By The Hon Tony Abbott MP
I’m sorry that I can’t be here today, in person, due to the recent “omicron” quarantine rules.
It’s good that you’re here, though, to support the Crown in our Constitution, and to show your support for the best possible Australia.
It frustrates me – as, I’m sure, it’s sometimes frustrated you – that over the past 20 months our normal freedoms have been much interrupted.
This pandemic has been a serious threat to life and health, but it’s possible to over-react even to serious challenges.
To me, we’ve spent too much and we’ve restricted too much; and in the process of maximising safety, collectively, we’ve minimised freedom.
Yet isn’t the whole point of life to make the most of it, every day, and to take risks when we think they’re justified?
One of the worst aspects of this pandemic has been the deference of elected and accountable politicians to un-elected and un-accountable officials.
For quite a while now, there’s been too much deference to so-called expert advice, but the pandemic has made this democratic deficit much, much worse.
PMs and premiers have to take the “experts” seriously; but in the end, it’s the politicians who are elected to govern, not the bureaucrats; and it’s the politicians who’ll wear responsibility for the decisions that experts have driven.
At every level, the rules have been made by diktat, with very little democratic accountability. For instance, I’m not aware of any debate in any Australian parliament about the necessity for unprecedented restrictions on the basic freedoms – to go to work, to leave home, to cross borders, and to visit loved ones – that we have previously been able to take for granted.
Even though the “experts” and the “science” has differed from time to time and from state to state.
Maybe the restrictions really were necessary; even so, there should have been much more opportunity for parliamentary debate, and party room questioning, if only to keep grounded the ministers and the officials promulgating them.
Yes, it looks like we’ve got through the worst of the pandemic, with fewer deaths and less economic damage than many other countries – but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been mistakes made and lessons to be learned, and that we can dispense with the need for a national royal commission thoroughly to consider what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong, in the light of all the evidence here and overseas.
Why, for instance, in Victoria, should the Premier be able to declare a pandemic; after which the health minister can make any rules whatsoever, provided he thinks they’re “reasonably necessary for the protection of public health”, without any effective accountability mechanisms?
Are the times really so desperate that we need an elective health dictatorship?
Even though there’s much we can be grateful for over the past 20 months – and Liberal governments, I’m happy to say have generally been less authoritarian – from the states, especially, there’s also been panicky over-reaction, official high-handedness, and an abundance of rules, sometimes oppressive, and sometimes administered differently depending on whether those affected are sports stars or ordinary citizens.
In the main, though, it has to be said, this has been a question of leadership, a function of the particular personnel in government at the time, and deficiencies in legislation as it currently operates – not any failure in our system of government itself.
As always, the main means for being better governed is to elect a better government.
Certainly, it’s not the monarchy that’s in any way to blame for the errors of these times.
As I’ve often said, there’s nothing wrong with Australia that becoming a republic would improve; and much right that becoming a republic could imperil.
Thanks again for your support for the monarchy, here in Australia.
To paraphrase Churchill: constitutional monarchy is the worst possible system; except for all the others that have sometimes been tried.
Have a good conference!