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Seeking the Post-Covid Sunshine: Anticipating the Shock of a Return to Normalcy Yet Again

By Denis Bright

The structural shadows of past challenges are always present for better or for worse even decades later.

Let’s take the Spanish flu virus of 1919. Along with HIV/AIDS Pandemic, Spanish flu was the worst public health disaster since the arrival of the Black death in the fourteenth century.

The Spanish flu Pandemic (SFP) (1918-20) was one of the deadliest public health crises in human history. This virus resurfaced in 2009 as the swine flu pandemic. The Spanish flu’s association with bacterial infections made precise diagnosis difficult.

About one third of humanity (or 500 million) people caught the Spanish flu. The death toll was probably in the 25-40 million range. There is no precise data and Spanish flu was often associated with other influenza and pneumonic conditions.

The pandemic came at an awkward time as millions of troops were returning home to their respective countries from the Great War (1914-18) in conditions which fostered the spread of diseases in crowded ships on wintery seas after the peace in late 1918.

Successful Medical Management of Spanish flu

Conservative governments in Australia, Britain and the US (after the election of Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1920) rushed to manage the return to Normalcy as a matter of urgency.

In the absence of a National Cabinet during the Spanish flu crisis of 1919, the Commonwealth Government under Billy Hughes was soon committed to a selective national quarantine that still had to allow Australian troops to return. The Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) produced three million free doses of vaccines according to the National Museum’s coverage of these events.

 

Influenza quarantine camp setup at Wallangarra, Queensland, 1919 (Image from the National Library)

 

This source notes that Australia had to cope with 15,000 deaths from Spanish flu from a national infection rate of 40 per cent of the population. The mortality rate was 2.7 per 100,000. With its shorter involvement in the Great War, the US had an incidence rate of less than one third of the population and with between 500,000 and 850,000 deaths or between 0.5 to 0.8 per cent of the population.

Britain had a death toll of 250,000 in a population of over 40 million. Here Spanish flu was a much more serious challenge than in Australia. Even Prime Minister David Lloyd George contracted Spanish flu. He survived the virus but was deposed by his own Conservative Party in 1922 before yet another coup brought Stanley Baldwin to Downing Street for much of the interwar period until another successful coup by Winston Churchill in 1940.

A Focus on Return to Normalcy

In the conservative traditions, leaders of the four leading English-speaking democracies fostered a return to normalcy through corporate ideology in countries crippled by debt from commitments to the Great War. As Prime Minister of Canada (1911-20), Sir Robert Laird Borden developed a strong rapport with Britain and is shown strutting with Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1912 (Image: French National Bibliotheque).

The lighter involvement of the US in the Great War gave the Coolidge Administration a head-start in the 1920s and a transition was not required in Republican Ranks until the emergence of Herbert Hoover (1929-33) at the onset of the Great Depression.

The 1920s brought great social changes in Australia as popular culture tuned into the US in lifestyle changes which would have made the top-hats of 1912 a source of larrikin humour just a decade later.

The Great War had been a war for the defence of the British Empire against its Continental Rivals.

Victory had liberating qualities as the Australian character interacted with Hollywood lifestyle models either directly or even through local cinema productions and popular songs.

Constitutionally, the four major English-speaking Colonies of Empire (NZ, Australia, Canada and Britain) were allowed to flourish in differing directions. In the New British Commonwealth, a new independence was offered to the former Dominions.

Australia did not take up the offer until 1942 and finally terminated appeals to the Privy Council from High Court in 1986.

Before the onset of the Great Depression (1929-32), the Australian spirit flourished with the growth of cities and the diversification of our trading economies which supplied distant Imperial and Asian markets, including Japan.

Changes in fashions were reflected in both dress and fashions and lifestyles which were of little challenge to the structures of power and influence. Politically harmless sporting events, movies, home construction and travel ventures were made possible by a veneer of prosperity.

Trade union membership fitted into the national character during the 1920s with about a half of the workforce unionized according to ACTU historical estimates. Unionism extended into white collar industries and militant varieties of unionism were popular in mining, ports and transport sectors. The presence of Communist leadership was not deemed to be a particular threat to society and even welcomed by Irish Australian Catholics in their confrontation with British elitism.

