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The Coronavirus Seal: Victoria’s Borders Close

The state of Victoria is being sealed off from the rest of Australia. On Tuesday, at 11.59pm, the border with New South Wales will be shut with publicised resoluteness. It is happening at the insistence of politicians across the country with a panicked urge. On the way are reminders about the miracle that was federation in 1901. That a Commonwealth was ever formed from the Britannic nuts and bolts of an invasive penal settlement was remarkable, given the otherwise innate hostilities, not to mention competitiveness, the states had shown to each other.

The last time this happened was a touch over a century ago, when the borders were sealed in a response to the ravages of pneumonic influenza, inaccurately named Spanish flu. The venture is going to be heavily policed. Human personnel, drones and surveillance equipment will be deployed. 55 ground crossings including four major highways, 33 bridges, two waterways, various numbers of train stations and airports will be subjects of interest. Even with this, there is scepticism. Viruses will find their carriers and unwitting accomplices, however impressive the policing effort.

The closure, according to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, will be “enforced on the New South Wales side, so as not to be a drain on resources that are very focused on fighting the virus right now across our state.” Residents in border towns must apply for permits for movement between the states. As the ABC describes it, “Only permit holders, emergency services workers, freight drivers and returning travellers will be able to cross into New South Wales from Victoria.” The penalties for breaching such rules are severe: $11,000 in fines or six months in jail. Businesses on the border face ruin and considerable opacity in terms of regulations.

While that is happening, 3,000 residents in Flemington and North Melbourne continue their quarantine in the public housing towers that have been designated as COVID-19 hotspots. Promises of assistance made by Andrews have yet to materialise in any meaningful way. Mental health practitioners and social workers seem few and far between. The government food supplies remain spectral. That said, FareShare, despite being a charity, claims to have provided, at the prompting of the Department of Health and Human Services, Sunday roasts, vegetarian casseroles and family pies, supplemented by 3,500 quiches and 1,600 sausage rolls. The charity has set up, according to The Advocate, “an emergency cool room packed with thousands of nutritious, cooked meals” in North Melbourne, though it is hard to see how these “cater to a range of cultural and dietary preferences”.

The feeling that “prison food” is being supplied to “inmates” is unmistakable, though even that has been in short supply. As Nine News reported with much fanfare, “A daughter and her elderly mother trapped in Melbourne’s public housing lockdown have broken down in tears, detailing how they have only been given four sausage rolls to eat in more than 48 hours.” But no matter: this has provided charities such as FareShare with a few good publicity snaps. The show of false remedies must go on.

While this is taking place, the premier remains convinced that food and toys are making their way to the residents. “This is a massive task and the message to everybody in the towers… (is)those staff – thousands of them – are doing the very, very best they can and they will continue to do everything they can to support those who are impacted by this lockdown.”

One thing is distinctly not in short supply. The police, some 500 of them, are out in force on all nine estates. These armed officers have been shown to be as ill-informed as the residents. Communal spaces continue being used; movement through the buildings is permitted. The prospects of mass infection through the tenements seems likely. Even the healthy stand condemned.

Residents are mouldering in desperation. Papers with the pleas of “Treat us as Humans: Not Caged Animals” have been pasted against windows. Malevolent attitudes, many traditionally prejudiced against public housing residents, have been given a good airing. To that have come good dollops of racial presumption. It all looks fitting for such critics: the darkies, the ill, the derelict, being fenced by police, monitored less for their safety than the greater good of society. The diseased, as with epidemics in history, will be walled up.

One of Australia’s most conspicuous reactionaries, One Nation leader and Senator Pauline Hanson, spoke approvingly of such measures. Never one to shy away from the race card and its impurities, she suggested that the residents in the nine towers were “drug addicts” and “alcoholics”, which was not helped by the fact that they could not speak English. Even this was a bit much for the good people of Channel Nine’s Today Show. “The Today Show has advised Pauline Hanson,” came a statement from Nine’s Director of News and Current Affairs Darren Wick, “that she will no longer be appearing on our programme as a regular contributor.” Perhaps hypocrisy is less palatable in the morning.

