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Friday, 28 August 2020 09:23

Covidmania in Two Hemispheres: The Bedwetting State of Origin

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The British are surprised at the submissive reaction of Australians and New Zealanders to our governments' vicious lockdown measures in response to what is, for most, a mild Covid challenge.  This invites the question - are we in the Antipodes any more supine before the power of the Covid State than the Brits are?

 

Perhaps there should be a State of Origin for Covidmania (defined here as manic over-reaction by governments and populations to the perceived global threat of a relatively mild though very contagious virus of highly selective lethality and what should have been only yawn-inducing newsworthiness). 

Who are the worse Branch Covidians – the Poms or the Aussies and Kiwis?  Who are the bedwetting champions?

Why should we ponder this (admittedly) partly whimsical question?  A question in three parts – first, the relative danger faced; second, over-reaction in government policy responses to “fight” the virus; and third, submissiveness to government edicts and unreasonable fear of Covid across the population.

British Lockdown sceptics and broadcasters James Delingpole and Toby Young have been (rightly) perplexed over the (to the Brits) unexpected acquiescence of Antipodeans in the face of the newly acquired, Covid-related might of the Kiwi and Australian police states.  The degree of bemusement in the Old Country is enhanced by the British understanding of our national characteristics.  They have contrasted our behaviour as Anzacs brazenly standing up to bullshit orders from British military overlords during the World Wars with their observations of our newly acquired acquiescence.  They have pointed to the independent spirit of Australians brought up to be sceptical of all authority, our bush legend toughness, our battles with sharks, snakes, crocs and funnel webs (a particularly nasty breed of Aussie spider) and our historical middle finger regularly given to our former colonial masters.  Convicts.  Ned Kelly.  Paul (Crocodile Dundee) Hogan.  Fearless soldiers.  And so on.

Equally, the Kiwis are said to be tough.  New Zealanders, or at least a goodly number of them, are descended from warrior Maori who have morphed effortlessly into the All Blacks.  The Kiwis also bang on about their spirit of innovation – the number of times I heard about No 8 wire in my nearly four years living there cannot easily be counted – and the rugged toughness of New Zealand farmers battling frigid temperatures and endlessly inclement weather is well known.  The spirit of the haka.  Earthquakes.  And so on.

Yet the citizens of both Anzac nations have supinely rolled over before the constitutionally questionable might of their governments and their thug police forces during what at least a few of us have recognised to be a crisis of very, very moderate proportions.  The war-time like powers recently assumed by Anzac governments – shown to have been illegal in one of our countries, at least for a short time – are as draconian as any in the world. 

The powers acquired by democratically elected governments on both sides of the Tasman are indeed world’s best practice, in terms of the severity of the measures taken and the rigour with which they have been enforced.

(As a footnote, I say “democratically” elected.  At least Scott Morrison was elected in a democratic fashion.  Even though he wasn’t initially made prime minister by the Australian people, but rather assumed office in a parliamentary coup against the previous, elected guy.  Her worship in New Zealand got thirty six per cent of the total Kiwi vote in 2017 and then engaged in the bizarre dance-of-the-minority-parties that routinely occurs in New Zealand following an election, in order to become prime minister.  In their weird version of democracy, the so-called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system imported from Germany, there is almost never a majority government elected.  Hence the horse-trading and log-rolling that occurs after each election to see who will govern.  In the process all pre-election bets are off, policy pledges made to the people are regularly ditched, and new policies untested with the electorate are made up on the spot as negotiations for power ensue.  Hence, Jacindarella governs with the Greens and a weird small (sort of right-of-centre) party called New Zealand First, and they all hate each other with vigour and have massively conflicting policies).

But I digress.  Back to the draconian Covid regimes in the Antipodes.  They are the real, totalitarian deal, no question.

There is Jacindarella’s stage four lockdown, her policy extremism (ludicrously aimed at total eradication of the virus), her astonishing over-reaction to a few “second wave” cases in Auckland, her assumed emergency powers, and the outsized reaction relative to the size of the threat to a country more remote from the rest of the world than just about anywhere else.