The gains made in the 1920s were of course challenged after the Great Depression, but trade union membership rates remained firm as factories and government services expanded. Slow recovery from the Great Depression definitely widened the wealth and class divides in society as smaller non-unionized family businesses were able to shed staff without any challenge. I shared some of my parents experiences in Ipswich in a previous article on 8 May 2020.

Adaptive Conservative Leadership

The Great War and the Cold War of the 1950s enabled conservative Australian leaders to become the normal party of government without much of a plan for the future beyond a commitment to market ideology and strategic support for Britain and then the USA.

Few countries would so willingly invite nuclear weapons to be tested here on behalf of Britain and both Britain and the US in Micronesia.

The tradition of cultivating great and powerful international friends has been an ongoing conservative agenda since the federation era. With the arrival of the Biden Administration, the return of professional diplomacy is back on the agenda on issues such as human rights and climate change but Scott Morrison is keen to maintain some tensions in relations with China for domestic political wedge politics:

China raised on call

The Prime Minister indicated that the two men also discussed China, although he did not provide any details.

“As you would expect, we discussed regional issues in the Indo-Pacific fully,” Mr Morrison said.

He played down the prospect of any significant shift in US policy towards China under Joe Biden, saying the differences were largely of “nuance” and expression.”

And he said Mr Biden had described the US-Australia alliance as the “anchor of peace and security in the region.”

Progressive Australians do not dare to interrupt this old narrative or seek alternative strategic agendas which strengthen Australian sovereignty.

One of the great defences of Australian social democracy was the high rates of trade union membership during the recovery years from the Great War and the Spanish flu of a century ago.

Trade union membership was almost a half of the workforce during the difficult years of the interwar period and increased during the post-war period as manufacturing thrived and the white-collar government workforce increased (Parliament of Australia 2018):

 

 

With the current density of trade union membership probably now less than the 14 per cent registered in the Parliamentary Paper (2018), employers in private firms outside the mining, transport and construction sectors are having a field day in discouraging trade union membership by security checks on potential employees.

Eligibility and Vetting Models developed by the federal Attorney-General’s Department for government employment or contractors performing government services are available for use by employers generally and for administration by private security assessment firms often with overseas expertise:

Eligibility and suitability of personnel

This policy details the pre-employment screening processes and standardised vetting practices to be undertaken when employing personnel and contractors. These processes provide a high-quality and consistent approach to managing personnel eligibility and suitability risk across government.

Each entity must ensure the eligibility and suitability of its personnel who have access to Australian Government resources (people, information and assets). Entities must use the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency (AGSVA) to conduct vetting, or where authorised, conduct security vetting in a manner consistent with the Personnel Security Vetting Standards.

 

 

Trade unions and human rights organizations should make a thorough investigation into this intrusion into private lives which cultivates a docile workforce that would have horrified Australians a century ago. No one wants to see crocked characters gain access to corporate and governmental promotion trails. However, such rigorous assessments of staff members and new recruits seem to allow blind spots which tolerate systematic tax avoidance and harassment of employees in the interests of corporate work goals. Some optimum balance must be achieved.

The post-1945 Australian reconstruction model seemed to offer a better balance with unemployment rates below 2 per cent for thirty years with the exception of sharp recessions in 1953 and 1961. Even then, the aberrant unemployment rate was still below 3 per cent (Reference from Anthony O’Donnell in Labour History May 2015). Weeding out of potential trade unionists even prior to recruitment was an unheard-of corporate tactic except perhaps in the most sensitive security areas.

Assessment of existing and potential employees stands in sharp contrast to procedures to control corporate tax avoidance which extends to the so-called pillars of corporate responsibility as raised in my previous article on the antics of the Old and New Media.

The Labor Movement collectively is on safe grounds if it questions the extent of legalized tax avoidance at the expense of those Mom and Dad Households. Questioning the excesses of corporate donations to political parties from the difficult to retrieve returns on the AEC site is a vital campaigning tool.

