Right-wing anti-vax forces spark fury over new pandemic powers bill in Australian state
In the past two weeks, relatively small – but heavily media-promoted – anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protests in Melbourne have stirred against a new pandemic powers bill introduced by the Party government. of the State of Victoria.
The bill was submitted to the lower house of the state parliament in two days late last month, but has yet to pass the upper house, where the government lacks a majority and depends on support from the Greens and other parties.
Wider legitimate concerns about aspects of the bill have been exploited to help the business-led offensive to lift any remaining COVID-19 security restrictions. The aim of this campaign is to force people to “live with” the deadly virus, despite the continued high number of infections, especially in schools which have just reopened.
A protest outside the state parliament last weekend featured anti-vaccination slogans such as “Vaxtoria”, alongside “kill the bill”. Participants clearly defied the wearing of masks and other social distancing requirements. One speaker was applauded when he said: “Thank you my super broadcaster colleagues”. He added: “We are the counter-revolution and we will continue to march. “
In another such protest last Tuesday, extreme right-wing elements were joined by Liberal Party shadow state treasurer David Davis, who was introduced as the keynote speaker. He echoed his party’s head of state, Matthew Guy, who accused Prime Minister Daniel Andrews’ government of drafting legislation on the “most extreme” pandemic in Australia.
In fact, the legislation is similar to the laws of other states. Guy exposed the “economic reopening” agenda behind this demagogic campaign when he insisted that the powers to impose restrictions were no longer needed. This was because Andrews, as part of the bipartisan ‘National Cabinet’, had decreed that no further lockdowns would occur once adult double vaccination rates hit 80% (which is about 68% of the population. population).
The central purpose of the bill is actually to facilitate the removal of security measures and the brutal sidelining of public health experts nationwide, in order to satisfy the ruthless profit demands of the elite. financial.
The Public Health and Welfare (Pandemic Management) Bill 2021 does this primarily by transferring the powers to issue restraining orders from the state health director to the health minister.
As in current legislation, such orders must be “reasonably necessary to protect public health”. But the bill specifies that the minister can take into account other factors, in particular “social and economic considerations”, and not only “public health”.
If the Chief Medical Officer of Health does not agree with lifting the restrictions, the government can reject this “advice.” This “advice” must be made available to the public, but only within 14 days, so that the public will be kept in the dark long after the security measures have been dismantled.
The bill amends the current 2008 Public Health and Welfare Act, primarily by inserting a new Part 8A – Protection of Life and Public Health During Pandemics. This new part empowers the Prime Minister to make pandemic or “pandemic potential” declarations that trigger the powers of the Minister of Health.
The main objection of the opposition is that, because “pandemic” is not defined, it could allow the Prime Minister to declare one even when the number of infections is initially low. Another objection is that declarations could be extended for successive three-month periods until the prime minister decides the pandemic no longer poses a serious risk to the community.
These so-called “dictatorial” aspects of the bill were seized to demand the faster removal of security measures and the lifting of all restrictions on people who refuse to be vaccinated. This demand was reinforced by the anti-democratic features of the bill, including new limits on the power of either house of parliament to reject ministerial orders and the cancellation of the protection against self-incrimination when ‘she is interviewed by a health worker.
As pointed out by the Victorian Bar, representing lawyers, the bill also allows a pandemic order to differentiate people on the basis of certain attributes. These could include political beliefs, industrial activity, or personal association with others, as well as health-related attributes such as vaccination, age, gender, disability, or pregnancy.
The fury over the bill points to broader political questions raised by the response of capitalist, Labor and Liberal-national governments to the pandemic – the biggest global public health crisis in a century.
While lockdowns and other restrictions have become absolutely necessary to fight the pandemic, along with vaccinations and other health measures, they have often been enforced in the most severe manner, especially in lower-income neighborhoods, fueling justified hostility.
In Melbourne and Sydney, in particular, police harassed people, public housing estates were targeted, and troops were deployed to patrol the streets, carry out home checks and staff checkpoints.
Restrictions have also been applied in an arbitrary and inconsistent manner, imposed through frequently amended ministerial decrees, issued without any democratic input, and with broad exceptions in favor of employers and other corporate interests to allow factories, construction sites and other non-essential operations to continue.
These measures, chaired by the “National Cabinet” of leaders of federal, state and territorial governments, also create repressive precedents and create a political atmosphere that can and will be used by the same capitalist governments to further strengthen the police-military apparatus in order to to suppress growing social discontent.
This underscores the need for the working class to take control of the response to the pandemic from the hands of these governments. A democratically controlled workers’ government would reorganize society along socialist lines, based on human needs and not on corporate profit. This would include restrictions, quarantines and other effective measures to genuinely protect public health and safety, accompanied by adequate economic support for those who cannot work or operate small businesses, implemented with consultation and a popular contribution.