The nation is polarised over whether protests should occur during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Those against these protests see them as an unjustified intrusion on the civil liberties of others, namely the right against being infected by the virus. They label protesters as irresponsible, ‘covidiots’ and ‘super-spreaders’, expressing the view that protesting leads to a rise in infections. They assert that protesting counter-productive to the objectives of protesters in so far as it is likely to cause the extension of lockdowns.
Those in favour point to the democratic right to protest against actions by government. They see lockdowns as an unjustified intrusion on civil liberties, asserting that the mental, financial and economic harm caused by lockdowns outweighs any potential harm from the virus. They argue that public demonstrations are the only viable way of voicing their views in a way which will be heard. They argue that there is little or no evidence of community transmission in public, viewing assertions to the contrary as unfounded.
The situation has led to a great deal of division, sometimes to the point of animosity, between groups, work colleagues, friends and even family members.
Recent anti-lockdown protests
Last weekend saw thousands take to the streets in capital cities across Australia to protest against government-imposed lockdowns.
Police were out in force and, in Sydney, 47 people were arrested and 260 issued with infringement notices for allegedly contravening public health orders.
The New South Wales Police Force has since warned they will meet any further protests with the full force of the law.
But many remain undeterred.
Truck drivers plan to protest
Australian truck drivers are the latest group to plan a rally against COVID-19 restrictions which they feel unfairly jeopardise their livelihoods and put their safety at risk.
Truckies keep our nation moving by ensuring food and other essential items get from where they are produced or received to our supermarket aisles and inside other stores we take for granted.
Hundreds of these critical workers have vowed to block every major highway in the nation, taking a stance against the closure of road-side truck stops and prohibitions against entering states without a vaccination which, they fear, could lead to blood clots and other serious problems given the nature of their jobs.
Last month, a convoy of trucks drove through Sydney, blocking traffic and blaring their horns, to protest against the temporary closure of construction sites. But that was only a small demonstration compared to what’s planned for the end of this month.
A GoFundMe page was established to support the truckies financially as they prepare to strike from 9am on Tuesday 31 August. The page appears to have recently been taken down.
The Transport Workers’ Union has planned a separate 24 hour strike on behalf of Toll truck drivers which is scheduled for this Friday, 27 August over the employer’s removal of overtime entitlements and engagement of outside drivers on minimal pay.
Backflip truck stops and roadhouses
Following the blockade threats, and perhaps as a result of them, NSW Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller, recently confirmed that roadhouses and truck stops would be reopened, admitting that closing them had been a rash and ill-considered decision that could put the safety of drivers and other road users at risk.
The backflip appears to recognise that it is unreasonable to expect truck drivers, who spend hours driving on each shift, to have no designated places to stop, wash up, eat and re-charge before getting back behind the wheel.
No jab, no job
But that’s not the only issue that truck drivers are fighting for.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has closed the Queensland / New South Wales border to everyone except essential workers, and she has demanded that those workers be allowed to enter Queensland only when they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
This, along with similar directives made by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian insisting on vaccinations for health staff, quarantine staff and construction workers amongst others, is an infringement of civil liberties and human rights.
Concerns about vaccinations
Many truck drivers are concerned about the vaccination, in particular their documented range of potential side-effects.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has been associated with blood clotting, and because most truck drivers sit for long periods of time, they fear this potential side effect could be seriously detrimental to their health.
There are also concerns starting to surface about the Pfizer vaccination. Although not many cases have been made public, there are instances where people have been hospitalised for a period of time after receiving the vaccination, with varying symptoms.
Informed consent for any medical procedure has always been a right in Australia, along with the ‘right to refuse a medical treatment, ’ both of which are implied within the principles of democracy, as well as implied within the ethical oaths taken by GPs themselves.
But right now we have state leaders using Emergency Powers to make rules that are arbitrary and rushed, which don’t involve cooperation with other states, which are discriminatory and in direct contrast to personal freedom of choice.
And yet, under the Federation, these state leaders are able to make these decisions about health, and the Prime Minister is powerless to stop them.
Decision-making without long-term accountability
There is a general unease beginning to emerge, about lockdowns and curfews which don’t have a steadfast end-date, along with the mandated rollout of vaccinations which have potentially harmful side-effects, and yet are not proven to be completely effective, both of which lead the political narrative on how to put an end to COVID.
Both of these political strategies are only short term solutions to a long-term problem.
If the government’s health experts are to be believed, then we are going to have to learn to live with Delta for years to come, so while restricting movement, and therefore risk of community transmission and encouraging vaccinations for those who want them should be part of the overall solution, personal choice must remain.
It must not be taken away by politicians and other authorities who are not always held accountable for the decisions they make, and who only have temporary positions of leadership, depending on election results.