Meanwhile, across the Ditch, we have had Covid fascism on steroids in MelDanistan (aka Victoria, whose car number plates must surely now be changed to “Police State”), vicious police behaviour, the powers to remove children from parents enshrined in legislation in South Australia, a six month jail sentence in Western Australia for a woman breaking lockdown, forced border closures to and from states with currently miniscule Covid case numbers, a virtual (and unprecedented, to use the most overworked word of 2020) closure of overseas travel, and creeping cultural maskism.  All are truly sinister and astonishing developments in parliamentary liberal democratic societies of the Anglosphere.

The point made by our British critics is that the size of the policy reactions downunder is so extreme of itself, and so out of all proportion to the size of the threat – a few hundred deaths in both countries out of a combined Anzac population of about 30 million, in contrast to the UK which has a combined population of 66 million and around 41,000 Covid deaths – that the submissive reaction of our people is simply unbelievable.  Especially given our assumed rugged individualism.

These are, on their face, fair points.  It would seem that we are the ones who are now the barmy (or, perhaps, balmy) army.

Against this narrative, a few things can be said.  Not in our defence, I might add, because there IS no sane defence against our pathetic response as two proud island nations to being treated like, well, convicts. 

First, we aren’t really “Australians” any more, in the sense that we were once assumed demographically and culturally to be.  Now around a third of our population were not born here.  When you add in those for whom at least one parent wasn’t born here, the proportion becomes a tick under half.  This is especially the case in the big two cities.  Many of these in-migrants no longer aspire to be “Australians” in the old sense of this term, or indeed to “assimilate”, to use a very outdated term, and the rest of us have been re-educated to believe there is nothing wrong with this.

So only around one half of Australians are “Australian” in the sense of having the virtues, values and shared history of our European settler forebears and their descendants.  This is unlikely to change, given our current education system and what the shrinking number of “native” Australians are taught about the benefits of multiculturalism and the shamefulness of our past.

There is more to it than this, however.

Most of us live in cities, not in the bush.  We are urban dwellers par excellence.  We are simply no longer rugged bushmen, let alone farmers battling the elements.  2.2 per cent of us are engaged in some form of agriculture now, to be exact.  Merely a third of us live outside the capital cities.  And in our borderless, globalised, mass immigration nation, the biggest sport in many of the suburbs of our two biggest cities, now inhabited largely by “anywheres” rather than “somewheres”, could well be “spot the Australian”.  Our biggest industry, just about, is importing foreign university students who are willing to pay a shedload for a mediocre degree in order then to stay on.  Our two big cities have become all but uninhabitable under the crushing weight of crumbling, underfunded infrastructure and urban congestion, all in the cause of the Ponzi scheme that is our migration policy and that keeps our economy afloat.

Throw another shrimp (well, a prawn in the local lingo) on the barbie, washed down with a VB?  Yes, barbecues are popular among a certain (declining) demography, but you are more likely to come across “rugged” Aussies who prefer sushi, a Thai takeaway, food miles, vegetarian food, chai lattes and craft brewed beer.  The front bar of the pub?  Try a trendy, smoke free wine bar.  Especially in Melbourne.

What about fighting the elements and the creepy crawlies?  I lived in the funnel web capital of Australia for two decades and never once (to my knowledge) saw one.  (I did see a big snake sunbaking in a tree in our backyard this week, but I think it was a harmless python.  Which we affectionately christened Monty.  He was chased away by a modestly ferocious pee wee (magpie lark) and a small parliament of magpies.  This is the first snake bigger than half a foot long that I have ever seen in my nearly sixty-four years, other than at Eric Worrell’s Reptile Park near Gosford.

Ruggedness on the sporting field?  Give me a break.  We whinged when the Poms bowled bodyline in 1933.  Went crying to politicians and threatened action in the Privy Council.  We have had weeping cricket captains.  We have cricketers who prefer to rub their balls (so to speak) with sandpaper rather than seek to beat the Africans by fair means.  No Boer War fighting spirit there.

No, Australians aren’t especially rugged.

