Australia’s pandemic fascism
30 August 2022
This story might equally be called Covid’s Original Sin. Or, perhaps, Australia – Barnaby’s Part in Its Downfall (with apologies to Spike Milligan).
For it was Barnaby Joyce who introduced and oversaw the 2014-15 legislation that later formed the basis of Australia’s worst-in-breed policy response to the alleged Covid pandemic which hit these shores in early 2020.
He did so with Tony Abbott as his Prime Minister and Peter Dutton his Health Minister colleague (Sussan Ley was the Health Minister by the time the legislation became law).
A Spectator Australia colleague has noted the Coalition’s rampant inability to perceive unintended consequences when implementing policies with narrowly conceived objectives. Indeed. Perhaps it is simple naivete or unthinking optimism that political actors will behave well. Whatever the cause of this legislative lapse, Barnaby’s Law, in effect, has ushered in public health totalitarianism. There can be few clearer examples than this of innocent-looking law delivering heinous unintended consequences for the nation.
The Biosecurity Act 2015, has been in the news lately thanks to Scott Morrison, Simon Benson, and the latter’s co-authored book, Plagued. On 18 March 2020, the Governor-General declared a human biosecurity emergency across Australia. The rest, as they say, is history.
Paul Kelly summarises:
As the Simon Benson-Geoff Chambers book Plagued makes clear, the problem facing the Morrison government in early 2020 arose from the drastic consequences of invoking the emergency powers of the Biosecurity Act. When Health Minister Hunt and Attorney-General Christian Porter examined the act they were gobsmacked.
‘How did the Parliament ever pass this?’ was their reaction. The act gave the health minister virtually unlimited powers, non-reviewable by courts or parliament, powers probably greater than a war minister, with the Benson-Chambers book saying Hunt saw it as ‘up there with the divine rights of kings’. The 2015 law should never have been passed in this form. Porter devised written protocols to govern Hunt’s use of the powers.
Or, as Ramesh Thakur has commented:
The justification [by Morrison] was the realisation that the declaration of a biosecurity emergency had transformed the Health Minister into a de facto dictator with the power to ignore Parliament and override all existing laws, including human rights protections against state excesses. Yet, the chief problem is the law itself that grants such sweeping power to one person and should thus be repealed or amended. I’m not holding my breath.
Divine right of kings, Greg Hunt?
The tyrannical monarchs of yore would have given their eye teeth to have the techno-tools of the 21st century available to them. Porter’s protocols? I am yet to see any evidence that they did anything whatsoever to halt Hunt’s and his bureaucrats’ Covid-driven usurpation of democracy.
As for Morrison’s hidden assumption of ministerial health powers, he stood by and watched state and territory leaders take a butcher’s knife to the rights and freedoms of their citizens. Morrison appears to have used his secret powers to stop a gas project, but didn’t stop the shutting of Australia’s borders or the extension of emergency powers.
In short, Morrison did nothing to pause the destruction of Australia’s economic and social fabric. He enabled it.
Government ministers only realised the dangers of what the Abbott government – with Labor’s complete approval – had unleashed in 2014-15 when they had an assumed emergency on their hands in 2020. And it didn’t stop them from using the dictatorial powers they claimed they should not have. They just went for it. These are shocking powers, they said. Let’s use them! With not a word of remorse to the public for Abbott’s original Covid sin.
The process of confirming the existence of an emergency was the product of the self-same legislation. The government in 2015 wrote themselves, future governments, and future Parliaments out of the process of determining whether the draconian measures approved in the legislation should be used if and when a human disease entered Australia. What were they thinking? Was anyone thinking? If so, who was it doing the thinking?
It turns out that Morrison’s secret, seemingly bizarre self-appointment to multiple ministries, is the tip of the iceberg concerning the increasingly expressedcall for a Royal Commission into Australia’s Covid response.
Such an inquiry might also look into the establishment of the equally secretive National Cabinet, the use of delegated legislation, and the consequential removal of executive decisions from proper Parliamentary scrutiny in relation to so-called ‘emergencies’.
One might suggest also worthy of review isthe emergence of Chief Health Officers as arbiters of public health and of defining what constitutes an ‘emergency’, the cancellation of Parliamentary sittings, and much more besides. The aforementioned Biosecurity Act should be right at the top of the list.
Speaking of CHOs, the Covid State has also delivered to us an era of rule by the non-elected. A tyranny of bureaucrats, as Rebecca Weisser calls it. A case of ‘technocracy rising’, in Patrick Wood’s phrasing. It is power assumed by the managerial class identified by James Burnham back in the 1940s. The Biosecurity Act did that too.
All of this has not gone totally unnoticed by the Australian Parliament.
