OPINION

COVID-19 pandemic: Australian Monarchist League questions action of state governments

Traffic at the Queensland border at Wallangarra.
Traffic at the Queensland border at Wallangarra.

Prior to January 1, 1901 Australia was formed of six separate colonies each hitherto reporting independently to superiors in London. Each colony had its own parliament and an accompanying government which was able to make most decisions affecting their colony.

However, with most colonies, particularly with New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland developing at a rapid rate, interaction between them was a shamble.

Each colony had individual customs duties, different rail gauges plus a myriad of other things which tended to make life very difficult for the people. The issue of defending the country as a whole also needed to be attended to with potential danger emanating from both Germany and Russia.

This could not be accomplished as matters were. Inhabitants of New South Wales looked upon themselves as New South Welshmen, in Queensland, Queenslanders and so on.

The purpose of Federation was to bring the six colonies together to form one nation where all inhabitants would be Australians and not restricted to the state in which they resided (the colonies were referred to as states following 1901).

The constitution empowered the federal parliament to enact overriding laws and regulations governing all Australians, although the state governments continued to manage day to day affairs within their respective states. However, with federation Australia and Australians truly became one nation.

But the arrival of Covid-19 has now changed everything with state governments closing borders and even going so far as to deny urgent medical treatment to Australians living close to but outside their state borders.

The federal government has set up what they call a 'national cabinet' which, constitutionally, is not a cabinet as we know it but rather a committee comprising the prime minister and the state premiers.

Whatever it is, it is not working as a committee should operate within the federation.

The state premiers have become a law unto themselves giving enormous legal but unconstitutional powers to unelected medical bureaucrats under the authority of emergency declarations.

Politicians are elected to govern and to make decisions and not pass the buck onto bureaucrats however noteworthy their professional qualifications may be.

Under these self-declared emergency powers, states have closed their borders to persons from other states and sometimes even to their own.

Whilst in the border case brought by Clive Palmer against the state of Western Australia, federal court justice Darryl Rangiah has determined that "the border restrictions have been effective to a very substantial extent to reduce the probability of COVID-19 being imported into Western Australia from interstate," it does not appear that any constitutional implications of border closures were examined.

Let us face facts. The prime minister is head of the Australian government. He and his government are in charge of the running of this country. No state premier or state medical official can or should override his authority.

Whilst, admittedly, border closures and prohibitive lockdowns have helped to prevent widespread outbreaks of the virus and may be temporarily popular, that does not excuse either the relinquishing of authority by the federal government nor the empowering of medical bureaucrats by state premiers with dictatorial powers.

State premiers are behaving as though they are dictators as opposed to being heads of government of their respective states within a unified nation.

For instance Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, when asked about NSW people being treated in Queensland hospitals as they were closer to them than any in their state, incredulously said that the state's hospitals were "for our people only" as though Queensland was a separate country and not a state within a federation.

It is time that the tenor of our Australian constitution was observed, and that all Australian citizens are treated as Australians first, whatever state they may reside in otherwise the words of Annastacia Palaszczuk could well foretell the end of Federation as we have known it.

Philip Benwell is the national chair of the Australian Monarchist League