American Interest With Australian Pandemic Laws

For a country that was theorized amongst some social circles to be non-existent, Australia has recently seen itself featured more prominently on the international stage. Aside from cricket news, it is, however, not for good reasons.

In what was described as an ‘embarrassing’ lack of commitment seen at the COP26, the Coalition government has been condemned for their “slow, lazy and shockingly irresponsibly approach to ‘climate change,” which drew similar comments from the renowned philanthropist Sir David Attenborough. Additionally, the Aussie Prime Minister is accused of lying by the French President over a $90 billion submarine contract that was abruptly scrapped.

But as we are fast approaching the end of another pandemic-defined year – a year characterized by vigorous debates and protests regarding vaccines and vaccination rates, interstate border closures, and restrictions on movement and social gatherings – the domestic anti-lockdown arguments energized likeminded supporters who mobilized in the United States. Peddling narratives that falsely conflate COVID-19 protocols and restrictions as examples of the country’s democratic decline towards “totalitarianism,” social media tags such as #SaveAustralia and #AustraliaHasFallen were boosted to prominence.

Within these trending claims, popular conservative and libertarian commentators claimed that Australians were oppressed under current health mandates and described their enforcement as a (c)overt declaration of “World War 3…[as] we are in the midst of a global, psychological warfare.” Similarly, Republican Texas Senator, Ted Cruz, echoed these criticisms.

Cruz claimed that – despite his affinity for Australians and his admiration of “their history of rugged independence” – he was ultimately concerned of “Covid tyranny” within the government that is “disgraceful & sad.” Such is the nature of the Twitterverse that misinformation can efficiently be fact-checked. Not one to avoid confrontation, in response to Cruz’s unsupported claims, the Chief Minister for Australia’s Northern Territory responded that “we don’t need your lectures, thanks mate. You know nothing about us. And if you stand against a life-saving vaccine, then you sure as hell don’t stand with Australia.”

For Associate Professor David Smith, he explains that “Australia has always had this role in the American right-wing imagination as a place that is very similar to the U.S. in a lot of ways, but is a fallen place.” He further stated that the Oceanic country serves not just as a “right-wing fantasy” but also “…as a cautionary tale for Americans about what happens if you let your freedoms go.”

As there continues to be anti-lockdown activists and far-right agitators who incite crowds to act violently and aggressively in their protests against the state, their movement is sustained by the same political and media commentators who act as integral cogs in the machinery of the rumour mill. One offensive and inappropriate comparison argues that the introduction of the Victorian Pandemic Management Bill is akin to Nazi Germany and its implementation of systemic ethnic cleansing efforts. It is clear to see how disinformation is weaponized to discredit expert opinion and sway perceptions through emotional manipulation.

Further, what appears to be obvious is that advocators of this victimization rhetoric – both local and global – are less the ‘concerned citizens’ they claim to be. Anti-lockdown and far-right supporters are instead, motivated by their divisive political agendas. Their denialist tendencies are founded within Trumpist conspiracy theories and the staunch rejection against scientific literacy and COVID-19 modelling.

This point was reflected in a report released last year from the United Nations Security Council. Member States were warned that extreme-right wing terrorist fractions and individuals “sought to exploit COVID-19-related anxieties and grievances, using conspiracy theories to advance their existing narratives, increase and diversify their support base, and build bridges to other groups.”

The threat of far-right extremist fractions infiltrating Australia has been long speculated. It is extremely concerning that this is proving to be a pervasive and far-reaching trend of the pandemic, and within Australia, the anti-lockdown movement that pits freedom against COVID-19 legislature continues to grow. As O’Shea aptly surmises – on Australian shores –  “the movement is not loosing momentum – it is attracting more participants through each new issue it latches on to.”