Former Australian PM has condemned the demise of personal freedom embraced amid the Covid-19 pandemic: a world of lockdowns, unsustainable government benefits, and “health dictatorships” trying to conquer death.
The ex-leader urged politicians to stop thinking like “trauma doctors” willing to pour unlimited resources into preserving every life and start thinking like “health economists” in a speech to the UK think tank Policy Exchange on Tuesday. The levels of spending required to sustain a country’s economy during a prolonged shutdown aren’t sustainable, he argued, pointing out that the devastating financial consequences mean even decisions made in good faith to protect society’s most vulnerable will ultimately backfire.
“From a health perspective, this pandemic has been serious. From an economic perspective, it’s been disastrous,” he said. “But I suspect that it’s from an overall wellbeing perspective that it will turn out worst of all.”
Because this is what happens when for much more than a mere moment, we let fear of falling sick stop us from being fully alive.
After six months, Abbott insisted, governments should be “relaxing the rules” and letting people shoulder whatever risk burden they’re prepared to accept – not keeping everyone under the same increasingly-stringent control regime. “For a free people, there’s a world of difference between a course of conduct that individuals choose for themselves and one that the government orders them to adopt,” he explained – even if, as in Sweden, most people ultimately elect to follow the guidance set out by their leaders.
Instead, he said, governments were clinging to their emergency powers, having grown so enamored of feeling needed by a fear-crazed public that they’d adopted unrealistic goals (i.e. zero community transmission of the coronavirus) as an excuse for remaining in “crisis mode.” Abbott slammed Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, who recently sought to extend his state’s pandemic-related ‘state of emergency’ for an entire year, for imposing a “health dictatorship.”
He acknowledged the state had not devoted enough resources to protecting those in elder care homes from the virus, but claimed the current strategy of “preserving almost every life at almost any cost” was “clearly unsustainable” – even if it might have made sense at the beginning of the outbreak.
“At some point, we just have to learn to live with this virus in ways that can be kept up more or less indefinitely,” Abbott said. He called for an end to “magic pudding economics” – the endless money-printing that has allowed governments to pay the wages of shut-down businesses, freeze rents and mortgages, and keep up unemployment payments without running out of funds. This “something for nothing mindset,” he argued, risks congealing into a “new normal” – luring a “people once sturdily self-reliant” into giving up personal responsibility in return for being taken care of by Big Brother.
Abbott excoriated both Canberra and the media establishment for putting the predictions of “unaccountable experts” on a pedestal, skewering the media’s “virus hysteria” and officials’ unwillingness to climb down off their apocalyptic soapboxes. “The sooner the airwaves are not filled by officials” proclaiming messages of doom, “the more resilient we will be,” he predicted.
In a particularly withering judgment, he compared the World War II generation – “ready to risk life to preserve freedom” – with the current generation – “ready to risk freedom to preserve life.”
While Australia has recorded just 657 deaths with the coronavirus as of Tuesday, its control measures have been some of the strictest in the world. Abbott called them “the most severe lockdown tried anywhere in the world outside of Wuhan,” the pandemic’s origin point in China. Travel between states is restricted, with new arrivals required to quarantine for 14 days and undergo mandatory “health checks,” and the state of Western Australia has shut down its borders indefinitely for those without special exemptions.
Earlier this month, the state of Victoria declared an emergency despite recording just 229 deaths with the virus since the start of the pandemic, imposing an 8pm curfew and allowing police to enter homes without a warrant.
New Zealand, as Abbott mentioned, locked down its entire capital and postponed its elections over just four cases – an alarming precedent for any country that considers itself a “democracy” – while numerous countries have imposed requirements like mask mandates that lack scientific evidence of efficacy.