COVID Mandates In Victoria, Australia, Have Unexpected Consequences
If Lockdowns were an Olympic sport, Victoria, Australia would be hard to beat. It’s been described as the most locked-down place in the world under COVID-19. Sadly, it’s also become the location where a once free society now targets civil liberties. A perfect example is Monica Smit, of Reignite Democracy Australia, who served 22 days in jail in solitary confinement after being charged with incitement. Her crime? Organizing a protest against lockdowns.
In the United States, our Constitution recognizes our inherent rights to free speech, a free press, and peaceable assembling to air grievances towards our government. So, it comes as a shock when a freedom-loving country like Australia starts arresting those who want to express their grievances about lockdowns through peaceable assembly.
You might be wondering when protesting within a free society become illegal. This is the part where it starts to sound like poorly written draconian fan fiction (which, sadly, it’s not).
First and foremost, nowhere in the Australian Constitution is any promise or guarantee made regarding freedom of speech or protected expressions. Apart from Australian High Court rulings which are somewhat supportive of freedoms, you must look at the state level for signs of individual rights.
The State of Victoria has Section 15 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006, which provides individual freedoms that are similar to the First Amendment. However, it also has a ‘clause to pause’ freedoms on Section 15(3):
Special duties and responsibilities are attached to the right of freedom of expression and the right may be subject to lawful restrictions reasonably necessary.
That leads to Section 198 of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (“The Public Health Act”). Under the Public Health Act, the Chief Health Officer (“CHO”) has emergency powers to implement directives addressing any significant health crisis.
As we’ve seen under COVID-19, rarely does a crisis go to waste, especially when the crisis gives the government carte blanche violate the Charter of Human Rights, etc., with impunity. Suddenly the government can quell divisions and identify everything as a punishable public nuisance.
The CHO then gets to implement certain directives, with the failure to adhere to those directives rising to the level of criminal disobedience. That category now covers being outside past curfew, not wearing a face mask, or having more than ten people in your house.
In Monica Smit’s case, the CHO logic that got her into strife goes something like this:
· Small Gatherings = Bad
· Public Gatherings = Worse
· Protests = The Prospect of Larger Public Gatherings
· Organizing a Protest & Encouraging Others to Attend = Incitement
In the lockdown era, Facebook live-streaming has become the quickest way to share and broadcast information to non-mainstream audiences. Facebook Live has thrived among those Victorians opposed to lockdown measures, including independent journalists and organizers. Among that number is Monica Smit and her organization, Reignite Democracy Australia. Facebook Live was how Monica was able to Live-Stream and share, in real-time her actual arrest for incitement.
Image: Monica Smits. YouTube screen grab. (The video shows police attacking Victoria citizens. YouTube made me sign in to view it because it “may be inappropriate for some users.”)
After being arrested, Smit was granted bail under the following excessive conditions that were designed to limit her personal freedoms even more than the general laws already did.
- Reside at [a specified address].
- Stay confined to the State of Victoria.
- Stay confined to her residence between the hours of 7 pm and 6 am.
- Present herself at the front door of her residence during curfew hours upon request of any member of Victoria Police.
- Abide by any curfew imposed under the current state of emergency restrictions and present at the front door during those curfew hours as requested by police.
- Abide by all Chief Health Officer directions.
- If not wearing a mask due to medical reasons, to obtain and produce within 24 hours a medical certificate to police or health official.
- Not to publish on any social media platform or any website or via any electronic communications service any material inciting any person to fail to comply with the Chief Health Officer’s directions or allow a medium under her control in full or part to do so.
- Not to incite any person to refuse to comply with the Chief Health Officer’s directions.
- To remove within 48 hours any materials on her business-related social media accounts and groups she controls in full or in part that incite opposition to the Chief Health Officer’s directions.
- Not to share copy or distribute in any way any material that incites opposition to the Chief Health Officer’s directions either via online social media or by any other means including, but not limited to, letter drops or encouraging anyone else to do so.
- Not to attend any protest in any capacity during the state of emergency related to COVID-19.
- Not to disclose or cause to be disclosed to any person the name of the informant or any police officer involved in the investigation on any public forum including but not limited to Reignite Democracy Australia website.
Smit refused these bail conditions, which led to her serving 22 days in solitary confinement. She eventually appealed her case to the Melbourne Supreme Court. There, Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth agreed, “labelling some unnecessary, disproportionate and without utility.”
If the attempt was designed to silence Smit and shut down Reignite Democracy Australia, it failed. The subsequent publicity fueled by the mainstream media (and their personal resentment towards Monica), helped Smit gain extensive public donations to her defense fund. That in turn, has helped RDA’s financial coffers in fighting COVID-19 restrictions and in furthering its political efforts.
RDA recently announced a collaboration with Federal MP Craig Kelly of the United Australia Party (“UAP”). Kelly is one of the few federal politicians within Australia who has pushed back against excessive COVID regulations during Federal Parliamentary sessions. In taking this position, Kelly was also banned from Facebook under its rules regarding COVID “misinformation.” That too backfired, for it delivered an in-kind endorsement that attracted disenfranchised voters towards the UAP. Add the ready-made RDA chapter and you have a recipe for a significant change on the Australian political spectrum, not seen since B. A. Santamaria’s Democratic Labor Party (DLP).
An Australian federal election and a Victorian state election in 2022, could provide actual insights into Australian public opinion. Australians could finally learn how many of their countrymen are also concerned with the way politicians, using COVID as the excuse, destroyed their civil liberties. If insufficient numbers vote, Aussies may find that the face mask has become a permanent fixture of attire.
Author Craig Edwards (a pseudonym) is an Australian expatriate from Melbourne now living in Austin, Texas. This article was based on a Podcast interview completed with Monica Smit in Oct 2021.
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