OPINION

COVID protests: Australians must work together to achieve common goals

MARCH: Protesters gather outside Parliament House in Melbourne. Picture: Shutterstock
MARCH: Protesters gather outside Parliament House in Melbourne. Picture: Shutterstock

I have nothing against conspiracy theories, in theory.

I once believed the Australian government was in a conspiracy with the Americans, promoting a false theory that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in order to drag us into an unnecessary war. I think that has held up pretty well, actually. And my work for the past several decades has been supporting and promoting community groups, and that includes defending their rights to lobby, demonstrate, and use strong language.

So does that mean I support the protestors outside Victoria's or Queensland's parliament houses now, the ones objecting to vaccine mandates and mask wearing? The ones who travel with their own gallows in case they should happen across a public health officer? Well, no. But I owe you an explanation as to why not.

I disagree with them on the merits of their arguments, to begin with. I accept the medical consensus, and I'm helping community groups with their vaccine monitoring procedures. I see vaccine requirements as a sensible measure of community protection, not an unacceptable fetter on a newly invented set of bodily freedoms.

I'm concerned, in fact, that the antis don't seem to recognise the concept of social responsibility, as opposed to individual autonomy, at all.

The demonstrators aren't a particularly large group - a couple of thousand on their best days - but I've certainly been in smaller demonstrations, turnouts where we had to bunch together and beg the TV cameras to shoot in closeup.

It doesn't look as if they can use the tip-of-the-iceberg argument, either; Australia is crossing the 90 per cent vaccination line, heading for 95 per cent, and earlier prophecies of 25 per cent refusal rates now seem ludicrous. Still, being in a minority isn't disgraceful.

They don't seem to have a strong package of core beliefs, certainly. They combine anti-lockdowners, anti-vaxxers, and anti-maskers, bringing a suite of different and sometimes incompatible stories relying on dubious interpretations of unreliable research papers, but wasn't that the old accusation against the young, that they were marching for the sake of marching?

So why are the parliament protestors different?

The novel thing about this form of protest is that it doesn't seem to matter whether the people marching at your side share your beliefs or not, as long as they share your attitude.

The novel thing about this form of protest is that it doesn't seem to matter whether the people marching at your side share your beliefs or not, as long as they share your attitude.

If they're fed up and not going to take it anymore, it doesn't seem to matter what the 'it' in that phrase is. The resentment comes first.

Once the mood is there, it attracts the cause. In this instance it's attracting a toxic maelstrom of American borrowings, where the paranoid fantasies of QAnon and the Trumpists are cut and pasted into Australian society without much concern as to whether they have anything to do with us.

Nazis, too, have seen it as a recruiting ground, which suggests that there's a degree of overlap in orientation.

And, of course, there's the violence.

Sure, at any demo it's always a risk someone is going to heave a brick through a window, but this is more than that. If your movement's big reveal is a gallows, that says you think gallows are cool.

For the anti-lockdown push, the violence isn't a bug, it's a feature. The demonstrations have shown a frightening level of fury.

It may be that burning passion that's attracting political attention. The Liberals, state and federal, are batting their eyes at the demonstrators from behind their net curtains: Clive Palmer's betting on recruiting them. A vote, particularly in a preferential system, is a vote.

We have to make the positive case for community.

The lockdown should have shown us all the limits of what we can achieve as individuals, and the need to surrender stand-alone privileges for mutual support.

We got a lot wrong along the way, mainly when we didn't provide sufficient support for the disadvantaged, but in the end we muddled through and we're coming out, which makes it odd that the complaints seem to be peaking just now.

Community groups should be about fostering community, looking for ways for us to work together towards common goals. I'd hate to think that America's tantrum politics were becoming the model for Australian radicals and deplorables.

  • Denis Moriarty is group managing director of OurCommunity.com.au, a social enterprise helping Australia's 600,000 not-for-profits.
This story Common goals, not individual freedom, make us strong first appeared on The Canberra Times.