The spectacles unfolding in North Melbourne, Flemington and parts of the city convey an ugliness that has become normalised in certain countries. Public health is not merely a matter for doctors and health practitioners but truncheons. Another sentiment is also detectable: a certain delight at Victoria being made whipping boy and pariah of the states. All this shows the power a virus can wield. To coronavirus go the spoils.

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8 comments

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  1. Jack Cade

    My brother lives in a suburb surrounded by, or sandwiched by, lockdown suburbs, but his is not locked down. He said, yesterday, that the motor registration department computer crashed because thousands of people were reporting a change of address. It sounds implausible to me, but you never know.
    So far SA has been handling the covid-19 pandemic really well. Reluctant as I am to
    look kindly on the somnambulant Marshall, I have to admit to being impressed by his approach.
    Some of you may be aware that they planned wholesale depredations in our public
    transport system, master-minded by the transport minister, Stephan Knoll. It should be noted that every letter of his surname is pronounced.
    His ideas now appear to have been scrapped because the general populace said ‘Kin ‘ell, Knoll.’

  2. New England Cocky

    I think Premier Andrews is doing an excellent job with his proposal to lock down the towers and concentrate on containing active infections in Victoria by agreeing to the indefinite NSW border closure.

    Much of the drama is being stirred up by ill-informed media looking for a story without discovering the facts. The reports from residents demonstrate little understanding of the medical situation that is not of their making.

    Remember it was the failure of the NSW Liarbral Nazional$ misgovernment that liberated Ruby Princess passengers before the results of COVID-19 results were known that started this pandemic in Australia. The investigation ensured that all bureaucratic backsides were covered …. but were the passengers liberated so that Hillsong passengers could go home?

    The present Victorian outbreak has been caused by contractors failing to follow social distancing directives and getting up to other mischief. This is not the responsibility of the Victorian Labor government but rather a failure of the corporate contractor failing to properly supervise their workers, it appears.

  3. Michael Taylor

    While I can get the best chips outside of Liverpool (UK) in Wodonga I have no reason to sneak across the border into NSW.

  4. paul walter

    Does seem likely the New South Welsh cook an inferior fish’n’chips.

  5. Matters Not

    Seems like the (claimed) 55 crossing points between Victoria and NSW proceeds on the assumption that there are no boats, canoes, flotation devices and/or swimmers determined to cross either way. Twill be a very leaky border. But then again it’s the ‘intention’ (and the desire to effect same) that will matter politically with some clapping while others boo. Such is life!

    While I think Dan ought to be congratulated, it’s only a matter of time before his popularity wanes. No ‘good’ news on the horizon.

  6. Matters Not

    NEC, it’s not always the case that bureaucratic backsides are covered. As I understand it, a high ranking public servant in the Victorian Public Service has been ‘stood down’ re the failure of private contractor(s) to act appropriately while an Inquiry is conducted. So now Dan has two escape clauses if and when questioned. First, he’s removed the person responsible. So that won’t happen again. Second, he’s instigated an Inquiry and until a Report is delivered, Dan can defer, side-step, (or whatever) any media questions.

    Same tactic here in Queensland with an Inquiry into the potential misbehavior of the Deputy Premier. Premier was able to hand-ball an adverse finding against a public servant involved to a further investigation by another public servant so peace can be restored – at least until after the coming election. Generally, if it comes down to a choice between hanging a politician or a public servant, it’s a safe bet that the public servant will swing. With that in mind, all public servants should cover their own metaphorical rear ends. And that includes, teachers, principals etc who often don’t see themselves in that light. Political masters always go where the numbers are. And that’s invariably where the votes are.

  7. king1394

    Now we know why we needed to hoard all that rice, pasta, canned food and toilet paper.

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