We’re publishing a guest post by Steve Waterson, Commercial Editor of the Australian, about the absence of any debate about the country’s catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus crisis during the recent federal election campaign.
It’s a testament to human resilience that we can push traumatic memories out of our minds and eventually carry on with life; it’s how we recover from the tragedies that can strike at any moment.
And oh my, how the wretched politicians who orchestrated the carnage of our pandemic response must be hoping that mechanism will kick in soon; but to protect them, rather than their subjects.
Judging by the silence about the coronavirus during the election campaign, you might wonder if the past two years actually happened. (You may similarly wonder if there has been proper debate about the economy, defence, foreign policy, education, productivity, health or aged care, but perhaps I haven’t been paying close enough attention.)
Yes, the most extraordinary, most ridiculous, most expensive peacetime catastrophe in this nation’s history passed unremarked upon. And this when Covid cases are soaring way beyond the numbers that saw us terrified and confined to our cages less than 12 months ago.
It’s churlish, but irresistible, to note that the surge is occurring primarily in Western Australia, whose fantastically arrogant premier lectured the rest of the country on the perfection of his quest for zero Covid. Perhaps he should seek advice now from China, which is helping his fellow hermit kingdom of North Korea as the virus sweeps through its benighted population.
If we allow ourselves to forget the horror, our new Prime Minister will gladly sweep it all under the carpet, into the forgettery, as a former Prime Minister, now rarely seen, once put it.
So let’s pause briefly to remember social distancing, closed borders (I thought they’d reopened, but last week some bloke on the telly said they hadn’t), daily updates by funereal-faced health mandarins, “the science” (where have we heard that before?), sycophantic media, contact tracing, density limits (other than on politicians’ intellect), taped-off parks, golf courses and beaches, police firing on and beating the people we naively thought they were paid to protect, and the monstrous overreach of idiotic, brutal lockdowns and the byzantine rules and regulations by which they operated.
Other things, such as masks, remain mandatory on public transport and similar areas under state control, poignant reminders of the madness, like the fading arrows that now only whisper where you should stand or sit; and while we’ve known for some time that the virus isn’t transmitted through surface contact, even by the deadly vectors of pizza boxes and Sherrin footballs, timorous masked shoppers still scuttle about our supermarkets, polish their trolley handles with antiseptic wipes, hold their trembling hands beneath the holy-water gel dispensers and rub them together like Dick Dastardly plotting another wicked scheme. Elsewhere, the memories are fainter. We all know people who joke now about catching Covid but just months ago were cheering our vicious rules and gorging on the delicious taste of fear that made them feel so edgy and alive. Things are getting back to normal for them, and that’s another tragedy in the making. Here’s why.
The only way we could compound the disaster we’ve suffered at the hands of our worthless politicians and bureaucrats, the state-sponsored oppression that hid their woeful incompetence, would be a failure to hold those responsible to account. We had opportunities while the damage was being done to challenge it, but we wasted them. The media must shoulder much of the blame, attending press conferences to parrot and amplify the already exaggerated and incontinent fearmongering.
What misery might our journalists have averted had they spent a fragment of their time researching the facts, questioning authority and informing their audience – you know, doing their jobs?
Instead they, we, were complicit in normalising the excessive response to what some of us then suspected – and most of us now know – was a disease nowhere near deadly enough to justify the panic. The tiny figures for excess deaths recently released by the World Health Organisation make that case very eloquently.
The only brilliance shown in the whole fiasco was how the authorities were able to make it socially unacceptable to question the wisdom of their palpably stupid mismanagement.
Dissenters were vilified; all over the world eminent epidemiologists who questioned the orthodoxy were ridiculed and silenced; anyone who expressed concern at our near-compulsory vaccination program was made to feel as though they were cheerleaders for polio and Ebola.
Governments promoted the credo that if you didn’t embrace even their most absurd restrictions you were irresponsible: if you’re not lounging uselessly at home you’re out spreading.
The virulence of Covid, though, was thankfully nowhere near as severe as we were told to expect, by which I mean the direct medical impact of a Covid infection. The real, lasting damage done by Covid, or, more accurately, by our reaction to it, is only now beginning to emerge.
We have learned this week, for example, that the predictable damage done to our children by the two-year gap in their schooling is quantifiable – and utterly devastating. Research here and in other Western countries indicate markedly higher levels of disengagement and despair over their education, of self-harm, of attempted and completed suicide.
Oncologists in Britain warn of a cancer crisis that will produce a death toll several times that of Covid, and it won’t be restricted to the elderly. Martin Kulldorff, until last year a professor of medicine at Harvard, said this month that lockdowns won’t influence short-term prognoses but will cause, for example, “those who would have lived 15 to 20 years to die from cervical cancer three or four years from now”.
Further afield, the World Bank says 100 million people in the developing world have been thrown into poverty through lockdowns, which were manageable for those who could work from home. The UN has estimated a quarter of a million children have starved to death in South Asia alone.
So how do we avoid a repeat of this man-made destruction next time a pandemic or other crisis comes to town? First, let’s find out what went wrong, why the poor decisions were made, who were responsible for them, and what they should have done. Let politicians and bureaucrats explain every incremental step in their shameful assault on our liberty.
In Australia we regularly hear cries for a royal commission into all manner of egregious behaviour, but they are established only in “rare and exceptional circumstances” to examine matters relating to federal responsibilities. Has there been anything in our peacetime history that better meets these criteria? We weren’t allowed a say in what restrictions were imposed on us when this pandemic arose, so let’s open the discussion before the next one.
I’d like to know, for a start, why we abandoned the long-established principle of focused protection, a feature of pre-Covid pandemic plans that would have identified and directed protective measures towards the vulnerable: in the present case the very old, the infirm, those with comorbidities such as diabetes and obesity.
I’m sure many would ask why our elected leaders delegated their responsibility to unelected bureaucrats, or why the federal government outsourced much of its decision-making to the simpletons of state politics.
Some must be curious about the health advice that supposedly guided the raft of crazy rules that told you how many people could be on Bondi Beach, or why the virus couldn’t travel below head height in bars. Call me cynical, but I don’t believe any such advice existed, although I’d be delighted to be proved wrong by the production of a sheaf of convincing, carefully argued documents.
Then lockdown, the quintessential blunt instrument. A sensible person would think carefully before closing down the pig-based barter economy of a village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, but we, panicked by the scenes in China, switched off our advanced Western economy apparently without performing the most rudimentary cost-benefit analysis or anticipating the catastrophic consequences.
But no, easier to borrow and blow half a trillion dollars, then boast about the world-beating magnificence of our handling of the crisis. It’s deeply depressing to think what might have been bought with that money – the dams, the rail lines, energy security, the hospitals, the submarines, the friendship of our Pacific neighbours – and no surprise that the mainstream politicians who created or tolerated this waste are held in such low esteem: how diminished must you be to drive people to squander their votes on the cretins of One Nation, the halfwits of the United Australia Party, or the insufferably smug marionettes of the teal co-dependents?
Of course the likelihood of a serious public inquiry into our Covid response is remote; but we can dream and, for so long as it’s permitted, keep agitating for one.
If not, we might as well join Winston Smith in kowtowing to a system that is already hard at work rewriting history.
Steve Waterson is the Commercial Editor of the Australian. This article first appeared in the Australian.