Amendments to federal disclosure enable political donations of below $14,300 to escape declaration in the current financial year to 30 June 2021.

Despite the saturation advertising of the United Australia Party or the Palmer United Party, there are no returns listed on the AEC site since 2015-16.

If potential job applicants are subjected to rigorous security and personal background checks, similar scrutiny should apply to political parties which survive increasingly on government funding for their campaign activities.

Expect security checks to be a growth industry in the return to normalcy in contrast to the tolerance of a century ago and hope that it can be applied equally to the bastions of power and influence.

The experiences of the interwar period show how responsible militancy had left its mark but in a workforce with high rates of trade union membership in key industries. With opinion polls tightening against the federal LNP during the current parliamentary session expect Scott Morrison to lift his game plan during the long pre-budget recess when there is no scrutiny from parliament and the mainstream news media has free reign in top-own communication.

Let’s hesitate before the green light is extended to Normalcy if the foundations of this Normalcy are not fully accountable in the traditions of Josh Frydenberg’s economic statement on 12 May 2020 with its $60 billion accounting error.

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.

 

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21 comments

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  1. Leila

    Those shadows of past challenges can lead to a better future. Thanks Denis

  2. Paul

    Definitely agree with Denis. Think before you act impulsively or be prepared to live with the consequences.

  3. Molly

    Australia became a livelier place during the 1920s. A lot of the liveliness was from family support across the generations as it is in many cases now – times have not really changed.Australians have to be careful they do not throw away good traditions in favour of private wealth and power.Discussion of politics was a social hobby in the older society where radicalism had a place until the Cold War period.
    In Queensland, Premier Palaszczuk has made an art form of return to political consensus building while it is the LNP which is offering the less popular radical alternative which Queenslanders rejected on 31 st October 2020.

  4. Tessa_M

    Hope normalcy brings togetherness and social justice.

  5. James Robo

    Very insightful. Thanks

  6. Stella

    Denis, thanks for an interesting article on Australia’s previous management of a pandemic and implications for today.

  7. Chris

    It is interesting to see the correlation between the Spanish flu and the modern day pandemic. Let’s hope we can also move forward soon!

  8. rubio@coast

    These are not times for a return to Normalcy. The plight of people on JobSeeker justtifies a bit more heart and commitment to the extent of corporate and family tax evasion through the LNP’s loopholes for its support base.

  9. Jackie Wyatte

    Yes, those were the days of strength. But then came the gradual destruction of government bodies eg Telecom with enormous number of redundancies resulting in less militantism from the large unions involved. Of course Bob didn’t help too much either with the destruction of the Airline unions. Still, what future now awaits us with technology taking so many future jobs. Buy a robot and enrol it in a union if they still exist? 😏

  10. Lara

    These are really difficult times in the Philippines. There is no Normalcy here only a terrible wealth and social divide.

  11. jamie

    Facts the PharmaCom Billionaire MSM Fear Machine don’t discuss. Ahem. Get a grip sheeple.

    Diarrheal diseases are one of the biggest killers of children worldwide
    In 2017, almost 1.6 million people died from diarrheal diseases globally.

    https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malaria

    This is more than all deaths from all ‘intentional injuries’ combined in the same year: almost 800,000 died from suicide, 405,000 from homicide, 130,000 in conflict, and 26,500 from terrorism – in total 1,355,000.

    https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/

    https://www.infectiousdiseaseadvisor.com/home/topics/gi-illness/diarrhea-remains-leading-cause-of-global-mortality-and-morbidity/

    Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is preventable and curable.
    In 2019, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide.
    The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409 000 in 2019.
    Children aged under 5 years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria; in 2019, they accounted for 67% (274 000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
    The WHO African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2019, the region was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths.
    Total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated US$ 3 billion in 2019. Contributions from governments of endemic countries amounted to US$ 900 million, representing 31% of total funding.