We are now a fully signed up welfare state.  Many of us prefer to be on Jobkeeper or Jobseeker money than to be returning to work.  The Kiwis just love being “on benefit”.  They also love leaving their own country to come and live in Australia when the going gets tough over there, jobs wise.  Sydney is regarded routinely as a home game for the All Blacks.  So much for ruggedly independent, go it alone Kiwis.

Above all, we are now scared witless of a (for most of us) harmless flu.  Young Australasians with zip chance of suffering anything more than mild cold-like symptoms are especially scared.  We dob in lockdown breakers with the best of them.

Very few of us are lockdown sceptics.  Most people here think that governments have done a good job with Covid.  The polls tell us so.  The Adern Government is set to be returned in New Zealand with possibly even a majority in Labor’s own right.  No one expects the Kiwi Opposition to come close.  The legal challenges to Covid fascism are nary to be seen.  There have been only two in Australasia, to my knowledge.

Our willingness to roll over before the state extends to our most preciously held beliefs, and, again, is truly astonishing.  We have all but given up on socially practised religion.  The numbers now attending Mass at my local cathedral are pathetic.  I suppose this is what happens when the local bishop as good as tells people to stay away and imposes strict “protocols” on those who turn up.  He regularly scores ten thousand viewers for his virtual Sunday Mass and hardly anyone attends in person.  No real need for artificial social distancing there, then.

So, no, we are no longer “ruggedly” Australian.  Only half of us are “Australian” at all.  We are not ruggedly Kiwi, either.  The British perception of us as being especially likely to be resistant to an overbearing state, Covid-wise, is outdated at best.  Sadly.

So how are the Poms coping with Covidmania?  Are the British any less fearful than we are, less inclined to Covid submissiveness?  And how do the Old Country’s anti-Covid measures stack up against the Antipodes, severity-wise?  Who will win the Covid State of Origin?

Not much better than the colonials, really.  A recent (May) comparative survey – no, not the one showing that all the governments of the OECD simply copied each other’s Covidmaniac policies – found the Brits to be the most scared of Covid.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1278346/uk-coronavirus-news-cambridge-university-survey-covid-19-death-infection-rates

The Poms were early adopters, Covidmania-wise.  An earlier survey (in March) showed that 87 per cent of Brits wanted a long lockdown.  In another poll around May:

A survey by Ipsos Mori showed that more than 60% would be uncomfortable returning to bars and restaurants, using public transport or going to a large gathering such as a sporting event.

Over 40% would still be reluctant to go to the shops or send their children to school and over 30% would be worried about going to work or meeting friends.

But majority support for house arrest is, alas, not confined to the UK.  It is alive and well in Australia, even as the numbers of cases decline everywhere but Victoria.  New cases are all but non-existent in most places in Australia.  There are a mere dozen or so in paranoid New Zealand.

The Victorians support Daniel Andrews’ Covidmania big-time, despite all of his second order bungles and the revolting behaviour of his corrupt, politicised police force.

New research shows 72% of the sample backs the decision of the Andrews government to impose a curfew between 8pm and 5am, 71% supports curbs on leaving the house, while 70% endorse restrictions on business and the requirement that people travel no further than 5km from their house. 

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/aug/12/essential-poll-victorians-overwhelmingly-support-harsh-restrictions-to-curb-covid-second-wave

A more recent Essential poll shows support for Andrews’ Covid management going over the cliff in recent weeks.  However, I am certain this relates to Andrews bungling on second order issues and implementation rather than his overall Covidmania.  I hope I am wrong, and that the diminishing support for Andrews relates to a lack of enthusiasm for Lockdown 2.0.

What about vocal scepticism in each country?  In Britain there have been public protests, albeit with small numbers way smaller than those in the USA and Germany.  We have only have Black Lives Matter protests in Oz.  Otherwise, silence.  I am not aware of sceptical activity in New Zealand, apart from the estimable Plan B group.  Few legal challenges, as noted.  Only now are sceptical Facebook groups appearing here.  Australian journalists questioning the official propaganda are very, very thin on the ground.  Perhaps the Brits think the response of their own journalists has been equally pathetic.  We have the great Alan Jones, now, alas, absent his massive radio platform, the Australian’s Economics Editor Adam Creighton, and a few other columnists.  Most of these are yet to create a truly coherent sceptical story, a counter-narrative with cut-through.

