We’re publishing another of Steve Waterson’s peerless rants today. Waterson is the Commercial Editor of the Australian and one of the country’s finest columnists. This one’s a humdinger.
It’s tedious for the youngsters, I know, but we of more advanced years love to reminisce about the olden days, when nobody was permitted to shirk from home and we had to try a little harder to get ahead. You’d put in the hours and a dab of sycophancy to climb the corporate ladder; even career criminals had to work their way up from petty crime to probation to a spell in prison.
We have it much easier these days: just ask Trong Duc Nguyen, the 31 year-old Cabramatta man who has gone straight to jail for two months after committing the hitherto unknown crime of travelling by train and bus from Sydney to Tenterfield. Small mercies, though; at least he didn’t travel the other way then write a mawkish song about it in New York.
Trong’s punishment this week for breaching a public health order was entirely reasonable, according to police, who said “it indicates the level of seriousness of the matter”. Lucky for Trong he didn’t have the virus. I may be mistaken, but I think that might carry the death penalty up Armidale way.
Enjoy this taste of what awaits us as the police state tightens its grip on our liberties. To drive home the seriousness of “doing the wrong thing”, the NSW Police Commissioner decided on-the-spot fines for health disobedience needed to be bumped up to $5,000.
My sense is that $1,000 was already enough to put people off going without their masks, but I suppose if you’re on $649,500 a year it does seem like a trifling sum. Doing the wrong thing isn’t a problem for his officers, however. “We have to shape the behaviour of people,” he told them in a recent video. “If you write a ticket and get it wrong,” he added, “I won’t hold you to account for that.”
Two weeks ago I watched people having their behaviour shaped at Bondi, as two mounted police rode their large horses south along the middle of the beach, stopping at the towels of two young mothers and their four toddlers, tiny beside the horses’ hoofs, to order them to pack up buckets and spades and leave the beach. Thanks for keeping us safe.
The madness toggles between sinister and comical. Especially hilarious are the comedy stylings of the bullying dolt who is turning Victoria into a post-apocalyptic wasteland: it’s acceptable to remove your useless mask to drink coffee on the street, he declares, but an offence to do so to drink alcohol. It must be excruciating for black-clad Melburnians, paralysed indecision warming their espresso martinis.
Victoria’s Health Minister, not to be outdone as a stand-up comedian, alerted citizens to a prostitute’s positive test. “If you have employed a sex worker in the St Kilda area,” he said on Wednesday, “you need to come forward and get tested.” Employed? What, to do some gardening? Imagine the negotiation: “I don’t mind mowing, but it’ll be an extra $50 if you want full weeding.”
NSW, once a dim glimmer of common sense, has fully embraced the lunacy, the Premier’s magical crystal ball (remember, the one that promised our two-week confinement would end on July 9th) now recalibrating its predictions to say we’ll be freed on September 30th. Oh, and let’s throw in an added curfew for the troublesome, recalcitrant westies; and an outdoor mask mandate to make sure everyone in the state, from Broken Hill to Ballina, Bourke to Bega, feels stupid and miserable (and coincidentally can be recognised as a renegade at long range by the fine-happy police).
Evidence worldwide shows the lockdown rules are nonsensical; curfews even more so, despite the Victorian Premier’s insistence that their value is “simply not up for debate”, which is presumably what he considers a more sophisticated version of “because I say so”.
Then he, his interstate counterparts and their bloated public sector cheer squads seek to dignify their incoherent ramblings with words like “strategy” and “policy”, picked up in some Management for Dummies handbook.
Sure, a few more weeks of lockdown is bearable if you have a secure job, a pretty garden, a good library and a well-stocked wine cellar; but it’s a very different experience if you’re on the 10th floor of a grim apartment block with three young kids and have just lost your weekly pay cheque.
Perhaps we could equalise the pain with what we might call “personal lockdown”. When I’m trapped in my house I have no idea what my neighbours across the road are up to, and I’m protected from their disease-ridden lungs because they’re not allowed to enter my home, cough over my food or wipe their runny noses on my handkerchief.
By the same token, it doesn’t affect me if they’re blithely eating from share plates in a restaurant or getting drunk with dodgy new friends in a crowded bar. More fool them if they want to risk infection.
So if you genuinely believe lockdown is the best way to ensure you live to relish another moody Scandinavian crime drama, don’t feel threatened by the idea of the country opening up. You are at perfect liberty to design and pitilessly enforce a bespoke lockdown for yourself and your dependants; set your imagination free and make it the most watertight since Alcatraz. Put the appropriate warning signs on your home – arm yourself if necessary – and your withdrawal from society would be respected, even welcomed. But leave the rest of us out of it.