    Approximately 1.35 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,700 people lose their lives every day on the roads.
    An additional 20-50 million suffer non-fatal injuries, often resulting in long-term disabilities.
    More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among vulnerable road users—pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
    Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death among young people aged 5-29. Young adults aged 15-44 account for more than half of all road deaths.
    More than 90% of all road fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries, even though these countries have approximately 60% of the world’s vehicles.
    On average, road crashes cost countries 3% of their gross domestic product.
    Road crashes are the single greatest annual cause of death of healthy U.S. citizens traveling abroad.

    Oh and by the way . . .

    Why Was It Called the ‘Spanish Flu?’
    The 1918 influenza pandemic did not, as many people believed, originate in Spain.

    https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu

    (will be screen shot. HA!)

  12. Kaye Lee

    jamie,

    Are you suggesting that we should only treat the illnesses that cause the most deaths and just let others rip regardless of how contagious they are? What’s your plan when hospitals are full?

    (why would you bother taking a screen shot of that?)

  13. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Great comments Jamie.

    Critical journalism is about promoting discussion. Your reply also maintains the momentum of my article.

    What surprised me about Spanish flu embeddet in the article I used from the National Museum of Australia was the availability of a vaccine in 1919 from the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL). 40 per cent of Australians took up the offer of a free vaccine and the pandemic abated.

    Spanish flu is a virus condition but it is associated with other flu symptoms which were bacterial in nature.

    Do you have any comments on the vaccination programme in 1919 and 1920? Did Australia really have an anti-viral
    vaccine a century ago or was the vaccine directed at related bacterial symptoms?

    Comments are invited from other readers with an interest in medical issues.

    Readers should check out the annual reports of News Corporation. Many eminent journalists in the network seems to specialise in stifling discussion on vital issues.

    How could News Corporation actually make a loss in 2018 and 2020?

    Annual reports are available online: https://newscorp.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/news-corp-2020-annual-report.pdf

  14. guest

    With regard to News Corp and journalists stifling discussion, this has been happening for a very long time. We see it with regard to climate change and the pandemic.

    Recently Chris Mitchell has written about hydroxychloroquinine and how it has been demonised. He writes about how HCQ is used around the world. And he claims that if other journalists did more research, as he claims News journalists do, they would be more informed about HCQ and climate change.

    Looking at other sites leads us to a particular site for Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Canada. It tells us that HCQ is widely used in the world because it is cheap and effective, according to certain medical people. It seems to match what Mitchell and Kelly claim. This is a targeted kind of research which suits conservative contrary views.

    The FCPP claims that HCQ was politicised by the Left when Trump promoted HCQ and claimed to be taking it, but still became infected.

    The FCPP also pointed to Sweden as an ideal model for dealing with the pandemic.

    Is it really just a matter of politics?

  15. Kaye Lee

    Chris Mitchell is an arrogant fool. He is unfortunately a member of my extended family so I have had to endure him in action holding court.

    Just to give an idea of what the FCPP is all about, they said….

    “There is simply no scientific proof that our CO2 emissions are the cause of the slight warming that has occurred over the 300-year period since the peak of the Little Ice Age.”

    They are not a credible source of information.

  16. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks Kaye. But where are the comments from Chris Mitchell? There is only jamie with a detailed comment. I even wonder if jamie was an ex-student with strong LNP views.

    I received no comments on the medical issues relating to the 1919 CSL Vaccine for Spanish flu. I would be surprised if an antiviral vaccine existed a century ago so the vaccine may have been to counter related bacterial conditions to Spanish flu.

    I have a very tolerant viewpoint on comments to my articles as negative or critical comments promote discussion and further feedback from other readers.

    AIM Network needs more comments in both categories.

  17. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    There is a vast literature on the Spanish flu influenza virus which has been reconstructed in recent years from the tissue samples of victims who died a century ago in the US: The Center for Disease Contol site is particularly useful: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/reconstruction-1918-virus.html#blueprint

    Use of the search engine will keep readers involved for hours.

    Fears about another similar flu outbreaks justified the genetic engineering needed to reconstruct the virus. Some of the laboratory practices used in the unsuccessful 1951 reonstructions were indeed hazardous.

