There has been much tut-tutting and pursed lip condemnation of the recent anti-lockdown protests in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane but almost no analysis of why the protests occurred.
Misrepresenting the numbers of protestors – the video coverage showing lines of people marching stretching from the Sydney Town Hall to at least Central Station indicates that there were far more protestors than the 3,500 claimed by the NSW Police Minister, seemingly in an attempt to calm his own fears – and dismissing all the protestors as selfish “boofheads” , followed-up by punitive measures, may well generate exactly the opposite response to that apparently desired by the NSW Government. Where is the politician prepared to come out, listen to and discuss their problems with the protestors? Sending pontificating condemnatory “statements” from afar only creates more anger. Rather than quenching the fires of dissent, the response being suggested by the NSW Government may indeed fan further flames of rebellion.
There appears to have been no thought given by politicians or discussion had in the Australian media as to why so many thousands of people protested. It appears that the domestic media have been ordered to provide as little coverage as possible of the protests. Foreign media provided far more information about the protests than that provided by the major Australian news outlets. No analysis. No interviews with protestors. A vain attempt to pretend it was all an aberration, soon to be forgotten. Given that it was apparent that the protestors came from all parts of Sydney and from all walks of life it would be foolish of a government to dismiss the anti-lockdown protests as a “one-off” event driven by a small number of malcontents.
Many people have legitimate concerns about the response to COVID-19, not least in regard to supposedly temporary intrusions into the privacy and civil liberties of citizens, which appear to be developing a disturbing air of permanency – the recent QR code regulations mandating, seemingly forever, the need for organisations and businesses to require all patrons to check-in and check-out being but one example. No public discussion has been allowed in regard to these measures. Why should anyone in government be surprised if, ultimately, citizens demand a discussion?
Has consideration been given to the possibility that many of those people marching have lost their jobs and without those jobs they cannot feed their families and pay their rent? That many may be small business owners now “out of business” and with no hope of ever being back in business, their life savings having now evaporated. Has any thought been given to the fact that not a single Premier nor the Prime Minister has provided any coherent plan at all as to how the cycle of lockdowns will ever end? What the impact of daily messages of gloom and doom and none of hope has on the morale of a community?
I doubt that many of those criticizing the protestors, especially those critics living in areas not locked down and enjoying a comfortable secure wage, have ever visited South Western Sydney, upon which more onerous lockdown restrictions have been placed, and from where, it appears, many of the protestors came.
I was born in the Western Suburbs and members of my family live there. I have been there recently. It is a bit of a shambles, even on the good days. Lack of planning, lack of services, lack of infrastructure, rapid population growth and a simmering boiling pot of a multitude of ethnic groups all with their own view of the universe make it is a bit of a tinderbox. Add to that high levels of organised – and disorganised – criminal activity – which the same tut-tutting bureaucracts have failed to control for what – forty years? – since they turned the police into glorified social workers – adds to the rich mixture.
The condescending and imperious attitude generally of the chattering classes and the bureaucracy appears to be that these are people to be dismissed by the system as beyond the pale, worker bees, people to be locked up or locked down, people to be regarded as somehow needing of instruction. Such an attitude is as unacceptable as it is wrong. Orders are issued, rarely in languages they understand, to people whom we have encouraged to come to this country – and who have been then largely ignored.
The heightened police presence at the start of the most recent lockdown in Sydney demonstrated an attitude of mind by the powers that be which said “We regard you all as potential transgressors”. This approach ignored entirely the fact that most residents of South Western Sydney are law-abiding citizens who just struggle through most days travelling enormous distances to do essential work of the kind which most members of the chattering classes would never contemplate doing. They travel to work using over-priced and under-delivering public transport or spend many hours a day in clogged traffic, unable to afford the expense of toll roads.
The prescriptions decreed by government ignored entirely the many different social, especially family, structures in an array of ethnic communities. Communities where the state has yet to replace the extended family, as it has done in much of Anglo-Celtic society. A lockdown falls especially harshly on these citizens of our supposedly liberal and egalitarian democratic society.
I do not understand how it was ever contemplated that an extended lockdown of people who, for the most part, live day to day, have mouths to feed and mortgages/rent to pay, who often are paid in cash so will not receive a government hand-out (if it ever materialises), was ever going to work. There was always going to be an explosion – and that explosion happened last Saturday in Sydney.
How to avoid further explosions? Present a clear plan for exiting lockdowns and removing the temporary intrusions into people’s lives and the denial of their civil liberties. Promote a coherent strategy for the ongoing management of C-19 (and any other health emergency which may arise), including incentives for people to act as the government would wish rather than fines for not obeying. Encourage desired patterns of behaviour, e.g. facilitate the development of effective and simple to use Covid-19 rapid antigen testing kits for use in business.
Provide hope rather than threatening punishment. Offer more of the carrot, and less of the stick.