The since ousted Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells chaired a Parliamentary committee inquiring into delegated legislation that reported to the Senate in March 2021. Its interim report, tabled in December 2021, makes fascinating reading, especially as the response by government to Covid is its core concern, The use of delegated legislation has been a key Covid management strategy.
What is delegated legislation about? According to the Australian Parliament’s information:
Delegated (also known as subordinate) legislation is legislation made not directly by an Act of the Parliament, but under the authority of an Act of the Parliament. Parliament has regularly and extensively delegated to the Executive Government limited power to make certain regulations under Acts.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells explains:
In theory, delegated legislation should only deal with purely technical or administrative matters, but this is no longer the case. In practice, delegated legislation now often deals with matters of policy significance.
Not only has there been delegated legislation-creep, but the exemptions from Parliamentary disallowance have expanded substantially. There is no capacity for disallowance and no parliamentary scrutiny. Talk about executive overreach.
According to the very alarmed then-Senator:
In particular, I would like to highlight the committee’s concerns about the exemption of emergency delegated legislation from disallowance. Disallowance is one of the most important tools that the Parliament has at its disposal to maintain control of delegated legislation.
Despite the importance of this procedure, nearly 20 per cent of all delegated legislation made in response to the pandemic between January and July this year was exempt from disallowance.
This includes all 27 legislative instruments made under the Biosecurity Act, and six Advance to the Finance Minister determinations, which allocated an additional $2.1 billion of public funds to aspects of the government’s response to COVID-19.
Consequently, parliamentarians have been prevented from scrutinising and, if necessary, disallowing, significant COVID-19 response measures. These include travel bans on Australian citizens, the declaration and extension of the human biosecurity emergency period, and restrictions on people entering and exiting certain areas within Australia.
Concetta was well and truly on the money.
This is alarming and should provide much grist to the coming inquiry, whatever form it takes.
We all know what they did to us, but it is helpful to know how this architecture of evil was (perhaps innocently, perhaps not) constructed. It is remarkable how widespread the view is that democracy is an inconvenience, a bulwark against the ‘decisive action’ said to be needed to solve whatever societal issues the elites determine are a significant problem. Whether it be a virus or a heatwave or a flood, or, for that matter, our inherent racism and homophobia.
And, sadly, this was all down to the Abbott government. Barnaby Joyce, in his second reading speech, 2014, stated:
‘The bill will provide the Commonwealth with the right tools to manage biosecurity threats, including the human health risks posed to the Australian population from serious communicable diseases.’
The right tools, Barnaby? Tools like these (highlighted in the Senate Committee report)?
There is no limit on the number of times a human biosecurity emergency period may be extended, nor is there any requirement for the Governor-General or the Health Minister to inform Parliament of an intention to extend the period, or provide a justification for the extension.
… While they are subject to general tabling and sunsetting requirements, human biosecurity emergency declarations and extensions are exempt from disallowance by the Parliament and therefore are not subject to effective parliamentary oversight.
… These legislative instruments addressed a range of matters, including overseas travel bans for Australian citizens and permanent residents; restrictions on international cruise ships from entering Australian ports; domestic travel bans preventing a person from entering designated remote communities; closure of retail outlets; prohibitions on the practice of price gouging of prescribed essential goods; privacy and contact tracing.
All from the 2015 legislation. Then there was this:
Although the bill was before the House of Representatives for six sitting days and before the Senate for 18 sitting days, the human biosecurity emergency provisions were largely ignored in Parliamentary consideration of the bill (emphasis added).
This is not democracy, virus or no virus, public health threat or not. Even the bribes (like JobKeeper and so on) offered by the Morrison government to keep the imprisoned content were not subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. Now we have a near trillion-dollar debt, courtesy of the Biosecurity Act.
Joyce also said back in 2015, very unfortunately, given the Covid hysteria that ensued come 2020:
‘[i]t is expected that the human health provisions contained in the bill will be seldom used. However it is important that legislative powers are available to manage serious communicable diseases should they occur.’
‘Serious’? Covid mismanagement happens when you legislate away your own capacity as a Parliament to have a view on what is, and what is not, a serious disease. Let alone if and how to deal with it. Even to discuss it!
The last thing that needs to be looked at is the influence of the World Health Organisation and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
It was CEPI that, in October 2019, and a matter of weeks before Covid became a thing, hosted its global response to a viral pandemic (Event 201), with all of its diabolical bells and whistles.
It was WHO that overthrew the rule book on pandemic response that led to nations like Australia throwing out their long-established pandemic plans.
The one thing we do know is that the Biosecurity legislation cooked up by the Canberra bureaucracy needs to be stripped of its unnecessary and damaging powers before the next pandemic.