The Victorian government has proposed legislation to deal with future pandemics and after lobbying from crossbenchers, the government has agreed to water down the more controversial aspects of the legislation. Upper house crossbench MPs including the Reason Party’s Fiona Patten, Greens leader Samantha Ratnam and Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick, who negotiated the changes, have faced abuse and death threats in the lead up to the Victorian parliament’s vote on the bill1.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has been forced to shelve a plan to extend pandemic police powers after the proposal had already been agreed to by cabinet. The temporary powers, under which police can fine people for not adhering to restrictions such as mask-wearing and mobility rules, are set to expire in March 2022 but would be extended a further year under the plan. However, it was opposition by a small group of MPs who forced the backdown2. Of course, there have been no protests in New South Wales against their changes to this legislation.
Victoria’s proposed legislation was apparently so draconian that the Victorian opposition stated that it was the most dangerous in the history of the state1. It isn’t; this is just the Victorian opposition continuing to whine about everything the government does. The far right also got in on the act, also calling it draconian, and ironically using epithets like ‘nazi’, and ‘stasi’. The legislation is pandemic-specific and is more fit for purpose than the current state of emergency legislation3.
Of course, some of the Murdoch commentators and shock jocks also got in on the act, with Peta Credlin saying that people should be filled with ‘dread’ at the laws4, and that the crossbenchers who negotiated changes to the bill “have sold out their fellow Victorians”. It is disturbing to read the comments below this diatribe by Credlin. Some of the gullible people who actually believe Credlin came up with comments like “If peaceful protest and reasoned arguments are not listened to the only alternative remains a bad one for Dictator Dan”; “I would not want to be those cross benchers, let alone any member of the Victorian cabinet – and especially not Daniel Andrews. I’d be scared witless if I were in their shoes, right now”; “It’s time for the people’s court, be there Saturday or don’t complain later”5.
This sort of rubbish seemingly sparked the protests in Melbourne which were supposedly a reaction to this proposed bill. However, if this was the case, why would one nutter bring a Trump flag to the protest? Why were other antivaxxers and other conspiracy nutters there, one of whom has said “we’re going to be hanging an example from every piece of the Australian machinery, the polity, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the military, the media, everybody is up for the high jump. If they do deserve to hang, they will hang”6.
While there have been numerous demonstrations in Melbourne, against almost everything the Andrews government does, the Pandemic bill protests started a week ago. At this protest, people were heard shouting death threats to Andrews and one bloke had a couple of sticks screwed together at right angles, with three nooses hanging from the horizontal piece. Of course, the QAnon nutters were there, whining about the non-existent satanic ritual abuse. There were conservative politicians there too. The idiotic federal parliamentarian Craig Kelly addressed the crowd, as did Bernie Finn, a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, who called Andrews ‘Despot Dan’7,8.
There was also a near ‘life-size’ gallows which was used to hang a blow-up doll of Andrews. Some politicians’ private addresses have been posted online among the protesters and some of them had gathered outside Andrews’ home and outside the home of Animal Justice Party MP Andrew Meddick9.
While Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy distanced his party from the protesters once the images of the gallows and the death threats spread around10, it took five days for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to respond to these appalling acts, and it was only in response to a question from a journalist. However, it was a qualified reaction. He said “Those threats and intimidation have no place in Australia. We’re a civil peaceful society. [When] we have disagreements, we don’t handle them with violence … there can be no tolerance for that”11.
However, he qualified that with “Of course, there are many people who are feeling frustrated. I mean, over the last couple of years, governments have been telling Australians what to do. Now, there’s been a need for that as we’ve gone through the pandemic. But the time is now to start rolling all of that back. … But now it’s time for governments to step back and for Australians to take their lives back and for Australians to be able to move forward with the freedoms that should be theirs”12.
It was this ‘of course…’ which led to the comparisons with Trump in his equivocation over the riots in Charlottesville where neonazis and anti-nazis were grouped together as having ‘good people on both sides’. It also led to comparisons with what Morrison reaction to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) protests, where he demanded an end to further BLM protests, saying some protests have been hijacked by left-wing movements and demonstrators at future events should be charged13.
Yet, when the anti-lockdown protests happened in May 2020, they were replete with QAnon conspiracies14, and it was when lockdown restrictions were tighter than during the BLM protests. What did Morrison say about them? “It’s a free country. People will make their protests and their voices heard”15. It does make one wonder if the reason Morrison was soft on them was because these demonstrations were covered in QAnon drivel and were aided and abetted by right-wing nut jobs. After all, he has given the QAnon nutters a nod and a wink in other instances16. Why would Morrison treat such protests so differently? Because the anti-vaxxers, anti-lockdowners, right-wing nutters, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and their hangers-on, are his people. They comprise some of the gullible demographic to which he appeals and to which he tailors his messaging. Remember ‘ending the weekend’?
One can almost imagine the conversations and thought processes reverberating in Morrison’s empty cranium during the recent Melbourne protests:
Morrison: How good are these demonstrations?
Interlocutor: Some people have mock gallows and are calling for Daniel Andrews to be killed.
Morrison: That should frighten Andrews, but will it increase my chances of remaining prime minister?
Interlocutor: Not sure. You do realise some of these people are crazy enough to do something like that, don’t you?
Morrison: But they can’t; they are surrounded by police.
Interlocutor: Not always. What happens when they disperse? How will they be stopped then? There won’t be any police around to stop them. They have already been seen outside the homes of some politicians.
Morrison: But I want these people to vote for me, so I don’t want to upset them. Just put a couple of police outside people’s homes.
Interlocutor: You have to condemn their call for Andrews to be murdered.
Morrison: Andrews has security guards like I do. Nobody will be able to hurt him. Besides, this will blow over if we just keep quiet about it. In a couple of days, we’ll drop a story about something else, maybe something like the religious discrimination bill, and the media will move on.
Interlocutor: What if someone asks you about the gallows and the death threats?
Morrison: I’ll say something like ‘we condemn violence’, but to stop the suckers from getting upset, I’ll tell them I understand their frustration and so they can regain their freedom, I’ll force Andrews and others to open up soon, and everything will be fine so they will vote for me.
The 25-year-old daughter of Animal Justice Party MP Andrew Meddick was assaulted on the street on Thursday night for apparently being ‘too political’, leaving her bleeding, so she had to be hospitalised. Police are investigating17. Whether it is associated with these Melbourne demonstrations is unknown.
Morrison’s demonstration of favouritism for right-wing demonstrators and his delay in responding to the death threats and his equivocation over the condemnation of them, has given a nod and a wink to the people who made them, and has made it more likely that this behaviour will continue.