On Saturday morning, 18th September 2021, police officers, in groups of six, were milling around the Treasury Gardens. I approached two groups and asked the leader of each what they were there for. They each replied that they were there to keep us safe. It seemed like a prepared response.
But we are not safe if we politicise the police force. We are not safe if those who wish to criticise government are met with violent confrontation. We are not safe if journalists are dissuaded from reporting protests accurately. We are not safe if media photographers are capsicum sprayed and bowled over whilst covering these events. Gay Alcorn, Editor of The Age, is right to make a formal complaint. (The Age, 20th September)
As Nick Cater, Executive Director of The Menzies Research Centre, explained in an email:
The rights to peaceful protest, freedom of association and freedom of expression have been suspended. On whose authority? That of Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton. The emergency powers give the CHO the unilateral authority to over-rule our cherished freedoms. It was on the strength of Sutton’s signature alone that the police used para-military tactics to disperse the crowd and arrest people for the crime of simply turning up.
The police used semi-automatic 175-shot pepper-ball rifles to fire capsicum rounds and rubber bullets the size of marbles. They were also equipped with 40mm launchers that fire hard, squash-ball-like projectiles designed to hit offenders from 50 metres away and impact with the force of a very hard punch.
The soundtrack to the demonstration was more startling than the images. The sound of a mob punctuated with the cracking of rifles, albeit loaded with non-lethal projectiles, sounds foreign to Australian ears.
The protests continued the following week. On Monday 20th September a large crowd assembled at the Shrine of Remembrance. Once again they were confronted by armed police. Independent journalist and videographer, Rukshan Fernando, "The Real Rukshan", filmed the event. You can see it here. His videos of the protests were posted on Facebook and seen by hundreds of thousands around the world. He was visited at his home by police and asked to desist from filming the protests. Rukshan Fernando runs a wedding videography business which has been temporarily closed by the lockdowns.
A year ago, I wrote a blog entitled "Protests may resume once it is safe to do so" satirising Dan Andrews' comments about Zoe Buhler, the young mother who was charged with incitement and had her mobile phone confiscated for daring to organise a protest in Ballarat. Apparently, twelve months later, it is still not safe.
In the seven weeks since Lockdown No. 6 was implemented, putting hundreds of thousands out of work and denying us the right to invite friends to our homes, the number of COVID cases per day has risen one-hundred-fold. The argument that it is effective is, to say the least, contestable.
Not everyone who disagrees with Dan Andrews is wrong. Not everyone who disagrees with Dan Andrews has evil intent. Not everyone who disagrees with Dan Andrews is violent. Those who hold different views should not be silenced. In a free society, citizens should be able to get together to express their opinions – more so if their disagreement is with government regulations and directives.
As Henry Ergas wrote in his article Protecting our freedom to protest peacefully,
The Australian (24th September) :
Emergency measures should not be used to stifle peaceful opposition to the emergency measures themselves.
Libertarians are being vilified. In press reports, negative adjectives are added – "libertarian activists" or "right-wing libertarians" – and government propaganda focuses on alleged sordid behaviour but avoids discussing the issues raised by the protesters. On TV, old film clips of Neo-Nazis in the Grampians are shown to imply association. All this is deliberately designed to denigrate those who believe in freedom.
In his famous 1946 poem, Lutheran theologian Martin Niemoller wrote:
First they came for the Socialists,
And I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
And I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
It is time for the vilification of those who disagree with Dan Andrews to stop. It is time for those who believe lockdowns have been ineffective both here and internationally to be heard. Peacefully and respectfully. Let us take off the masks and live again. Democratically.
Arbitrary authoritarian rule, supported by a politicised police force and a compliant media is no way to live. Nor is it sustainable. If we want our free society back, we must speak out. Now.
Update 27 October 2021
The lockdowns remain in place. They were eased marginally on Friday 22th October and will be eased further on Friday 29th. Despite high levels of vaccination, the number of cases per day continued to climb during October. They reached a peak of 2264 on October 13th (up from 718 on 23rd September) and averaged 1945 in the ten days to October 22nd. So much for the efficacy of mandatory lockdowns.
A year ago, The Great Barrington Declaration advised us to focus policy on protecting the vulnerable. Interestingly, only 11% of the current cases are people over 60 years of age. A targeted policy would have led to far less economic and social disruption and better outcomes.
The Age has fired Michael Leunig, one of Australia's greatest cartoonists, and replaced him with an illustrator of children's books. Leunig's offending cartoon, which The Age declined to publish, had drawn attention to Premier Andrews' use of armed force against those who protest his edicts. Gay Alcorn thought her readers were too precious to handle such challenging ideas. I expect that safe spaces, coloured crayons, and 20 sheets of white butcher's paper will be supplied with your next Age subscription.
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