“As predicted,” author Joel Bowman wrote to us via email this week, “the ‘success’ of Australia’s COVID-19 #LockDownUnder is now being touted as an example for other states to follow, including the US.”
Bowman, if you’re not aware, is an Agora colleague and long-time friend of Laissez Faire.
You may recognize him from The Daily Reckoning, which he managed for five years… and you may have seen his work featured in FEE, Lew Rockwell, Mises, and many other of our favorite digital scrolls.
Having hailed from Australia (though now long gone), Joel’s paid special attention to the country’s incredibly harsh response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And now, as Joel pointed out to us this week, without missing a beat, certain floating heads in the mainstream media are praising the Australian approach… in support of exporting it to the United States.
CNN’s James Griffifths, who apparently spends his Mondays drinking coffee and making mental leaps to justify abject tyranny (what a life!), writes:
“For some lockdown skeptics, China’s experience was easy to dismiss: the country is an authoritarian, one-party state, and its methods could not necessarily be applied in democracies.
“But the situation in Victoria proves that the lockdown strategy does work elsewhere, and that, given the proper information and reassurances, people are willing to make the sacrifices required to contain the virus.”
In response, Mr. Bowman wrote:
“No mention of the unprecedented cost for Australians, both in economic terms and (arguably even more importantly) in terms of their loss of even basic liberties. And no mention of the fact that this potentially leaves the state vulnerable to future infections. Without anything close to herd immunity there, the next (and inevitable) outbreak will look like a classroom of mollycoddled kids with nurtured peanut allergies being tarred with a jar of Skippy.
“No mention, either, of places like Sweden, which managed to come out the other side of their ‘first wave’ with both economy and dignity still intact. Just more scaremongering and authority worship. Ironically, it is NOT Sweden that is suffering from political Stockholm Syndrome, but those who ignore her fine example.”
Today, for more on the situation in Australia, we invite Mr. Bowman to report on the #LockDownUnder…
And to give his take on the COVID-19 power grab.
Eureka! We’ve lost it…
By Joel Bowman
“This [Ballarat Reform League] is nothing more or less than the germ of Australian independence. The die is cast, and fate has cast upon the movement its indelible signature. No power on earth can now restrain the united might and headlong strides for freedom of the people of this country … The League has undertaken a mighty task, fit only for a great people – that of changing the dynasty of the country.”
~ Henry Erle Seekamp, writing in his Ballarat Times newspaper, 18 November, 1854
What a brave band of men discovered at Eureka, more than a century and a half ago, remains more valuable today than all the gold ever mined in those rich fields: Their freedom. The cost of not protecting that legacy now, when it is under direct and relentless attack, will ultimately be borne by those who let it pass from their hands.
For anyone keeping tabs on individual freedoms and civil liberties of late, it has been a worrying few months to say the least. State actors around the world have seized upon the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to smuggle in all manner of heavy-handed controls; from mass drone surveillance to warrantless searches to curfews, statewide lockdowns and wholesale curtailment of human movement.
Perhaps nowhere on planet earth – with the possible exception of Communist China – has the response to the virus been more drastic than in the Antipodes. And perhaps no incident better exemplifies such overreach than the case of Miss Zoe Buhler, a pregnant mother who was handcuffed and arrested in front of her children for making a post on social media.
But before we get to Miss Buhler and the sad irony of her tale, a little historical context is in order…
Aussie school kids know the backstory well enough; or at least they ought to. Herewith, a brief recap of what one newspaperman called “the germ of Australia’s independence.”
Long before the “Lucky Country” dared even call herself a nation, an intrepid cadre of gold miners made a definitive stand in the small Victorian town of Ballarat. The proximate catalyst for their rebellion was the age-old issue of “taxation without representation,” most notably through the imposition of a compulsory miner’s license. In truth, however, discontent had long been simmering under the roughshod colonialist government, which often used its police and military forces to oppress dissent and enforce unjust laws.
[Bonus points for those students of history who recall that a similar roster of grievances had set the stage for the American War of Independence, fought against their common colonizing ancestor, but three-quarters of a century prior.]
Founded in 1853, the Ballarat Reform League encouraged acts of civil disobedience to protest the miner’s licenses and to bring to justice various other causes (including the murder of Scottish miner, James Scobie, and the wrongful imprisonment of three men accused of burning down the Bentley Hotel). When a year later the miner’s pacifist tactics had still not achieved the desired ends, the men knew what they must do: They elected a leader, Peter Lalor, erected a makeshift stockade, and took up arms against the government.
The subsequent confrontation in Ballarat, known thereafter as the Eureka Rebellion, came to be synonymous with the birth of Australian democracy. Although the miners lost the battle on that particular day – December 3, 1854 – with perhaps 60 diggers breathing their last on Eureka soil, they won for their countrymen a legacy well worth defending; one rooted in liberty, independence and self-determination.
Of the surviving rebels, more than one hundred men and women were taken prisoner and marched off to nearby government camps, where martial law was imposed along with a strict, 8pm curfew. Multiple independent reports from the camps tell of the brutality there, including the killing one night of a woman and her infant child-in-arms, along with several other men, during an episode of “indiscriminate shooting.”
