David Lovejoy, Echo co-founder
Not being able to socialise, or go to work, or be abroad for any but officially approved purposes certainly gives a body room to think.
As I write there are signs that the growth of cases is slowing, but of course by the time these words are in print the situation might have changed. Notice that I don’t have to say what I’m talking about. It is the lede in every news bulletin, the subject on everybody’s lips.
Like most people I have been caught up in the twin emergencies of how to keep healthy and how to keep solvent.
The first issue is relatively simple: wash your hands, wear a mask outside if you must leave home, and keep your distance. After that it is a matter of fate.
But the second issue, as it affects these pages, keeps me awake at night. Ever since Nicholas Shand asked me to join him in launching a newspaper to reflect and strengthen our community, the Byron Shire Echo has been the focus of my life. Even now, eight years after retirement, its survival is as important to me as my own.
What the world will look like after the plague recedes is so vital that we should start thinking about it now. Though greatly reduced in size, The Echo will cling to life, you can be sure of that, but many other local businesses will be gone or hard to revive.
There will be a danger that the economic life of our shire will be taken over by large companies and rich individuals – to an even greater extent than at present.
There is also the question of how the government will behave after the emergency. It has been encouraging, and amusing, to see austerity and budget surplus so easily abandoned in the face of an existential threat, absolute proof that those mean policies were driven by the desire to preserve and increase wealth inequality.
However, it is neither encouraging nor amusing to see how quickly governance can slip into autocratic mode. Parliament is suspended, while regulation comes from an ad hoc cabinet of federal ministers and state premiers advised by a committee of coal lobbyists. For a time the rapid decision-making capacity of authoritarian government may be necessary, but we should be aware that, once lost, civic freedoms are hard to restore.
The crisis is also politically convenient for the government in that it overshadows other issues. There is still a widespread perception that Angus Taylor is a forger, Bridget McKenzie is a crook, and Stuart Robert is a liar, but they will not be brought to book.
Even when scandals are linked to the crisis, as in the murderous decision to release the infected Ruby Princess passengers, there seem to be no consequences for the government.
The political elite may escape censure, but for the rest of us, the army is being mobilised to enforce a lockdown in the cities, police can issue instant fines for being seen in public without good cause, and mobile phones will soon be monitored to keep track of citizens’ movements.
When we get through this we not only have to rebuild the economy on a fairer basis, we must also take care to reset society’s laws back towards freedom.