    This article also covered the effectiveness of the vaccines in use in 1918-19 when the nature of the Spanish flu was not fully understood.

    Public Health Rep. 2010; 125(Suppl 3): 27–36.
    doi: 10.1177/00333549101250S306
    PMCID: PMC2862332
    PMID: 20568567
    The State of Science, Microbiology, and Vaccines Circa 1918
    John M. Eyler, PhDa

    This article is inclusive on the issues raised in my postscript questions. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862332/

    A contemporary with hands-on access to theoretical developments might assist in resolviong the issues raised.

    Meanwhile, the US Center for Disease Control shut down research on dangerous pathogens at the US Army lab at Fort Derrick in Maryland: https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/cdc-shuts-down-army-labs-disease-research-66235

    “Research on dangerous pathogens has been suspended at an Army lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found biosafety lapses there, the Frederick News-Post reported August 2. A spokesperson for the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) tells the newspaper that no disease-causing materials have been found outside authorized areas at the site.

    According to its website, USAMRIID has been the US Department of Defense’s lead laboratory for medical biological defense research since 1969. The News-Post reports that the facility has both level 3 and level 4 biosafety labs and has worked on pathogens such as Ebola, Yersinia pestis (plague), and Francisella tularensis (tularemia). Those pathogens are among those considered “select agents and toxins” by the Department of Health and Human Services, which only allows authorized labs to work on them.”

  18. calculus witherspoon.

    Sorry. That was as desolate as it was accurate.

    Australia, you pissed it up against the wall. There is an illusion of comfort, but nothing to stop previous gains being able to be wiped by capitalists. Dumbing down/ Surveillance/DR and if all else fails thuggery in a situation where the laws were altered without implications ever explained previously to the public.

  19. Matters Not

    Re:

    negative or critical comments promote discussion and further feedback from other readers. … AIM Network needs more comments in both categories

    In furious agreement! Conflict is essential to advancement here and in the wider society,

  20. wam

    A sad predictive ending dennis. Scummo’s mob have no ability to test their union destructive beliefs in the direction of government. One of their ex-leaders suggested labor had much to offer scummo but he and labor will be ignored. Much worse is the vision of security guards being elevated to gatekeepers with the power of control of movement. The replacement of front desk personnel by a computer connection or a phone is already rife and, as proven over the last 30 years, a computer may be faster for the company it is slower and far less convenient for our side of the desk. Now with no human understanding involved. I am glad we have little need of help or service and that our children and grand children have the education to live strong healthy lives. Strong enough to see through the spin till the LNP and the extremists rule is expended.
    ps
    another beauty matters not, a bit of conflict from albo and it may stir us all???
    pps karvellas et all insiders???

  21. Denis Bright

    Thanks to Matters Not and others. However, no comments were forthcoming from academic health professionals who have all the data about old and new vaccines at their finger-tips.

    I agree with Matters Not.

    The dialectics arising from discussion might promote political conflicts in the years ahead but the LNP dishes out a an ideological agenda which is widely accepted by both well informed and disadvantaged sections of our community.

    People are addicted to hours of eyewitness news services each week which assist in churning up the very ideas which the LNP promotes including misinformation about crime trends and the inconvenience of lockdowns to control the current pandemic.

    Here in Queensland, the federal LNP holds a dozen seats which should be in Labor hands, including Peter Dickson’s seat of Dickson.

    Somehow, the LNP has sold the illusion that its policies are in the best interests of Australians rich and disadvantaged alike.

    There is a strong LNP constituency in the community which needs to be challenged by polite discussion that takes in the latest structural trends in society.

    Take for example the Suburban Social Bar in Ryan which was praised in the Treasurer’s economic statement of 12 May 2020. Is that the model for the wider fabric of Australian society? Perhaps praise of this employment model with its outside toilets for clients and lots of casual employment for staff members. This distracting rhetoric might help to distract from the $60 billion accounting error in the statement.

    Read the text of the economic statement as a case study of the LNP in action with its far-right change agenda.

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