Australia’s Covid police state

As one pregnant woman discovered, Victorian authorities will not tolerate any dissent.

James Bolt

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Last week’s arrest of Zoe Buhler by Australian police, the video of which swept the world, should terrify every person who believes in liberal democracy.

Buhler, a 28-year-old pregnant mother, was arrested at her home near Ballarat, Victoria, on Wednesday. She was handcuffed in front of her family, had her computer and phones confiscated, and was led out of her house by the police.

What had she done that was deserving of such heavy-handed treatment? What had she done that made it worth subjecting her family to the sight of seeing her in handcuffs?

Very little. She had attempted, through a posting on Facebook, to organise a peaceful anti-lockdown gathering in Ballarat – a town with just four active cases of coronavirus.

Look at the exact words of Buhler’s Facebook post, and ask yourself whether it warrants police intervention:

‘PEACEFUL PROTEST. All social-distancing measures are to be followed so we don’t get arrested please. Please wear a mask unless you have a medical reason not to. September 5th is FREEDOM DAY!’

Victoria police see those words as criminal activity – ‘the planning and encouragement of protest activity’. As a result, Buhler is due to appear in court in January next year. She could be jailed for up to 15 years.

All for a Facebook post.

The reaction of Australian politicians to Buhler’s arrest is even more worrying. Assistant commissioner Luke Cornelius, one of Victoria’s most senior police officers, said he was ‘absolutely satisfied’ with the arrest. The only thing he regretted was the video, and the ‘optics’ of the arrest of a pregnant woman, which he said were ‘terrible’. So there you have it: the only thing Cornelius regrets about the arrest was that the public saw it.

This is an astonishing change of attitude from Cornelius. Victorians remember in June when he said of the then imminent Black Lives Matter protests that he and the police ‘absolutely understand the sentiment and the anger that lies behind that and we are very keen to support the community in giving a voice to their concerns’. The authorities promptly allowed over 10,000 Victorians to march in Melbourne without being fined.

It seems it was okay for BLM supporters to voice their concerns, but not for anti-lockdown protesters like Buhler. The message is clear. If you are going to protest, it better be for a cause the elites support.

For his part, Victoria premier Daniel Andrews claimed not to have seen the footage of the arrest, even though it was featured on the websites of every paper in Australia, and, among others, in the New York Post, the Daily Mail and on CNN. But no, the premier of Victoria just missed it. Other things occupied his mind. It’s not a good look – he seems unconcerned with the state of democratic society, even as it crumbles around him.

Buhler is not the only person to have been arrested in Victoria in relation to lockdown protests this week. Another man had his house broken into by police for saying he would go to an anti-lockdown protest. He was tackled to the ground and handcuffed in his living room.

Victoria is now a police state. That is the simple and depressing truth of all this. If the government feels that you are standing in the way of its goals, then your freedoms are forfeited and you will be arrested.

What’s more, Victoria’s lockdown measures really do need protesting. If you leave your house after 8pm, you will be fined. If you stray more than five kilometres from your house, you will be fined. If you visit your father on Father’s Day, you will be fined. If you go outside with more than one other person for exercise, you will be fined. And if you protest against any of this, you will be arrested.

Victorians are living in a battered state. We have been cut off from our friends, our family and our work. Cut off from so many things that make life worth living – our culture, our sport, our cafes, our restaurants, our museums, our nightlife. And we have been bullied by a government that tolerates no opposition to what is going on.

Daniel Andrews speaks of bringing Victoria to a Covid-normal. That’s what we’re all adjusting to as well. Because no Victorian sees the state ever returning to actual normal.

James Bolt is co-host of the Young IPA Podcast with the Institute of Public Affairs.

Picture by: YouTube.

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