Few Covid-sceptical Brits would think now that their own country had imposed a light touch policy response.  However, earlier in the Covid scare (in May), foreign journalists regarded Britain’s Covid response as being “complacent”.  This may well have been the result of Britain’s flip flopping from initially embracing the idea of herd immunity to then going very hard with lockdowns.

To be fair, as I have noted, the Brits have had much more to worry about than we (though not other European countries) have in terms of Covid’s comparative lethality, measured by deaths per million population.  About fifty times more, in fact.  Britain too has a denser, closer living population than Australasia (notwithstanding Australia’s increasing urbanisation), and so its citizens might reasonably be more prone to fear over a highly contagious virus.  Not to mention being very close to many other, openly bordered and densely populated countries.  And just up the way from northern Italy, the first port of call of WuFlu in Europe.  An island, like us, to be sure, but a very differently situated island.

So, in terms of real and perceived threats from Covid compared to Australasia, the Brits fare much better us lily-livered cowards.  The bedwetting Brits, as per the survey noted above, have had many more people die, at least.

What about the comparative severity of measures?  Australia’s performance has been skewed towards totalitarianism by Kim Jong Dan in Victoria.  Victoria’s still small death toll relative to other diseases and to Covid deaths in other countries stands in stark contrast to its weirdly over-reactive Covid fascism, and its fascism massively distorts the overseas perception of the level of totalitarianism across Australia as a whole.  And while Adern’s measures (stage 4 lockdown) were extreme on any analysis – especially given her country’s small population, remoteness and isolation from the world – its extreme, national lockdown was quite short in duration.

Both Britain and Australia have had their fair share of simply awful cases of police over-reaction and brutality, and of the heart-breaking cases of the unintended consequences of the blunt instruments that have been wielded against Covid.  These include stories of cancer patients ignored, border closures stopping needed medical attention, the frail aged dying alone, without the support and company of family, empty hospitals not admitting non Covid patients, patients recovering from strokes being forced into awful motels, youth suicide clusters in the northern suburbs of Sydney, Manchester police raiding homes having parties for terminally ill children.  These are only a tiny sampling of the hideous consequences of foolish and unjustifiable policies in all lockdown countries.  No clear winner here between the Brits and the Antipodes, then.  We are all losers, in roughly equal measure.  As a federation, Australia has more governments than some of our fellow Anglosphere nations.  More governments equals more stupid and tragic Covid policies, sadly, whatever the comforting, right-of-centre theories about the benefits of competitive federalism.

Britain’s incompetence of Covid related decision-making probably outdoes that of its Antipodean cousins.  For sheer bungling incompetence, it is hard to go past Boris.  Members of the Tory Party are leaving over Covid, and not just for the over-reaction.  We have been awful here, but slightly more consistently bad.  Boris has had more flip-flops than a Florida beach.  The big swing, of course, was the March 180 degree’r from herd immunity to savage lockdown.  Then there was the brazen and almost seamless morphing of policy objectives from “flattening the curve” in service of the workability of the UK National Health Services, to the totally ludicrous object of “Covid elimination”. 

Apart from policy flip-flops, there is also policy idiocy.  New Zealand, of course, must take the prize for seriously putting Covid elimination up as a stated policy objective.  This is what some might consider Canute level policy idiocy.  And of course, Canute was being ironic.  Jacinda really does thing she can keep the Covid waves at bay.

