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Lockdowns and liberty

August 22, 2021 - 19:31 -- Admin

This short post grew out of a response to Paul Frijters on another thread. Naturally enough, those who don’t want to lockdown are telling us about our precious liberties. You know those we fought for at Gallipoli, and Iraq and Afghanistan.

In any event, I strongly agree with the anti-lockdown folks that liberties are being trampled on. I’m not sure when we cared about them much, but it’s pretty obvious we don’t now. We’ve been knocking down our civil liberties in government since at least the time Howard understood that he could wedge his opposition by making especially outrageous ambit claims which would then place the Opposition in a dilemma of whether to waive them through (so the electorate won’t be distracted from what it really cares about which is electricity prices) or try to introduce better safeguards to them — in which case pretty obviously they’re soft on terror.

In any event, I think of civil liberties as a two stage business.

I have no problem with democracies imposing restrictions on civil liberties — even draconian ones — providing the circumstances warrant this and they’re subject to strong safeguards. (Particularly in time of war). Of course then the question turns to what sort of safeguards. I’d like to see both parliamentary and sortition based safeguards. So I don’t see lockdowns as inherently interferences with our liberty. They can promote them as marshall law promotes them in certain circumstances. As lockdowns and blackouts do in time of war. And as lockdowns would if the currently circulating plague had a case fatality rate like Ebola or even SARS 1.

That the COVID measures have not been subject to appropriate safeguards seems completely clear to me. The thing is, this is a pretty new question for most people. I’ve actually shown some attention to this question for at least four decades. I say that because I can identify when I first did something about it. I wrote a private members bill for Senator John Button in 1981 when he was in opposition to introduce due process and the coming before a judge wherever parliamentary privilege was used to penalise someone (or perhaps just to jail them).

It has always amazed me that while we go on about our precious liberties, our constitution (I mean the fabric of our constitution not just the document) has precious little in the way of safeguards and no-one shows much interest in them. I’m not really talking about bills of rights, which come with their own ideological baggage. I’m talking of simply thinking what mechanisms would be the first to be used by authoritarians trying to take away our liberties.

Parliamentary privilege is an obvious example, but so are so many other things — for instance the government’s control over prosecutions. But I’ve not seen much agitation on this score from those now campaigning against lockdowns as compromising our liberties. (I’m not talking about Paul here, so much as the business community, the right wing of the Coalition, and all those most influential in our polity opposing lockdowns and sometimes — as with Paul — mask mandating.)

I recall speaking to an independent member of the Victorian Parliament who was leant on to extent Dan Andrews State of Emergency for many many months. I suggested to them when the pressure came on that they should agree to extend it on a month-by-month basis and not budge from that position. This is precisely the kind of oversight I’m talking about, though I’d like to see it considerably strengthened.

I remember at the time Howard was marching our troops off to Iraq “just so we were ready if it came to that” — you know the drill — trying to get the ALP interested in entrenching some legislation or amendment to our constitution supporting a position in which Australian troops could not be deployed in combat overseas without a majority vote in both houses (I’d add a sortition based body if anyone asked these days). Apart from believing it was good policy, I thought that would be a good way to get on the front foot, and place the ALP’s hesitancy about going to war in Iraq in its best possible light.

Anyway, the hard heads knew better, pointing out that one day they’d be in government and it would be terrible if they couldn’t head off to the next hotspot and make sure Australia was there defending all that’s right in the world. Like we were already doing in Afghanistan.