Has the law been a casualty of COVID?

| September 23, 2020

In view of the present global situation there’s a lot to admire and appreciate about the Victorian state government’s handling of the pandemic. However, apparently inconsistent decisions concerning the BLM rally, the Melbourne curfew and the ‘Casey COVID-19 cluster’ in outer Melbourne, do raise important questions.

For instance, does the declared state of emergency suspend the separation of powers? Political interference with law enforcement is anathema to the Westminster system and likely to attract a severe electoral penalty.

The Premier explained that fines will not be issued to alleged offenders in the Casey cluster because he does not want to discourage people from telling the truth to contact tracers. In principle, I agree that punishing anyone for telling the truth is unjust and unwise. Perhaps in such circumstances penalties could be reserved for withholding information when indicated, say, by genome sequencing.

Attempting to cross a police COVID checkpoint, social gatherings, failing to distance or wear a mask without lawful reason are offences attracting severe penalties.

To avoid vindicating the mistaken premises of the BLM rally, I accept that a greater wisdom and discretion may have been appropriately applied. But selective and evidently politically-driven enforcement can encourage other misguided individuals such as the anti-lockdown protesters who mistake anarchy for liberty and do not subscribe to the social contract.

The Melbourne curfew was introduced ostensibly to assist the police enforcement of other measures intended to contain the spread of COVID-19. However, the police did not request the curfew but are responsible for enforcement of it.

A curfew is a very serious infringement of liberty usually reserved for controlling civil unrest or to manage natural disasters or wartime contingencies. Curfews are not imposed lightly or without strong justification. Certainly, nobody wants to own it and I cannot find data to evaluate its efficacy or otherwise.

Perhaps we’ll see how effective it was and how it was authorised when the curfew is lifted. But is that responsible government and is it consistent with the ‘openness’ being portrayed by the government’s usually astute media unit?  It is for the Premier to explain who authorised the curfew and why.

The hotel quarantine fiasco has made it perfectly clear that the existing bureaucratic maze in Victoria is more an extension of the political executive than it is a ‘public  service’.

Unless we are expected to accept without question that the tragic consequences flowed inevitably from ‘frank and fearless‘ advice. If that is so it’s hard to escape the conclusion that some unelected, irresponsible, lazy and incompetent bureaucrats have become much too powerful.

A strong and constructive opposition is crucial to our system of government. The present state political opposition, apparently having no coherent alternative pandemic plan, appears content to ‘run with the fox and hunt with the hounds’. There’s no reason to suppose that following their reactionary course would not have placed us in the same predicament as the UK, France or the USA with exponential increase in cases threatening to overwhelm already strained healthcare workers.