How Australia’s gone from being the envy of the world by flattening the curve at the height of the pandemic to a global embarrassment as power-hungry premiers destroy livelihoods and tear families apart – and why all we can do is watch
- Australia was hailed in the early stages of COVID-19 for containing its infections
- Some states have continued to keep their borders closed to outside residents
- Victoria has some of the harshest restrictions in the world including a curfew
- A Ballarat woman was handcuffed in her home for organising an online protest
- Two elderly Melbourne women were threatened with arrest for not providing ID
- Four Sydney children aged under 13 can’t visit their dying father in Queensland
There’s a scene in the classic 1986 Australian film Crocodile Dundee when the title character’s wide-eyed American love interest asks if a reptile with a knife stuck in its skull is dead.
‘Well, if it isn’t it’ll be a helluva job skinning the bastard,’ Paul Hogan’s laconic Mick Dundee says.
It will be a hell of a job convincing the rest of the world Australia is still the home of the larrikin spirit embodied by Hogan as they watch how parts of the country are dealing with COVID-19.
And it will be a hell of a job for a nation in recession for the first time in 29 years to undo the economic and social damage being done by ongoing lockdowns forced on the population by inflexible politicians.
By the time that is done, like Dundee’s unfortunate crocodile, Australia as we know it could be dead.
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Three armed law enforcement officers are pictured at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance approaching a masked man to check his bona fides as he peacefully sits on the steps during the COVID-19 lockdowns
Victoria has some of the harshest COVID-19 restrictions in world. A woman is pictured being approached by police outside public housing towers in Melbourne’s Flemington during the coronavirus lockdowns. There is no suggestion she has done anything wrong
Five million Melburnians are under curfew during the COVID-19 pandemic and are required to wear masks in public. Police are pictured chasing a skateboarder who is not wearing a face mask in Melbourne
Crocodile Dundee may be a work of comical fiction but for plenty of Australians it represents part of how they see themselves – and the current alternative look is seriously confronting.
Rather than throwing another shrimp on the barbie for international visitors as Hoges did in a famous 1980s tourism commercial, the nation is closed to foreigners and some states won’t even allow citizens to cross their borders.
Australia has recorded 26,465 coronavirus infections with only 781 deaths and some states have single-digit active cases. But 932,000 jobs have been lost and the federal government is spending $164billion to prop up the economy.
The nation is being crippled while states such as New South Wales – where many residents largely go about their lives as usual – are being held back by those suffering pandemic panic.
Queensland authorities initially refused to let four children living in Sydney visit their dying father and Canberra woman Sarah Caisip, 26, has been banned from attending her father’s funeral in Brisbane despite the fact the ACT hasn’t recorded any COVID-19 cases in two months.
Melbourne is under Stage Four lockdown and its citizens are subject to house spot checks. A police patrol car is pictured passing by St Kilda beach on July 12
Law enforcement officers speak to a woman on St Kilda beach on September 3. Lockdowns will not be significantly eased until Victoria’s new coronavirus cases drop to single digits
Yet last week Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk welcomed 400 football figures and their families into the so-called Sunshine State as she announced Brisbane would host the AFL grand final.
In Victoria, which has some of the world’s harshest coronavirus restrictions, a pregnant woman was handcuffed in her own home and charged with ‘incitement’ for allegedly trying to organise a protest.
Melburnians are under a ‘Stage Four’ lockdown which includes an 8pm to 5am curfew, 5km travel limit for shopping and exercise and children forced to stay home from school for months.
Weddings are banned, the state has adopted the truly Orwellian slogan of ‘Staying Apart Keeps Us Together’ and police are issuing $1,652 fines for breaking the rules.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews and his Queensland counterpart Palaszczuk attract the most public anger from citizens who do not live in their states.
But over in Western Australia’s Mark McGowan still will not agree to opening his border by Christmas, despite having no community transmission of COVID-19 for five months.
Words not normally associated with Australian government – fascist, authoritarian, totalitarian – are now commonly uttered and Andrews is being called ‘Chairman’ or ‘Dictator’ Dan of the People’s Republic of Victoria.
Australia was once the envy of the world due to the way it ‘flattened the curve’ to reduce infection rates at what we now hope was the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sensible travel bans and quarantine restrictions were imposed reasonably quickly and the populace was generally content to abide by initial stay-at-home requests and basic social distancing measures.
Now the country is a global embarrassment with a people known for their laid-back attitude to life and a healthy anti-authoritarian streak subject to police state conditions including increasingly draconian lockdowns.
Victorians can only leave home for one of four reasons: shopping, exercise, work and care or medical attention.
Every day Victoria Police issues a statement revealing breaches of the chief health officer’s directions. On Thursday they issued 139 fines.
Twenty three were for not wearing a mask after leaving home for one of the four approved reasons, 28 per were at vehicle checkpoints and 46 for curfew breaches.
On that day there were 3,652 spot checks on people at home bringing the total to 405,382 since March 21.
This week The American Conservative website published a piece on Victoria’s plight by Gideon Rozner, the director of policy at Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs.
Headlined ‘COVID Dystopia Comes To Melbourne’ it was illustrated by a powerful image of three uniformed law enforcement officers interrogating a man sitting peacefully on the steps of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.
Rozner described how a once-relaxed Australia had succumbed to ‘public health tyranny’ in a matter of six months.
‘The most remarkable thing, though, is it’s taken until now for some sort of protest movement to emerge,’ he wrote.
‘When the coronavirus first hit, the premiers governing Australia’s eight states and territories descended into a kind of unspoken competition to see who could take the “toughest action” against the virus.
