In order to curb Covid and secure safety health measures, the Government in Australia has adopted drastic measures that can be termed as direct threats to liberal democracy and freedom. Australians are worried that the government is going to compromise democratic freedom to maintain emergency restrictions in these Covid times.
The Australian govt has barred people from leaving the country in the name of preventing the spread of Covid-19. But there seem to be a contradiction in the govt about this. While one arm of the govt has banned people from leaving the country, another arm promises the people freedom to move abroad. The website of the Home Affairs of the Australian government states, “Australia’s borders are currently closed and international travel from Australia remains strictly controlled to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” and that “International travel from Australia is only available if you are exempt or you have been granted an individual exemption.”
This contradicts the view at the website of the Attorney General of the Australian government regarding Australia’s human-rights-treaty obligations and freedom to leave a country that “cannot be made dependent on establishing a purpose or reason for leaving.”
Till a month ago, Australians who are residents of other countries were allowed to return to their residence, but now the government has tightened the rule, trapping such people in the country.
Moreover, the Australian Parliament has passed a draconian bill by the federal government, the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 (Identify and Disrupt Bill), which gives unprecedent power to the police to “identify and disrupt suspected online criminal activity”. This new law gives the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission powers to modify or delete the data of suspected offenders, collect intelligence on criminal networks, and take control of online accounts of suspected offenders.
This law also allows police to force anyone, including tech companies, to hack accounts of suspected people to modify, add, copy, or delete data of people under probe, and they will be protected from civil liability for such activities. But if they refuse to help the police, they can face imprisonment for up to 10 years. Authorities can force companies and hackers to alter, copy and delete data, intercept and modify communications, surveilling networks, and change account credentials.
The bill has attracted huge criticism for the blatant use of police power, and has been dubbed as signifying the end of respect for Human Rights in Australia.
Meanwhile, the government of South Australia is testing an App that involves facial recognition and geolocation of people. The People of South Australia who have been allowed to stay in home quarantine will be forced to download the app. After the app is installed, the citizens will receive random messages from the authorities asking them to take a picture of themselves in the location where they are supposed to be and upload the same within 15 minutes. Any failure to co-operate with the State would initiate police follow up.
“We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,” Premier Steven Marshall said. The app is designed to prevent people staying in home quarantine from leaving their houses. With the geotag attached to the photographs, the home quarantined people will prove that they are following the protocol.
Other states also have implemented several harsh measures, which are unprecedented in Australia. The Victoria state announced a curfew and suspended its Parliament, while New South Wales deployed the Australian military to enforce lockdowns. Melbourne city has banned anti-lockdown protests, and hundreds of protesters have been arrested and fined. There are severe restrictions on intra-state travel, the people can leave home only for govt approved purposes.
These are just a few of the several draconian measures Australia is implementing in the name of combating Covid-19. Earlier, the Sunday Morning Herald reported that a rural Council in New South Wales, authorities had shot dead dogs waiting to be rescued by a shelter in order to prevent volunteers from travelling during Covid-19 restrictions. During protests against the Covid-19 restrictions in Melbourne, police had resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets as thousands of people across the country hit the streets against the strict lockdown.
Despite such drastic measures to combat Covid-19, the vaccination in Australia remains slow. For a country with just around 2.5 crore people, only around half the population has received at least one dose of vaccine, while around 29% are fully vaccinated against the pandemic.