A third type of bungling, apart from U-turns and dumb objectives, is massive inattention to detail.  Here Daniel Andrews is the standout, for the quarantine hotels blunder which needlessly caused hundreds of deaths.  Not quite up there with Chris Cuomo levels of mass industrial manslaughter but certainly a contender for that, surely unwanted prize.  Nor are policy blunders resulting from inattention to detail confined to Victoria in the Australian context.  The Government of Andrews’ lamentable equivalent in New South Wales was responsible for releasing infected parties from a cruise ship – The Ruby Princess – in their hundreds into the community.  This led to a commission of inquiry.  People died.  Not one person took responsibility and resigned.  Ministerial responsibility is a dead duck in Australia.  It is probably a joke, as well, in the home of the now ersatz Westminster system.  The buck stops nowhere.

Mind you, the massive inattention to detail on the part of the state in relation to nursing homes has not just been confined to Victoria, or Australia, or indeed, the Anglosphere.  Even sensible Sweden blundered with nursing homes.  It is almost as if countries were not just copying one another in relation to Covid responses, but they were doing the same in relation to their almost wilful spite towards, and patent disregard for, the frail aged.  An international policy disgrace, a mortal policy sin of omission of monstrous consequence. 

A dead-heat, I think, for the Brits and the Antipodes on this one.

Where does this leave the state of origin contest?  Are Australasians worse bedwetters than the Brits?  There are probably more bedwetters in the UK, I would think.  The Brits came up with the phrase “curtain twitchers”, after all.  We all have our Karens, to be sure.  The Brits are the ones clapping the NHS.  We simply have the odd, virtue-signalling signs in front yards.  And the Brits are baulking at school re-openings.  We (non-Victorians) have gone back, maskless.  They are farther down the path to compulsory maskism generally  than we are.  But hold the front page on that one.  At least we can go shopping maskless, at the time of writing.

Every government in the world has made policy errors in relation to Covid.  They have been egregious in Australia, certainly.  Since, hardly a day has passed without lies, half-truths, bungles, U-turns and the rest. 

Most governments, in falling for Covidmania, made the initial big error as well as all the smaller errors.  Ironically Boris almost got the big issue right initially, then panicked.  We in the Antipodes, however influenced by what the big boys overseas were doing in response to the virus, simply went big and early, yet with still idiotic micro-decisions.  New Zealand just went huge, immediately, no exceptions, on the back of the big lie.

Some issues are hard to judge.  What is worse, for example – blanket international travel bans (Australia) or green light/red light flip flops and new instructions to travellers without any warning (Britain)?  Each of these is ridiculous, but Australia shares the distinction of being only one of three countries banning all overseas travel (except for a few exemptions).  The other countries are – North Korea and Cuba.

And sadly the examples of the gauche implementation and at times heart-rending outcomes of totalitarian policy just keep pouring in – from both ends of QF 1 flight path.  Each day brings countless, still more appalling case studies of cruel ineptitude.  Each day provides at least one example of “surely not…”  No clear winner here.

One final point.  It should be noted that it isn’t only Australians who have lost their once great sense of independence and “fight” – see under Churchill for the latter.  What about the spirit of Magna Carta?  The stirring words of Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt?  The good folks of “Little Britain”, the somewheres in the UK who still savour the wonderful songs of Last Night of the Proms – now banned by the BBC – are a shrinking breed in their own modern, multicultural melting pot that we have come to know as Londonistan.  Just like the disappearing, rugged, bird-flipping Aussies and Kiwis. 

We are all Covid-maniacs now.  All of us strangely prostrate before the ever growing might of Leviathan.

Read 363 times Last modified on Friday, 28 August 2020 20:49
Paul Collits

Paul Collits is a freelance writer and independent researcher who lives in Lismore New South Wales.  
 
He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines - politics, geography and planning and business studies.  He spent over 25 years working in economic development and has published widely in Australian and international peer reviewed and other journals.  He has been a keynote speaker internationally on topics such as rural development, regional policy, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Much of his academic writing is available at https://independent.academia.edu/PaulCollits
 
His recent writings on ideology, conservatism, politics, religion, culture, education and police corruption have been published in such journals as Quadrant, News Weekly and The Spectator Australia.
 
He has BA Hons and MA degrees in political science from the Australian National University and a PhD in geography and planning from the University of New England.  He currently has an adjunct Associate Professor position at a New Zealand Polytechnic.