Last Saturday, I experienced what it would be like living under authoritarian rule.
My friend and neighbour, Winston Smith (not his real name), and I have a walk in the park twice a week. We are both in our late seventies.
We circumnavigate the Fitzroy and Treasury Gardens, a walk of a little over 3 kilometres, and then chat over a coffee. Formerly, we used to frequent a coffee shop in Wellington Parade. Now, because of the coronavirus crisis, we buy a take-away café latte from Kere Kere near Captain Cook`s cottage and sit on a park bench, one and a half metres apart, in an idyllic spot near a pond, discussing our radical views about life, business and politics.
On Saturday, Winston (not his real name) was proposing that when we get to the other side of Prime Minister Morrison`s bridge we will need some protectionist policies to support the development of strategic industries – medical supplies, telecommunications equipment and the like - until they are big enough to stand on their own feet. I was countering that, whilst the policy sounded appropriate, the problem was that supported industries grow used to government largesse. By the time they are self-sustaining they have the financial resources and influence to lobby the government to retain their special status and privileges. In practice, grants to special interest groups endure forever.
At this point, two mounted Victorian police women arrived and politely instructed us to move on, which we, with equal politeness, did. Just protecting everyone from coronavirus you know.
On reflection, I wonder how useful such policies are. Is it necessary to deploy the police to deter two old men – sitting one and a half metres apart - from nattering on a park bench? Are we a danger to our own health? And would it matter if we were? Are we a danger to others? How?
Have we allowed this crisis to grant too much power to our politicians? Have we allowed them to ride roughshod over the liberties and human rights that are the foundation of the free, prosperous and tolerant society which we are so fortunate to enjoy?
Or were until last Saturday.