Very Few Borders have Soft Edges
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Borders are devilish things. Many of the world’s geopolitical problems have arisen from contentious borders drawn between nations. The Middle-East. The Balkans. Need I say more? Not to mention that no-one can explain to me the creation of the Russian exclave located between Poland and Lithuania.
As the US Open commences and the immovable side, service and baselines of tennis courts will determine players’ fates, it seems our nation’s borders are doing the same thing for all of us….
Last week, I noted that a nation is only as strongest as its weakest constitutional link. This week it seems that our economic recovery may well be dependent on how quickly our internal border disputes can be resolved. Overly strong borders may well weaken our chances of a strong economic recovery.
Borders are geographical limits of a state’s or nation’s jurisdiction. Whenever a legal border or restriction is imposed there is always controversy at its edges. When Melburnians are told to only exercise for one hour a day within a 5 km radius, there would be many taking liberties with these limits.
The current State border closures were emphatically imposed at the pandemic’s outbreak. Notwithstanding Clive Palmer’s attempt to have the High Court rule that such closures breach the Constitution’s express provision that trade and commerce between States be absolutely free, there was a consensus that quarantining State populations within their geographical limits made medical sense.
However, as the pandemic has continued the bluntness of the border closures has begun to sharpen political and personal hostilities and frustrations. There are distinct areas of Australia where the Checkpoint Charlie approach has led to nonsensical results.
Albury-Wodonga briefly became Australia’s modern day Cold War Berlin with the “twin cities” becoming separated. The heavily populated border region between Queensland and northern New South Wales has seen ridiculous consequences because of border closures. Families divided by matters of kilometres across State lines have not been able to utilise nearby medical facilities. Communities that abut the border between south-eastern South Australia and Victoria have been similarly divided with teachers and workers in one jurisdiction not being able to enter the other. Why visit a hospital 40 km away, when rigid enforcement of border controls makes it necessary for you to visit one 400 km away?
The ‘flying kangaroo’ logo of Qantas is apparently the most recognised airline symbol in the world. Just as well it will remain in the memory. The pandemic has achieved a cull of flights that has led to the extinction of close to 6000 jobs at the airline. Alan Joyce, the Qantas CEO who has leapt over international borders to lead the airline, is incensed about the effect that the border closures are having on domestic air travel.
The law of inverse political reasoning seems to have come into play. As frustration with the effects of border closures grow- let’s face it no-one can confidently plan interstate travel for Christmas and beyond-the desire for State Premiers to demonstrate a parochial pride in not relaxing the border restrictions seems to have grown.
The Queensland Premier, months from a State election, took adoration of her State’s insularity to absurd heights recently reminding people that “Queensland hospitals are for Queenslanders.” Will Driver’s Licence checks at the entry to triage units in the Sunshine State be next? Just a basic fact to remember Anna: taxes from all Australians pay for Australia’s public hospitals.
At the start of the pandemic there were hopeful signs, especially through the work of the newly-formed National Cabinet, that petty State differences may be put aside in the national interest. Sadly, months later, it seems that many Premiers wish to lead States that are “ geographical islands entire unto themselves” and are oblivious to the overt consequences of such obstinacy.
Politics constantly reminds us that one of the hardest lessons for leaders to comprehend is that the exercise of power should never be seen as an end in itself. The ability to relax control and exert less power over people is not the sign of weakness, but an understanding of changing circumstances. Leaders, as representatives of their communities, must recognise these changed conditions, whatever their affinity for controlling others may be.
Victoria’s Dan Andrews embodies this approach. On the one hand he exhorts Victorians to observe the harsh restrictions of a six week Stage 4 lockdown. On the other he appears reluctant to offer Victorians the confidence and trust that he wishes the State to resume normal programming as soon as possible. He seems reluctant to embrace the possibility that one day he may not be fully responsible for the daily destiny of Victorians.
The Victorian Premier’s wish to extend by another year the period in which the Chief Health Officer can issue emergency directions for the community during a public health emergency under the Health Act highlights this approach. Suspicion about the Premier’s authoritarian style led many to think that he was unilaterally extending the lockdown by another 12 months. Even more balanced assessments of his intentions were unanimous in their view that the Premier had forgotten about the importance of consulting with his community and Parliament. Separation of Powers doctrine 101 Mr. Andrews: the Executive must justify its legislative wishes to the Parliament for a very good reason. For no one person, not even one with the best of intentions, knows what is best for us all the time.
And who would want to exercise power over an economically shattered country? The owner of the company that operates the Noni B, Rivers and Katies clothing outlets announced last week that it is closing 500 of its outlets. Commercial landlords and tenants are involved in an intractable siege that is likely to forever change the appearance of our retail sector.
The ironies of our economic situation abound. A recent survey has found that the newly created JobKeeper payments and the increased JobSeeker payments have all but eliminated poverty in Australia. This assessment is made using the formula of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The OECD states that an individual is above an impoverished level of existence if they are receiving half or more of the median household income of the total population.
However, Australia has only been able to boost the relative income of its citizens by creating levels of national debt that were unimaginable a year ago. The nation is objectively poorer, but individuals are not. Really? Remember what Keynes said about the inevitable connection of everything to everything else. Elimination of poverty through the printing and distribution of money is the easy part. Restoring economic and income gains based on productivity is altogether different.
Perceptions of economic futures will be a key feature of the forthcoming Presidential election in America. The Republican Party staged their convention this week and, sorry about the pun, trumpeted the strengths of incumbency and what their party see as the great economic risks of the election of Joe Biden.