Eventually, thirteen of the rebels were brought to trial at Victoria’s Supreme Court on counts of High Treason. By then word of the Eureka Rebellion had spread far and wide and a groundswell of public support had grown around their cause. Owing in no small part to this esprit de corps (and evidenced by the more than 10,000 people who thronged the pavement outside the courthouse), the defendants were each and all acquitted (the jury took less than half an hour to return its “not guilty” verdict). In a display of civil unity, the freed men were even carried aloft by their supporters, who marched in triumphant jubilation through the streets of Melbourne.
A Royal Commission into the whole affair returned harsh criticism of the government’s administration over the gold fields, particularly its handling of the Eureka Stockade. Among several of the recommendations enacted in the months that followed were; the abolition of the gold licenses (to be replaced with cheaper, fairer “miner’s rights”); the Legislative Council broadened to allow for representation in the major gold fields; the police presence, there and among the people, to be drastically drawn down. Reform momentum carried through to the Electoral Act of 1856, which granted suffrage to male colonists, an important first step toward the eventual representative democracy assumed as a birthright today.
Given Ballarat’s proud history, it is a particularly cruel twist of fate that, in recent weeks, individuals around the world have come to know this sleepy town (pop. 100k) not as the bulwark of freedom it once was, but as the latest scene of egregious governmental overreach and practically unchecked, state-sanctioned bullying.
The details of Victoria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been enumerated elsewhere; suffice to say that under Premier Daniel Andrews’ government, citizens of that once-free state have endured some of the harshest lockdown restrictions on the planet. Those already familiar with the Draconian measures there will recognize the unsettling resurrection of the 8pm curfew, as well as the presence of military personnel on the streets; neither emblematic of a population at liberty.
[It is perhaps worth noting here that, on the day this op-ed was drafted, the entire country of Australia registered fewer COVID-19 cases than the U.S. state of South Dakota, pop. < 900k.]
And yet, despite relatively few (and precipitously falling) cases, the Andrews regime has coupled a campaign of fear with that hoary promise of safety to railroad through parliament an unprecedented rollback of civil liberties, extending Victoria’s “state of emergency” a further six months (Andrews had proposed a full year). The Premier’s Health Minister actually warned parliament that failure to extend the emergency measures would mean “we would literally fall off a cliff,” (leaving us to wonder whether the minister understands what the word “literally” means, literally), and claiming that those who dared vote against the Andrews administration would effectively be “voting for a third wave [of the virus].”
The “choice” offered was a classic false dilemma: liberty OR security…NOT both!
Under the emergency designation, which squeezed through 20 votes to 19, Andrews’ government will continue to conduct warrantless searches, direct “health officials” to detain individual citizens at will and generally restrict, surveil and track the public’s movement in any manner it deems “necessary.”
Predictably, not everyone welcomed such drastic measures, described by the Institute of Public Affairs as “the greatest incursion into our basic liberties ever on Australian soil,” in the supine, unblinking manner Andrews must have had in mind.
Which brings us back to Miss Zoe Buhler. A pregnant mother from that same old Victorian town of Ballarat, Miss Buhler went so far as to express her concern over the lockdown on social media, calling for a peaceful “Freedom Day” protest, in which she encouraged attendees to “wear face masks” and “maintain proper social distancing” while marching to make their voices heard.
In a manner befitting a state bent on controlling all thought and speech contrary to its own, the Victorian police promptly descended on Miss Buhler’s home and, after hearing she was “due for an ultrasound in an hour,” proceeded to handcuff her in front of her two children and place her under arrest anyway. (She was in her pajamas at the time, offering some clue as to the “threat level” the armed officers must have perceived.) They also confiscated all electronic communications devices in the house, including those of the woman’s partner, who filmed the sorry event on his phone.
And yet, alarming as that footage surely was, even to morally-average humans, a pair of videos that followed in the days afterward illustrate all the more clearly the worrying trajectory of Australia’s hard-won freedoms.
The first showed a clearly shaken Miss Buhler, shortly after her release from police custody, being questioned by members of the media out front of her home. (Her name appears on the news screen over the description “anti-lockdown protestor.”)
Describing the circumstances of her arrest, a distraught Miss Buhler admitted that, “[The officers] did end up taking the handcuffs off… they did let me get dressed. They were quite nice down at the police station… they just had to do their jobs at the moment.”
When questioned as to why she made the post in the first place, Buhler explained, “I just wanted to feel like I was doing something… standing up for human rights… I’m just sick of the lockdowns… I’m sick of hearing about suicides… I’m sick of watching the economy fall apart.”
Miss Buhler is one of half a million Victorians who lost their jobs because of the lockdowns.
Pressed on whether she would still like protest, if she could, Buhler responded, “No… No, I’m too scared now… it’s fear mongering.”
One can’t help but recall that cautionary antithesis (sometimes misattributed to Thomas Jefferson): When government fears the people, there is liberty; when the people fear the government, there is tyranny.
The second video depicts Victoria’s Assistant Police Commissioner, one Luke Cornelius, addressing members of that same media.
