Resistance to COVID-19 countermeasures has reached a fever pitch. Tractor-trailer drivers on strike. Large-scale protests in the street. Civil disobedience on a massive scale. The government’s reaction is one of Orwellian overreach and efficiency. This is the current situation in Australia — but soon could be happening in the United States.
Australia’s isolation as an island and its strict border controls meant that the nation of 25 million has suffered only 1,036 coronavirus deaths and 60,000 cases of the virus. Closer to home, New York State, with 20 million people, suffered 54,069 deaths and 2.3 million cases. But no matter how relatively slight the cases in Australia have been — even less threatening with a large-scale vaccination campaign that has partially or fully inoculated nearly two-thirds of its over-16 population — the reaction by the nation’s federal and state governments has been draconian.
American sensibilities leave us sensitive to government lockdowns and mandates. However, Australian politicians and bureaucrats have gone well beyond measures that would even make a pencil pusher in D.C., Sacramento or Albany blush. The New York Times described the restrictions there as “an all-out war” that is showing little sign of letting up. Australians in multiple states have been physically blocked from leaving their homes and advised not to talk with others. Travel to and from the country is nearly banned — citizens must prove a “compelling reason” under “exceptional circumstances.” The nation’s Supreme Court struck down a challenge to the restrictions, stating that the “harsh” measures, in its words, “may also be accepted that they intrude upon individual rights” but that Parliament understood this when enacting them.
Even the elements of popular democracy are being abandoned in the name of COVID safety. The state of Victoria dictated an indefinite curfew with no public debate and then suspended its parliament. In New South Wales, the state utilized the military to enforce lockdowns. Protests in the nation’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, were banned. When protests happened anyway, police arrested hundreds, with protesters facing $5,432 (Australian) in fines.
Protests have been largely symbolic up until this point. Major efforts in New South Wales at the beginning of September resulted in hundreds arrested or fined. A protest by truck drivers against the restrictions led to a temporary road closure and delay of food deliveries. However, in a nation that voluntarily disarmed its population in 1996, the state and federal governments well know that they have a monopoly on authority — and force.
For those reading in the United States, Australia’s measures may seem both counterproductive and hard to believe. After all, with higher vaccination rates and a richer tradition of individual liberties in the U.S., it may seem like there’s little chance of the Australian model being used here. But Australia may be a precedent for what is to come in the U.S. — whether it be a response to a pandemic, concerns over terrorism, or “extreme” political expression — as politicians seize on near-constant panic to enact major transfers of power from citizens to the state. The ability to copy and model after another English-speaking nation with a similar history and culture is not a stretch of the imagination. After all, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election Former Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal MORE praised Australia’s gun ban in 2015.
Just as many Australians are willing to accept the strong arm of state and federal power in the name of their own safety, Americans are willing to put up with pandemic theatre to protect us from a disease that for the vaccinated is usually equivalent to a bad cold. The unwillingness of our political class to relinquish its emergency powers shows that, once ceded, rights are increasingly difficult to regain.
Government tyranny usually does not come as one fell swoop. There likely never would be a coup d’etat or military junta in America. Instead, the willing acceptance of ceding individual freedoms eventually threatens all of them. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, the people of Australia are learning that sacrificing their liberty for temporary safety is a way to guarantee receiving neither.
Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and an analyst for Young Americans for Liberty. She is an author whose latest book is “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.