One of the key electoral battleground states will be Wisconsin, that was surprisingly won by the Republicans in 2016. Tragically, the State became another American cultural and social battleground this week when police shot a suspect, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha. Not surprisingly, the shooting evoked disbelief, disenchantment and despair, made worse by the killing of two people in post-police shooting protests. Basketballers in the NBA refused to play as a protest against what they see as further proof of systemic racial discrimination in America. Naomi Osaka withdrew from the semi-final of a tennis tournament for similar reasons.
Notwithstanding the simmering issue of race relations in America, the US Tennis Open commences tomorrow. The dearth of top-ranked players in both the Men’s and Ladies’ events makes it questionable whether this year’s event truly classifies as a Grand Slam event. A Grand Slam in bridge is where one is confident of winning all plays- a dozen tricks-which is the equivalent of winning seven singles matches over a fortnight. Maybe we have to classify this year’s US Open as a one-trick event. However, remember that most male players boycotted Wimbledon in 1973 opening the path for Czechoslovakia’s relatively unknown Jan Kodes, twice a French Open champion, to win the title beating the even lesser known Russian Alex Metreveli in the final. If a tournament is played, history will record a champion, whatever their relative qualities. The Tour de France has also commenced, with its completion in a month’s time conditional upon no Covid contagion spreading amongst its riders.
However, some events will not be proceeding. The Queensland government confirmed this week that the ‘Schoolies’ festival on the Gold Coast will not be proceeding. Who said it is an ill wind that blows no good? The disappointment expressed by supposedly educated adults that students from all over Australia (sorry, scrap that idea as the borders would not have been open) would not be able to participate in this “important rite of passage” was as appalling as the event itself. Since when it is a celebration for people, still of a vulnerable age, to become inebriated or worse on a daily basis?
Tragically in Melbourne this week there was an ill wind that left nothing redeemable in its path. A windstorm, lasting only thirty minutes, viciously and randomly claimed the lives of three people, including a four year old boy who was crushed by a falling tree.
It also appears that Australia’s foreign relationship with China will not be proceeding in its recent form. At a National Press Club luncheon, the Chinese embassy’s Deputy Head of Mission, Wang Xining, made clear his nation’s disappointment and outrage at Australia’s wish to seek an international inquiry into the outbreak of the corona virus. Notwithstanding Mr. Xining was served Australian wine at the lunch, which people in his country are no longer able to imbibe, he delivered a remarkably undiplomatic assessment of what he saw as the coercive and undemocratic behaviour of Australia. Really, Mr. Xining? When you can identify the last time your nation allowed democratic expression of free opinion on any matter come back to me.
Mr. Xining’s comments did not deter Scott Morrison from introducing the Foreign Relations Bill to the Parliament which, once enacted, will give the Federal government power and I quote the Prime Minister:
To establish the power to cancel and prohibit arrangements, memoranda, partnerships, that are not consistent with Australia's foreign relations, that damage our foreign relations…which is about protecting Australia's national interests and promoting those national interests. More than 130 agreements, from 30 countries - and that's just states and territories that we know of and that are in the public domain - so his Bill could lead to the cancelling of those arrangements…
As the Prime Minister seeks more flexible internal borders, he is making clear his government’s willingness to impose stronger economic borders against counter-cultural investments in Australia. For counter-cultural read China. Say farewell to Victoria’s “Belt and Road” initiative with the Peoples’ Republic. Don’t you just love the start of a new Cold War?
Finally, thank you for the many comments on last week’s article on the landmark developments of the last forty years. There is nothing like a Top-10 list to engender controversy! There were even predictions about the most radical changes to come in the next forty years including the rise of veganism and the changing of the date of Australia Day.
I should have mentioned that my judgements were focussing on Australia.
From a world perspective, the last forty years have brought us all revolutionary changes.
The top 2 for mine?
Advances in medicine. Smallpox and polio eliminated for starters. Procedures that were seen as miraculous forty years ago are now commonplace: transplants of vital organs, stents, new heart valves inserted by robotic devices, spines fused, cataracts removed by lasers, extraordinary progress in the detection and treatment of cancers and there’s so much more. We now await modern medicine to deliver its next miracle with the arrival of a vaccine to treat covid-19.
Strange to comment on this in lockdown, but globalisation and the democratisation of travel has changed the world. When the recently retired 747 Jumbo Jet took to the air in the early 1970s, a flight from Sydney to London cost 24.5 weeks of the average weekly wage. If such a flight was possible today, it would deprive a person of 1.7 weeks of their remuneration. For so long international travel was the domain of the wealthy. It is now a popular pursuit. Over the last forty years, the world’s borders have opened up to millions and the distance between nations has figuratively shrunk.
However, our population has not. Quite the opposite. It is estimated that the world’s population reached one billion around 1870. It is now seven and a half billion. One is reminded of the quip, attributed to America’s Henny Youngman,
“Statistics show that every two seconds a woman gives birth to a child. The trick is to find that woman and stop her.”
To conclude, another recognition of the presence of sport in our psyche, especially the fixation that Australian Rules Football provides Victorians. Today Carlton and Collingwood played their 258th match since 1892. Collingwood’s victory today means that each team has now, remarkably, recorded 127 wins against each other with four draws.
Maybe this is a sign that a return to economic and social equilibrium with more evenly balanced and less fractured days is imminent. All Victorians, who face another fortnight within their domestic borders, would love to think so.