“The optics of arresting someone who’s pregnant is terrible,” acknowledged Cornelius, betraying exactly where his allegiance lies. It is not the act of handcuffing a pregnant woman in front of her two children (one an infant in father’s arms), that disturbs him, per se, but the lens through which it is perceived.
However, continued Cornelius, “We’re absolutely satisfied that in those [Miss Buhler’s] circumstances, the members behaved appropriately and in accordance with our policies…”
Regarding the threat level posed by a 60kg pregnant mother, dressed in her pajamas, Cornelius explained such decisions are made “based on risk assessment” and that, “having seen the footage, in my assessment, the members have conducted themselves entirely reasonably.”
Let there be no doubt as to what a totalitarian state considers “entirely reasonable” behavior on the part of its “members.”
Officer Cornelius also issued the following warning to anyone else considering engaging in peaceful assembly: “If…you do take the selfish option and leave home to protest; we’ll be ready for you. So, while I won’t go into the details of our tactics and our plans on the day, be assured we’ll be ready for you… and we’ll be ready for you not only in the city, we’ll be ready for you when you leave home…”
In the aftermath of the Eureka rebellion, rebel leader Peter Lalor issued a statement to the colonists of Victoria.
“There are two things connected with the late outbreak (Eureka) which I deeply regret,” he wrote, “The first is, that we shouldn’t have been forced to take up arms at all; and the second is, that when we were compelled to take the field in our own defence, we were unable (through want of arms, ammunition and a little organisation) to inflict on the real authors of the outbreak the punishment they so richly deserved.”
That 166 years after such a famous act of rebellion, and in the very same town, a pregnant mother should be interrogated and handcuffed by officers of the law, for daring to call attention to fundamental abuses of rights, perpetrated by the Victorian government, is surely lamentable enough; to see her shocked, cowered and reduced to tears in the aftermath of her ordeal ought to bring shame and disgrace upon the names of her tin-badge assailants.
The State’s dutiful apologists always cite “the law” as justification for its officers’ actions, as if mere legislation could ever serve as anything more than a ghostly simulacrum for moral bearing, ethical behavior and critical, independent thinking. Have these useful idiots never encountered a law they found unjust, an edict passed them from on high they thought to question, a directive they considered unworthy of their blind, slavish obedience?
One can only be glad such men have not been asked to sharpen bayonets, polish jackboots or snitch on members of their own families… at least, not yet.
Equally invalid is the so-called “Nuremberg Defense,” the idea that said epsila should be excused of their conduct because they were simply “following superior orders.”
Herewith, a novel idea: if “just doing your job” involves terrifying members of the public for exercising their natural right to free speech (members of the public whom you are sworn and paid to protect, no less), then your job should not exist as it does and you are an invertebrate coward for performing it.
This is precisely what German-Jewish political theorist, Hannah Arendt, meant by her oft-misunderstood phrase, the “banality of evil.” It doesn’t take villainous masterminds to orchestrate acts of evil. (Witness the panting, hooting Officer Cornelius.) Rather, it is the absence of conscious thinking on the part of ordinary men, the truancy of that inner dialogue weighing good and evil, which leads to the commission of terrible, unforgivable acts. One must think for himself, lest he become an empty vessel to be filled with the ideological content of “The Party,” whichever party that happens to be.
Beyond the degraded acts of the foot soldiers themselves, the real scandal here is that, to paraphrase Mr. Lalor, the general public appears unable (whether through want of resolve, awareness or a little organization), to inflict on the real authors of this outrageous #LockDownUnder the punishment they so richly deserve.
Faced with the prospect of surrendering their most hard-won liberties, Victorians must ask themselves whence those freedoms came and, more urgently, to what extent they will go to defend and preserve them. It would be a shameful irony indeed if the birthplace of Australian democracy was to serve as the battle ground in which it was ultimately interred.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Postscript: The day after the Eureka Rebellion – December 4, 1854 – newspaperman and owner of the Ballarat Times, Henry Erle Seekamp, was arrested in his office on charges of sedition. A staunch supporter of the Ballarat Reform League, Seekamp had written and published a series of articles that were critical of the government’s actions, in particular the manner in which the police harassed the diggers on so-called “license hunts” and their official response to the murder of James Scobie.
Seekamp’s trial was the first related to the Eurkea incident and the only one to return a guilty verdict. After a series of appeals, the journalist was sentenced to six months in prison, though he was released after serving three.
While in jail, Mr. Seekamp’s de facto wife, Clara Seekamp, took over the business, and in doing so became the first female editor of an Australian newspaper. Speaking of the Eureka Rebellion later in life she was quoted as saying, “If Peter Lalor was the sword of the movement, my husband was the pen.”
An incurable peripatetic, Joel has penned columns from more than 85 countries, a dozen of which he called temporary home. His work has appeared in well-know libertarian outlets, such as Mises.org, FEE.org, lewrockwell.com and The Daily Reckoning, which he managed for 5 years with Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin.
Joel is currently working behind the scenes with Bill Bonner and Dan Denning on a private research project, about which more will be made known soon. He lives in Buenos Aires with his wife and daughter. Follow him on Twitter @joelbowman