‘That is, which leader could close the most businesses, destroy the most jobs, and stifle the most liberties in the name of being seen to be “doing something” about the virus.’
And according to Rozner, Andrews had won that competition hands down.
‘Almost six months later, Melbourne is still under what is by far the strictest lockdown in Australia, and probably the world,’ he wrote.
‘The increasingly few people with jobs must carry a government-issued permit indicating that they’re allowed to go to work – and even then only if your job is deemed “essential”.’
Andrews has admitted the curfew was not based on medical advice and claimed it was introduced to make it easier for police to enforce stay-at-home measures.
‘If you want to go out and be unlawful now police have got the easiest set of arrangements they have ever had to catch you and fine you,’ he said.
Police are pictured speaking to a man outside Melbourne Town Hall on May 28 while enforcing COVID-19 restrictions. There is no suggestion anyone pictured has done anything wrong
But Victoria Police’s Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said he only found about the law hours before the public was told.
‘I was never consulted,’ Mr Patton said. ‘We had never asked for a curfew.’
Victoria recorded 51 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths on Thursday, taking the state’s death toll to 701. Those figures were slightly down on Wednesday’s 76 new cases and 11 deaths.
The curfew will not be removed until there has been a statewide daily average of five or fewer COVID-19 cases for 14 days.
Restrictions on public gatherings will stay in place and schools remain closed until there have been no new cases for 28 days, which is not predicted to happen before Christmas.
Rozner lamented that the reality of Victoria under lockdown laws should dispel any misplaced international view of what Australia was actually like.
Victoria Police officers speak to a man who was not wearing a face mask in Melbourne. He was allowed to go without being fined and there is no suggestion he did anything wrong
‘If this shatters your idea of Australia as a rugged, relaxed, irreverent wonderland, then I apologise.’
Rozner claimed Andrews was working from a playbook of left-wing politicians who preside over chaotic societies while ‘wheeling out some woke gimmick every so often’, costing vast sums of public money.
‘The coronavirus has given him the best talking point of all: “The economy versus human life.”
The extended Victorian lockdown could see 350,000 workers in that state lose their jobs in the three months to September, on top of 250,000 who had already lost employment.
With most Victorian business not due to reopen until at least October, a further $6billion to $8billion could be wiped off the national economy, with $10billion to $12billion already estimated by Treasure to be gone.
Andrews has fronted a press conference for more than 70 days, revealing the latest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, and justifying what he is doing.
Residents of this Melbourne housing block pleaded ‘Treat us as humans’, ‘Not caged animals’ and ‘End this lockdown’. Melbourne’s COVID-19 measures are holding the nation back
Daily Mail Australia has duly reported what Andrews said in each of these drawn-out engagements and then presented what is actually going on.
On September 2, 28-year-old Zoe Buhler was arrested in her pyjamas at her Ballarat home and charged with incitement after creating a Facebook protest against the Victorian lockdown.
Ms Buhler, who was handcuffed in front of her children and was due to have an ultrasound an hour later, did not know what ‘incitement’ meant and was confused by her arrest.
‘I was scared I was being kidnapped by people,’ she said. ‘They obviously weren’t in uniforms.’
On September 5 two elderly women were threatened with arrest for refusing to identify themselves while sitting on a bench near the Shrine of Remembrance.
While five officers surrounded the pair one of the women could be heard asking, ‘On what grounds am I under arrest? This is unlawful.’
Police are pictured pulling over a driver for a licence and COVID-19 permit check in Melbourne on August 11 on a day 19 deaths were reported
A passing cyclist then filmed one of the police snatching a mobile phone from the other woman while she tried to record the incident.
Back on August 8, five-year-old Elsie Hollis was exercising in her local park at Footscray with her parents and brothers when they were confronted by a mask-wearing policewoman.
The officer checked the adults’ driving licences to make sure they were within 5km of their home before questioning the children, leaving them all shaken.
In Brisbane, truck driver Mark Keans faced the prospect of dying of brain and lung cancer without seeing his four children under the age of 13, who live in Sydney.
Queensland health authorities denied the children an exemption to enter the state, despite their 39-year-old father’s imminent death.
New South Wales officials proposed allowing one of the children to see Mr Keans for a supervised one-hour visit before being taken back across the border.
Mr Keans’ father Bruce Langborne said Queensland authorities told him the children would be putting other cancer patients at risk if they all visited him one last time.
‘They said we were being selfish,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Authorities caved under a mountain of public outrage and on Thursday granted the family an exemption to cross the border to say their goodbyes – on the condition they pay $16,000 to spend 14 days in a quarantine hotel.
As of Friday morning, a fundraiser for the family had gathered more than $207,000.
WHAT MELBOURNE’S STAGE FOUR LOCKDOWNS MEAN FOR CITIZENS
State of disaster: Increased police powers to enforce the lockdown. Cautions will no longer be issued, only $1,652 fines or court summons
Curfew: No one allowed outside 8pm to 5am except for work, medical, caregiving – no shopping or exercising
Distance limit: Shopping and exercise can only be done 5km from home
Exercise: All recreational activity is banned and you can only exercise, with one other person, for one hour a day
Partners: You can visit a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t live with you, even if they live more than 5km away
Shopping: Only one person can go shopping per household per day
Cafes and restaurants: Open for takeaway
Schools: All students learning from home unless they are vulnerable or parents are essential workers. Kindergarten and childcare closed
Funerals: No change to funeral limits, but only 10 mourners can leave Melbourne to regional Victoria for one
Weddings: Completely banned
Public transport: Slashed after 8pm and cancelled late at night
Community sport: All community sport across Victoria is now banned. Only exercise is allowed within the permitted public gathering limits of two people.