Australia Is Still a ‘Free’ Country, Despite Our Covid Lockdowns
These anti-lockdown protests, never attended by more than a few thousand people, are small by Australian standards. And unlike Americans, Australians are not politically inclined to demands for liberty and choice as much as we are for fairness and solidarity. (The name of the national anthem is “Advance Australia Fair.”) As Australia’s First Nations people knew and settler-colonial Australians learned on arrival, individualism is far less useful than collaboration on a continent where everything from the weather to the insects is trying to kill you, all the time.
Even as some lockdown restrictions ease, Australians continue to comply with public health orders, which even now enjoy overwhelming public support. But where lockdowns remain, far-right activists have seized a rare chance to march on empty streets.
In September, a small gathering of Melbourne workers protesting vaccine mandates suddenly swelled in size as far-right figures urged their followers to join. Images of the carnage that followed were, of course, eagerly shared by right-wing American influencers.
Once you understand the coordination at play, where content is produced and fed back in a mind-mangling loop, a strange theatrical quality to these events makes sense. The decision, for example, to gather at places like an obscure suburban gorge near an Ikea complex in Melbourne seems odd — until you realize the excellent vantage points it provides for filming protesters as they rush at unprepared police officers. That these protests are noticeably accompanied by placards in support of Donald Trump suggests their ultimate audience may not, perhaps, be local.
Yes, Australia’s lockdowns have seemed interminable to us all. Cold, crowded Melbourne recently passed the sad record of the most days in lockdown of any city in the world. Many, including me, have been cut off from loved ones by the stringent restrictions. But the reality that eludes the propagandists is that Australia’s extended lockdowns are not a ploy for greater government control, but a failure of it.
A bumbling Australian federal government did not secure an adequate initial supply of Covid vaccines in the precious window of time before the arrival of the Delta variant. The prime minister, who infamously absconded on holiday while the country was literally on fire, remains, alas, the guy in charge.
Delta circulated and lockdowns restarted — yet Australia remains a free country. Even amid the global economic disruption, Australia’s wheels of free enterprise have managed to find new ways to spin, for good or ill. Free and fair elections have continued to take place. Yet the truth has no value for those who insist on policies that undermine public health.
After all, Australia’s lockdowns, masks and social distancing have kept total nationwide deaths from the virus under 1,500. With its slightly smaller population, Florida — over which Governor DeSantis presides — has lost 57,000 already. It’s that cold reality the propaganda, lurid and outlandish and ridiculous, seeks to banish. But it can’t.
Van Badham (@vanbadham) is a columnist for The Guardian Australia and the author of the forthcoming book “QAnon and On: A Short and Shocking History of Internet Conspiracy Cults.”