Where are Australia’s civil libertarians when you need them most?
In the modern era, the human rights of all Australians have been most adversely affected during World War II and in the current pandemic.
In the 1920s and into the 1940s, the civil libertarian with the highest profile was probably Herbert Vere Evatt. A former NSW state politician and High Court judge, he entered Federal politics in 1940 as the Labor member for the Sydney seat of Barton.
Following the collapse of the Coalition government in 1941, Evatt became Attorney-General in the government led by Labor Prime Minister John Curtin.
However, as Attorney-General, Evatt was no libertarian. He oversaw the internment of many Italian Australians who were no threat at all to the Australian war effort — even though Italy was an ally of Germany. And Evatt treated the Australia First Movement (AFM), led by the writer Inky Stephensen, with undue harshness. The AFM was not a subversive organisation and Stephensen and some of his colleagues were unjustly interned.
Move forward eight decades. Perhaps the civil libertarian with the highest profile these days is the Melbourne QC Julian Burnside. Currently president of Liberty Victoria, Burnside unsuccessfully ran as a Greens candidate against Josh Frydenberg in the Melbourne seat of Kooyong in the May 2019 election.
At a time of COVID-19, virtually all Australians have had their liberties curtailed. The Commonwealth and NSW Coalition governments have been conscious of not being too severe with lockdowns and the like. The Labor governments of Victoria and Queensland have been the harshest. In fact, Daniel Andrews’s administration in Victoria has been brutal at times.
So what has Burnside said about this in his capacity as Liberty Victoria president?
Well, initially he welcomed the harshness. On September 7, Burnside was quoted in The Age as responding to the fact that Victoria Police has installed a surveillance camera in a suburban Prahran park to monitor the observance of stage four restrictions.
Asked about this seemingly excessive use of state power, Burnside said that it “all sounds pretty sensible to me”. Liberty Victoria disassociated itself from its president’s stance in a tweet. Under pressure, Burnside changed his tune without admitting to having done so.
If Burnside were a true civil libertarian and if Liberty Victoria were true to its name, the organisation would be campaigning against what seems to be the Andrews government’s manic drive for the almost total control of its citizens.
The evidence suggests that neither Victoria’s Chief Health Officer nor Victoria Police advised the Premier to introduce a curfew from 8pm to 5am — now reduced by one hour. Andrews has said that he does not know whose idea this was thinks it’s a really good one.
In fact, it’s an act of social brutality to lock citizens in their homes for 23 (now 22) hours a day except for certain exceptions. Little wonder that some people are going stir-crazy.
I was talking to a married friend in Melbourne this week who does not agree with the extent of the restrictions — but acknowledges she is doing better than most by living in a house with a garden not far from a park. But I know a single male friend who is doing it hard living in a flat with no access to natural air for most of the day.
Then there is the issue of education and training.
Those who enjoy reading and are computer literate can find things to do that are denied to those without such skills. The former Victorian Treasury department economist Sanjeev Sabhlok (who quit this week) has written that “the poorer sections of the community” are suffering the most — this under a government led by a premier who belongs to Labor’s Socialist Left faction.
Could it be that, due to Andrews’ apparent ideological obsessions, Victoria is being governed in accordance with the principles of what the Marxists of old called scientific socialism, which contained little science but loads of socialism?
On Sunday, September 6, Andrews justified extending the Melbourne lockdown following the receipt of modelling done by the University of Melbourne. “You can’t argue with this sort of data, you can’t argue with science, you can’t do anything but follow from the best health advice,” he said.
But you can. The outcome of scientific modelling is essentially determined by data that is fed into the model by humans. Within a day, medical experts in Victoria and elsewhere challenged the modelling — as revealed in The Australian.
There is no modelling produced so far which justifies a night-time curfew as part of a 23 or 22-hour lockdown while the mental health of so many Victorians is damaged as they stare at four walls, a ceiling and a floor.
The atmosphere is re-enforced by the actions of Victoria Police in what appears to be at best a hectoring attitude to normally law-abiding citizens, who unlike law enforcement officers, are locked in their homes for most of the day. And then there have been recorded instances of assault and bullying by individual police officers which have not been renounced by Andrews or Chief Commissioner Shane Patton.
Those members of the media who seem to support the Andrews line fail to understand the desperate plight of so many. On ABC Radio National Breakfast last Thursday, Fran Kelly interviewed Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who is trying to get interstate borders open for air travel.
Kelly dismissively put this position to Joyce: “Let’s face it, you’re all about bums on seats … it’s a business model, yeah?”.
Yes, it is — but business employs the people whose taxes pay Kelly’s salary. And the social, economic and health benefits that flow from employment are part of a society’s civil liberties in a real sense. But you are unlikely to hear this from Burnside.