Instead, we’re punished as though we were still in the classroom (unlike our schoolchildren), all in detention because one of the naughty pupils broke the rules; or worse, thanked and praised for “doing the right thing”, as though these idiots are capable of determining the difference between right and wrong. Just because they or their intellectually challenged health bureaucrats say something’s true, or (even less credibly) morally correct, doesn’t make it so.
Where do these buffoons find the audacity to tell us they’re “angry”, “disgusted” or “disappointed” with the citizens of their state, or country? If you think, premiers, that it’s appropriate to address your paymasters with that kind of supercilious, patronising language you have a profoundly flawed understanding of your relationship to the electorate.
We’re urged to get vaccinated as the only way out of this nightmare, as though the restrictions were imposed by some external enemy, while what’s really happening is that our leaders create this misery, steal our freedoms, then command us to obey their orders in order to regain them. We used to call this blackmail. Let’s get vaccinated if we are satisfied it will protect us from severe disease, but understand that’s the main reason for doing so, not to gratify and exculpate these petty dictators. It appears you will still be able to catch and transmit the virus, so leave the unvaccinated to their own devices.
Set a firm date for opening and make sure everyone who wants one can get the injection.
The amount of mental and physical energy wasted so far on this 18-month exercise is astounding, not to mention the truly astonishing financial cost, $350 billion (that we know of) and counting, and nothing to show for it.
A baby born here today picks up a $30,000 tab as a joining fee. Welcome to Australia, kid!
Many of us are witnessing the mental distress and deterioration of young adults, robbed now of almost two of the best years of their lives. The unalloyed joy of Friday and Saturday nights in your early 20s, the ridiculous, stimulating, fleeting friendships, the parties, adventures and triumphs; the first tentative steps towards a career, learning how to work with and appreciate colleagues; the lessons and mistakes that prepare you for the bigger challenges of the wide world; all are stripped from these fledgling lives in service of a vain, inane quest to master nature and eliminate a “deadly” virus that spares more than 99% of its victims (and that’s making the preposterous assumption that the number of asymptomatic “cases” isn’t far higher than we know).
In China, the man in the street still knows nothing about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and we haughtily condemn the Communist government for that evil cover-up; but our own governments are consulting the same playbook. We are not trusted to know what health advice or other research informs the decisions (I use the term as loosely as possible) our leaders make; everything is “cabinet in confidence”, even the minutes of the “national cabinet”, which isn’t a cabinet at all.
We have been leaked some of the figures, cynically suppressed by government, that quantify this mental-health disaster; and beside it the loss of a fairly small number of sick, elderly people is sad but insignificant. The increase in children’s depression, the growth of suicidal thoughts and acts, the self-harm, the eating disorders, the retreat into isolation and despair, the loneliness imposed on those who should be operating at maximum gregariousness and engagement, is wicked. There are many youthful rites of passage that you can’t just repeat a couple of years later: miss the school formal, the gap year, the overseas university exchange and they’re gone for ever.
Even more destructive, but less visible, is the impact on those who should have started school, but have missed the first couple of years of learning how to get along with their peers, particularly those not blessed with parents who acknowledge the value of education.
Unsocialised and unlettered, will they be accommodated when school returns, or abandoned? We thought child sacrifices died out with the Aztecs, but apparently not. Let’s hope they bring good rains, if not an end to the pandemic.
Towards the far outpost of life’s journey, we all know old people whose main treasure and delight in life is their family, and the precious contact they have previously taken for granted, as have all the generations before them. They’re not able to distract themselves with an hour’s vigorous exercise, and there’s little consolation when your hand’s on the exit door to be told things will be back to normal in a year or so. Some don’t have that year up their sleeve, and it’s an act of unspeakable cruelty to prevent them from spending their last days exactly as they want.
It may not be our governments’ intention to cause this damage, but it might as well be; just as it may not be their intention to destroy small business and impoverish one of the most productive sectors of society. It will be interesting to see if desperate protesters resurface this weekend to hurl themselves against the “wave of blue” the NSW Police Minister has smugly promised will meet them; there will surely come a point when people robbed of their livelihoods will have literally nothing left to lose.
So here we are, worse off than when all the hysteria began, a risible counterweight to the return to normality spreading all over the world, slumped into a manufactured psychosis. Australians are being deliberately and methodically terrified, while enforced isolation weakens our resilience.
It renders us more susceptible to the howls of panic, unchallenged by normal debate and conversation, forbidden to meet, discuss or express our disagreement.
We are turning on each other like medieval city states, while our basic human decency dissolves into brawls over toilet paper.
In 1653 Oliver Cromwell dismissed England’s corrupt and incompetent Rump Parliament with the words: “In the name of God, go!” A pity he’s not around today to remove the arses who polish the benches of our own parliaments.