Employers face 20-years in prison
Australia is a fantastic freedom-loving democracy. We sit halfway between the social democratic Scandinavian model of democracy and the neoliberal survival of the fittest of Reagan and Thatcher. Guns are banned, voting is compulsory, and we drive on the wrong side of the road!
Our Federal and state governments came together to form a united apolitical response to COVID, which has been successful.
The strategy's goal is suppression, not elimination. It has come at a massive cost to all aspects of our lives - income, health, and civil liberties. On the whole, Australians accept this suppression of our rights in the name of of the greater good.
The greater good
This consent is not brave nor primarily altruistic. It is simply a benign acceptance of the long-accepted conventional response to such threats - "Utilitarianism in the form of promoting the good and diminishing the bad is a key moral belief in the realm of public health" - Kirkwood, In The Name Of The Greater Good.
Based on what I see on the ABC World News each day, I imagine that Americans would be appalled by such acquiescence, and by some of the ways we have managed the pandemic. Reagan and Thatcher would be rolling over in their graves.
Here are seven of them:
Seven surprising responses
#1 The homeless in hotels
Tens of thousands of homeless people across Australia are being accommodated in three, four and five-star hotels under various government schemes to enable them to socially-distance properly.
This group are also often in poor health with metabolic diseases and compromised immune systems. Caring for them not only may save their lives, but it reduces the risk of community spread.
Of course, it poses the question of what to do once this crisis is over: "we can't go back to the way things were. We can't go back to having thousands of people sleeping on the streets of our cities… That's just not the country that this crisis has shown us to be", says David Pearson from the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness (AAEH).
Noone yet has the answer. We first have to win the battle of the second wave.
#2 Closed state borders
Despite protests and legal action seeking to declare it unconstitutional, many states have closed their borders - literally. Interstate visitors from hotspots are either turned back or recorded and monitored in quarantine for two weeks.
Fines are common, with one group fined over $20,000 for trying to breach a border crossing - twice!
#3 Closed entry into and out of hotspots, and curfews
In some hotspot states, such as Victoria, people need a reason to travel in and out of hotspot regions. The entire city of Melbourne, with a population of 5m people, is one of those hotspots.
We now also have a curfew across all of Melbourne's 5m people. We must stay home between 8pm and 5am. Police have been instructed to cease giving warnings and to issue fines for breaches. Masks when outside are mandatory.
"In the past 24 hours, Victoria Police has issued 196 fines with 51 of those for failure to wear a face covering when leaving home for one of the four permitted reasons." - Report.
Massive roadblocks on roads in and out of Melbourne enforce travel restrictions. Waits of up to 3 hours are not uncommon. This makes it agonisingly tough for essential workers who have to cross the checkpoints going to work and coming home.
#4 Protestors and protest organisers arrested
Black Lives Matter protestors, and anti-mask anti-curfew protestors are no longer receiving warnings. Not only are the protestors now being arrested, but the organisers are also being arrested.
"Police have also arrested two men allegedly responsible for planning a large gathering in the CBD on Sunday in breach of the Chief Health Officer's directions."
The same goes for social media "influencers" and other attention seekers who film themselves breaking mask rules, roadblocks, or refusing to cooperate with the police. They are now being arrested on the scene, or tracked down through social media and arrested.
A number of "COVID Karens" have been tracked and arrested.
#5 Paid $1500 a fortnight to not work
The Federal government is paying workers laid off because of COVID $1500 per fortnight directly into their bank account. They simply have to be nominated by their employer as someone who was laid off because of the pandemic.
The idea behind the program, known as JobKeeper, is that employers will retain these people and reemploy them when as soon as business permits. The scheme was enacted very quickly, and as such is being exploited by the usual scammers. That's the price we pay for the government's quick action.
What's notable about the scheme is that via a quick online form, verifying your status each fortnight, you get a very fast payment directly into your bank account. And this was all implemented for the whole of Australia in a matter of weeks.
The program will run in its current state until September, and then be modified to suit the circumstances at that time.
Some states also pay people who have been tested to stay home in quarantine until the results are known.
#6 The Army works under state police command
The Australian Army is assisting state police in enforcing and monitoring roadblocks and quarantine orders, but subordinate to the police command.
Melbourne is not Portland. The soldiers dress in their regular fatigues, not battle gear, and the police are demilitarised, unlike what we see in the US. It helps that guns are illegal in Australia. We don't get retail store security personnel being shot dead for asking a customer to wear a mask.
#7 Bosses face 20-years jail if workers die of COVID
In several Australian states, employers can be jailed for up to 20-years for the offence of "industrial manslaughter". The latter is the event of an employer dying because of negligence on the worksite, e.g. inadequate safety training, or poor risk management.
If employees are infected and die from COVID-19 employers, face maximum fines of $16.5m for employers "plus jail terms of up to 20 years and fines of up to $1.65m for officers whose actions or omissions:
When rolling back matters - guarding our civil liberties
There's no argument that our civil liberties are under threat. Right-wing leaders in many countries have used COVID to track, trace and restrict the rights of their citizens for political purposes.
Right now in Australia the restrictions are doing their job.
Now we need to be vigilant to ensure that they are rolled back when the time comes. We may not be the largest democracy in the world, but right now, the world needs every fully functioning democracy that it can get.
What do you think of Australia's restrictions, would you abide by them?
Good luck in your fight and resilience with the pandemic.
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