Protests may resume once it's safe to do so
Commenting on the arrest of Zoe Buhler, Premier Andrews said, "The key point here is, now is not the time to protest about anything. Because to do so is not safe."
It was certainly not safe for Zoe Buhler. Her home was invaded, her goods were confiscated, she was handcuffed, taken to the police station, and charged with incitement.
What had this pregnant young mother done? She had posted the following on Facebook.
PEACEFUL PROTEST All social distancing measures are to be followed so we don't get arrested please. Please wear a mask unless you have a medical reason not to. September 5th is FREEDOM DAY! As some of you may have seen the government has gone to extreme measures and are using scare tactics through the media to prevent the Melbourne protest. Here in Ballarat we can be a voice for those in stage 4 lockdowns. We can be seen and heard and hopefully make a difference. END LOCKDOWNS. STAND FOR HUMAN RIGHTS. WE LIVE IN A 'FREE' COUNTRY.
For that she was charged with incitement.
There are a number of rights in a democratic society that have been temporarily suspended by the Andrews government. These include:
The right to free speech – to be able to express your opinion and to persuade others to agree with you.
The right to assembly – to be able to meet with your friends for work or pleasure or worship, where you wish and whenever you wish.
The right to equal treatment before the law – not to be discriminated against because of your political or religious views, or your race or gender.
The right to due process – not to be harassed.
The Andrews government has declared a State of Emergency which suspends such rights. It claims that this is necessary to protect the health of the community from the COVID-19 virus. Protests against this policy are unsafe, they claim, because that would undermine its implementation and presumably run the risk of many people dying.
The State of Emergency:
Allows Professor Sutton to direct health officials to detain people, search premises without a warrant and force people or areas into lockdown if it is considered necessary to protect public health.
A state of emergency was initially declared to give Victorian authorities the power to enforce two essential rules: physical distancing and quarantine requirements.
We also have a State of Disaster:
Under the emergency management act, a state of disaster can be declared if the Premier is satisfied an emergency "constitutes or is likely to constitute a significant and widespread danger to life or property in Victoria", which includes a plague or epidemic.
It allows police to enforce rules such as the nightly 8:00pm to 5:00 am curfew and restrict people's movement such as the ban on people travelling beyond the 5 kilometre radius around their home.
It also gives authorities the ability to suspend acts of parliament and take possession of properties.
The trouble is that Dan Andrews has failed to make his case.
The second wave is iatrogenic. The quarantine program run by the Department of Health and Human Services failed. The health department was apparently incapable of organising hygienic and secure quarantine facilities. Consequently, the virus spread into the community and over 600 people have died. An egregious error. The public has a right to be sceptical about instructions from the Chief Health Officer enforcing what they should do to mitigate this disaster when his own department has been so incompetent. Also, anecdotal evidence suggests that their contact tracing systems are inadequate; nowhere near the quality of those in New South Wales.
Moreover, it has become clear that the Victorian government has a blind spot on economic matters. The government and its public servants have little understanding of business and refuse to take advice. Refer comments from Jennifer Westacott (Business Council of Australia), Paul Guerra (Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Paul Zahra (Australian Retailers Association), Innes Wilcox (Australian Industry Group), Rob Scott (Wesfarmers) and many others. All complain of a lack of engagement in helping to develop practical and reasonable solutions; or to explain why supermarkets can operate safely but not Bunnings or Office Works.
Facts from reliable sources are always useful to refine an argument or develop a solution. One of my favourites is Our World in Data, a collaboration between Mark Rosser and Oxford University.
In a paper dated September 01, 2020, Joe Hasell asks "Which countries have protected both health and the economy in the pandemic?" He compares the fall in GDP for the June quarter with confirmed COVID-19 deaths per million people and concludes as follows:
"We see that countries which suffered the most severe economic downturns – like Peru, Spain and the UK – are generally among the countries with the highest COVID-19 death rate.
And the reverse is true: countries where the economic impact has been modest – like Taiwan, South Korea, and Lithuania – have managed to keep the death rate low.
Notice too that countries with similar falls in GDP have witnessed very different death rates. For instance, compare the US and Sweden with Denmark and Poland. All four countries saw economic contractions of around 8 to 9 percent, but death rates are markedly different; the US and Sweden have recorded 5 to 10 times more deaths per million.
We do not see any evidence of a trade-off between protecting people's health and protecting the economy. Rather the relationship we see between the heath and economic impacts of the pandemic goes in the opposite direction. As well as saving lives, countries controlling the outbreak effectively may have adopted the best economic strategy too."
Local and international data now make it clear that deaths from COVID-19 correlate with age (over 90% of people who have died are over 70 years old); comorbidities; life in crowded accommodation; and crowded public transport. The death rates per million bear no correlation to the extent of lockdowns.
Compare, for example, New York (1700) and Florida (540); Michigan (680) and Minnesota (330); Texas (460) and California (340); Peru (896), Spain (620), UK (611), Italy (587), Sweden (577) and USA (552); South Korea (6) and Taiwan (<1). One reason for Taiwan's low rate may be the fact that they look after their elderly at home.
The argument that we have no option but severe lockdown does not take account of the above facts. Nor has there been any attempt to explain the elements of the policy. How many lives do we expect to save from the curfew? Or banning golf? Or closing schools? No public explanation has been given. Just "Trust me, I am acting on expert advice." Or models! Garbage in, garbage out. Do you ever recall a model which accurately forecast a future event? The models which drove world-wide policy in March are now regarded as hysterical.
Moreover, policy has not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny. That should be mandatory during states of emergency and states of disaster.
Zoe Buhler was correct to want to challenge the government's policy, to want to protest.
I look forward to the day when it will be safe to do so.