Criticise the federal government at your peril is the lesson from the 2020 Budget as the ANAO, ABC, human rights and other agencies suffer more funding cuts. Meanwhile funny money magically appears in ever-increasing amounts to continue the two-decade long expansion of security, police and intelligence agencies…even as state governments hand over our driver licence photos before legal and privacy protections are legislated.
There are vivid lessons to learn for the next emergency from the current Covid-19 pandemic. We need to identify the right ones, so that for the next virus wave or national disaster we better incorporate maximum freedoms and individual compassion and care into a process where lockdown, quarantine, personal fines and repression were allowed to become excessive and over-dominant recently. It’s not easy…but considering liberties and rights of everyone, from the beginning, would be a great start.
As the virus pandemic grinds on, people are increasingly questioning traditional daily Australian life, from how Parliament convenes (eg, with electronic access and voting, or not) to how we value older people’s lives during a Covid-19 disease which specifically targets them. Trust in politicians, already fragile before the pandemic, is dissipating even as state boundaries become Great Walls. And, as happens during emergencies, organised operators as widely dispersed as security and police agencies to online trolls and anti-vaccination fanatics are actively taking advantage of uncertainty and confusion to further their unique views.
With another election season upon us, politicians and candidates are trotting out their ‘law n order’ fear-creating campaigns to gain election, not telling us that it costs taxpayers more than $300 a day to house each prisoner, which adds to the taxes we pay. Similarly, the security service heavies – notably ASIO’s – are spruiking more fear to boost their control over citizens and ultimately their budgets and staff. In all cases, it’s a ruse played knowingly on citizens to the advantage of would-be control freaks aiming to diminish our civil liberties, rights and freedoms.
Can liberties and rights we previously enjoyed survive the Covid-19 pandemic? Already the right to privacy has been formally legislated away in one Australian jurisdiction, while the Federal Court is under investigation for allegedly unlawfully revealing hundreds of asylum seeker names. As well, the government is blaming the pandemic for the absence of a much-needed integrity mechanism, even as courts themselves lock down behind closed doors into secret trials spreading around Australia. People’s locally-elected representatives are being by-passed as an invented executive mechanism, the National Cabinet, takes over from parliamentary democracy. The signs are not good.
Other items in this issue:
With the immediate emergency fading, thoughts turn to what we need restoring first: personal freedoms (our civil liberties) back is No 1, just to walk on a beach, take a drive, go interstate. Then comes democracy: parliaments sitting again to schedule. We need to learn the lessons of this time for for next time. Is the ‘National Cabinet’ appropriate? Is it just PR spin and collective avoidance of responsibility? It’s not constitutional, so entrenching an NC means legislating in every parliament. That would open a bag of states’ rights and responsibilities worms sure to engender passionate debate about whether we can trust politicians to not dispense arbitrarily with our freedoms at a moment’s notice…like this time around.
As the health crisis stretches into months, governments are becoming more authoritarian by the week. Police and military enforcement squads are on the streets. The open air freedom of beaches is denied citizens. People are copping large fines for walking together and talking to each other. From full support for emergency crackdown measures, governments risk alienating the citizenry if their exercise of power becomes unbalanced and out-of-kilter with people’s sense of a fair go. Whatever occurs over the next few months, it is obviously time for a total overhaul of the rights and liberties, the personal freedoms, of Australians. Covid-19 is showing how much we need a national Human Rights Act.Arion.pdf”>Click for 2-COLUMN (print, read over a break)
The prognosis for positive progress in 2020 is not good. The government has lined up its divisive Religious Freedoms to wedge society, even as one ambitious Minister has a plan ready to unleash vigilantes throughout Australia. Elsewhere, governments fail to tackle the scandal of Aboriginal detention while police publicly protect themselves wearing heavy ’terrorist’ body armour even as increasing numbers of defenceless women die because our “law and order” forces will not prioritise domestic violence. We need proper balance returned to society, through equitable funding and resource allocation.
Bushfire hesitancy, climate change uncertainty and sports rorts chicanery are indicators that national leadership and management is sub-optimal as Australia faces major issues from the start of the 2020s. The problem is exacerbated in the areas of civil liberties and human rights, because they rank lowly on the list of what politicians concern themselves about. Australia needs to swap the majority of its pollies for statesmen and stateswomen, people who can identify – and will take the lead on – addressing the fundamental problems and opportunities to build Australia into a fairer society and a better nation.