History suggests Australia has three possible political pathways from our current Covid repression. In only one of those pathways is the outcome positive. Pray we don’t see the other two.
Every aspect of policy during the Covid-19 emergency has been public and recorded. Every misrepresentation, every attempted coercion of medical procedure, every discriminatory act based on medical status, every violation of privacy, every violation of human rights, all of it. Gladys Berejiklian’s unconscionable marginalisation of the unvaccinated is ramping up as I write (Media conference, 11.30am 9 September).
The justification for that policy hasn’t been public. All we have seen are slogans and headlines. The advice, and the research behind it, is not public. A few models are, but they aren’t driving day-to-day policy. What is public is a body of data and research that completely undermines the policy positions taken by every Australian government.
All we have are the faces of authority: Gladys, Dan, Anna, Mark, Scott. Their offsiders in Health and Police too. Oh, and their supine media cheerleaders screaming for harder, faster, deeper repression.
I’m not saying it’s going to be soon, and I’m not saying it’s certain. But our politicos and media types clearly don’t realise what history teaches us are the three likely ways this can play out when the hysteria cools down:
- Restoration of the norms of liberal democracy
- populist Retribution for the policy of the past 18 months; or
- continuing Repression forever.
Let me be clear (like Obama); I am not inciting and advocating any option other than the Restoration of liberal norms. These three options are merely what history suggests are likely outcomes of our governments’ policy choices.
In the first two pathways, those public faces of abusive authority are not going to fare well.
In a Restoration the best they can hope for is an establishment-driven Royal Commission or Senate Inquiry with absurdly limited terms of reference. Even so, they’ll probably be facing a lifetime of private legal action.
If there is an electoral, or non-electoral, change to a more populist regime, they may face anything depending on the pathway to change. At best, civil or criminal proceedings for abuse of power. Middling, special tribunals based not on existing civil or criminal law, but on broader concepts of human rights. Worst of all and highly unlikely, street justice. It will be a world of Retribution.
Alternatively – and probably the hope of every Liberal, Labor and Greens hack – is continuing Repression. Continuing misuse of the armed wing of the establishment to crush dissent, to marginalise the unvaccinated (and under-vaccinated), and to enforce orthodoxy. Continuing Pravda-esque bootlicking from the corporate media. Continuing spineless conformity from the corporate class.
Can We Avoid The Worst Pathways?
The only hope to avoid the scenarios of Retribution or continuing Repression is the removal of the leaders who are its face. In the months and years to come, if those leaders are still there they will have to rely on continuing repression to protect their position.
Other politicos seeking to save their skin, or change these paths, will have to scapegoat those leaders. They will have to create narratives that a tiny inner Cabinet drove wrongdoing against their advice. “I tried, but they wouldn’t listen” will be their lying refrain.
Their fulsomely supportive public statements and social media posts notwithstanding.
These are the broad options for our future. It may take years to play out. Or, as elections approach or the vaccine story collapses, leaders and narrative may change in an instant. We’ll only know it’s starting when windsock backbenchers and corporate media leadership start distancing themselves from the public faces of repression.
What our political and media classes don’t realise is that we are in a different kind of world. One where people don’t forgive and forget. We can see that change already in more mature polities in the EU and US. In this new world people will continue to seek accountability for years after an event, because they know they can no longer trust institutions to do that for them.
This is a new game for Australian politics. We’re in the mainstream of political history now. And that should worry our leaders.