A couple are watching their child play in a playground. They are fined by the police. They are further than five kilometres from their home.
A man leaves his home at 9.30pm to buy some cigarettes. He too is fined: $1,652. He has left his house during the city-wide curfew, which comes in at 8pm.
On Facebook, two men plan a protest against Victoria’s restrictions. Police execute a search warrant and seize their mobile phones and a computer. One is charged with incitement because he wanted to organise a protest – public gatherings are limited to two people and only for exercise (physical, not of our basic rights).
This is the situation in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, right now. In a supposedly liberal democracy.
This is the most perverse destruction of civil liberties this city has ever seen. Even in wartime we haven’t seen anything like this. With just four hours’ notice, the entire city was effectively placed under house arrest. Livelihoods have been destroyed, social connections have been shattered, and for many, hope is lost. The effects have been devastating from the outset, and will be devastating for years to come.
All this is happening without a shred of democratic oversight. The lower house of the Victorian parliament has shut down on health advice. Not moved to Zoom like the UK – simply shut down. Democracy is now a health hazard that politicians won’t expose themselves to. The upper house remains open despite the Andrews government’s attempts to get it closed. When his ministers turn up, they have refused to answer questions about the handling of the virus – on health advice.
In fact, that’s what we have been asked to do for this whole pandemic – trust the elites. The government doesn’t need to be held accountable, apparently – it has our best interests at heart. Don’t question whether the restrictions are proportionate to the health risk – the governments’ advisers know best.
I am writing these last paragraphs as the sun sets on another bleak day in this city. There is a woman on the street outside taking her compulsory mask down so the person she’s calling on her mobile phone can hear her. I am surprised. Seeing someone without a mask on is now visually confronting, and I’m nervous a police officer will catch her in this minute-long window.
I wonder how long it will be before I see someone without a mask on and not worry that the police will soon arrive.