoria was in lockdown, the average public servant received a $1,500 pay rise, while the average private sector worker incurred a $1,200 pay cut.
The motivation for the callous indifference and often active hostility toward private sector and small business workers was revealed by a comment that McManus made to Leigh Sales in that same interview in 2017.
In response to a question regarding low and declining rates of unionisation, McManus said “it’s much harder to make a decision to be in a union when you are in a small workplace, when you are by yourself (i.e., self-employed), when you are a small contractor.” Lockdowns which wipe out the jobs of everyone other than those employed by big business and the public sector benefits the unions because it is easier to unionise those workers. That’s why they support lockdowns.
In Victoria and much of Australia, if you are not a public sector or big business bureaucrat there is no one who is representing you or speaking up on your behalf.
Instead of providing a balanced assessment of the legitimate concerns and grievances of the protestors, all the major institutions of Victorian society joined together in portraying them as violent conspiracy theorists.
A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said at the time of the protests that, “while there were some peaceful protestors in attendance, the majority of those who attended came with violence in mind”. How exactly that estimate was arrived at the spokeswoman did not say.
But she did say that “the behaviours seen by the police were so hostile and aggressive that they were left with no choice but to use all tactics available to them.”
Contrast that with the treatment of Black Lives Matter protestors last June when the Victorian Police Chief Commissioner refused to enforce the stay-at-home orders. This decision was made on the basis that the protestors were likely to become violent if the laws were applied to them in the same way they were applied to every other Victorian.
For Black Lives Matter protestors, the credible threat of violence was met with police taking a knee. For mainstream Victorians who had lost their job and had their freedoms and rights stripped away, a peaceful protest was met with rubber bullets and pepper spray.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton opined on Twitter that “I love freedom. Who doesn’t love freedom? I want freedom from being amongst the over 4 million official (and likely 10 million actual) COVID deaths globally. And freedom from being amongst the over 13 million current active cases. Or millions of current long COVID cases.” It is concerning that Professor Sutton, the chief health bureaucrat of Victoria, didn’t bother to explain why he thinks 250% more people had died from COVID than reported by official figures. Or what the basis is for his claim that “millions” have “long COVID”.
But what is even more concerning and revealing of the mentality of the Victorian government is that Sutton believes he is giving Victorians freedom by locking them up in their homes for over 200 days. Melbourne has spent the second longest amount of time in lockdown anywhere in the world. It will soon become the longest. According to Sutton’s logic, this must mean Melbourne will become the freest city in the world.
The media hasn’t been any better. Patricia Karvelas of the ABC reflected the basic tone of the mainstream media when she said “I’m genuinely shocked that there are that many people stupid enough to protest and spread a virus that might kill them.”
“In a contest between freedom and safety, many will instinctively choose safety. This is because being free means taking responsibility.”
A writer for The Guardian said the protests were “a transnational, conspiracy-minded protest movement” and “antivax”.
While at least The Age had enough humanity to acknowledge that there were many families with children among the protestors, it felt it appropriate to preface that acknowledgement by saying the protest was filled with “anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.”
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said the protest was “ratbaggery” and that the protestors were “on the side of the virus” while he and the Andrews government was “on the side of humanity.”
The point is that there is practically no one and no major institution in Victoria or across Australia that is providing a voice for those who have been most impacted by lockdowns – small business owners, families with young and school-aged children, and the self-employed.
All of this raises a serious challenge for liberals and conservatives. What is the proper way to act when “our current laws are wrong” and when the institutions of democracy are not operating as they should? What do you do if you are a father of three kids and your small business has been forced to close, your kids can’t go to school, your family can’t visit because they live outside of a five kilometre radius, playgrounds and sporting activities are prohibited, the usual outlets in society to express your genuine grievances are closed off, and then you are shot with rubber bullets and called an anti-vax conspiracy theorist?
The usual instinct of conservatives and liberals is to seek to change the laws through the usual parliamentary process, and in the meantime to follow the laws in question because the cost of people simply picking and choosing what laws they want to follow is a loss of order and stability.
However, changing the laws is not possible. Parliament in Victoria has been suspended since 17 August, and a date has not been provided for when it will again resume sitting.
Even if parliament was sitting it wouldn’t make a difference. The public heath edicts which underpin the lockdowns are not passed through parliament but declared by unelected bureaucrats. They are not debated but asserted. They are arbitrary. They change daily. They are enforced inequitably and according to political rather than legal considerations. They are immensely damaging. They lack any reasonable notion of proportionality. And they are enforced in a draconian and often brutal manner.
In this context, it is incumbent upon all of us to ask ourselves how far we will all go in abiding by laws which are wrong and unethical. Compliance confers legitimacy, which in turn emboldens and encourages the introduction of further restrictions. Many of the rules and declarations are absurd and cruel – such as closing kids’ playgrounds – precisely to test how far the population will go. And far too many among us have been willing and in some cases only too eager to obey.
This week’s The Must Read is a “must watch”– the latest episode of former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson’s podcast Conversations with John Anderson which is an interview with Jim Molan, a Senator for NSW and a former Major-General in the Australian Army.
Molan and Anderson had a wide-ranging discussion about a potential future conflict with China, Australia’s defence strategy and capabilities, and the significant deficiencies of Australia’s Future Submarine Program. But the most interesting part of the discussion was around the foundational role that shared values play in national defence. As Anderson said, “the first question is: do we believe in ourselves?” Australia’s military defence depends on our cultural and national self-confidence. Being united around our shared values and commitment to the Australian way of life is a necessary – although not sufficient – pre-condition to a successful defence strategy.
Thank you for your support of the Australian way of life.