When will all of US be OPEN?
Updated: Aug 30
Sometimes, you just cannot believe the timeliness of events and poignancy of words.
Tonight, (Australian time) the US Open commences.
All we need to do is add a question mark to the title of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, add a word and a seminal question is straight in front of us: When will all of US be OPEN ?
For this is now almost the only question on our collective minds: when will Australia, a first world G20 nation whose stable representative democracy is the envy of most, again be ‘open’? When will all our parliaments, shops, schools, universities, chapels and cathedrals, gymnasiums, businesses, airports, theatres, galleries, resorts and sporting grounds be able to fully function again?
As diverting as it would be to consider whether Novak Djokovic can claim a calendar Grand Slam or Ashleigh Barty can win a third Grand Slam title, the need to consider the grander question of the manner of the nation’s post-pandemic re-opening has rightly galvanised us.
The politicians are weary, worried, and wary. As they should be. This is how the pandemic has played out.
Act 1. Australians were made to fight a phoney war against the pandemic for far too long. We were smug and self-congratulatory-although not as much as New Zealand-that our geographic gravitas as an island continent gave us quintessential Australian luck. We could close the international borders, benefit from our relatively low population densities and create an essentially Covid free world. Put aside the ill-fated docking of the Ruby Princess in Sydney and the colossal mismanagement of hotel quarantine in Melbourne- events for which no-one has taken responsibility-and we were the envy of the world.
But what happened in Act 2? Not even the arrival of vaccines, miraculously created in a short period of time, led to our governments making clear that our cossetted Covid existence had no long-term credibility. We just watched as Premiers, flushed with their increased importance, played a rank game of parochial politics: “My State is cleaner than yours”. Knee-jerk snap lockdowns became commonplace, convincing the public that only days of “zero-cases” would enable a re-opening of our communities. No leadership was provided to convince our people of the inevitability and importance of vaccination.
We are now in the middle of Act 3. Suddenly, we are being told that the days of zero cases will no longer be with us. Quite the opposite. Vaccination rates of 70-80% are now urgently required in order that normal patterns of behaviour can be resumed and when that happens, we will “all be living with Covid.” Like England, where there are still tens of thousands of daily cases being reported as citizens with “double vaccinations” return to the streets.
The Delta variant of the virus is the alibi being used by our politicians trying to radically transform our psychological expectations. Scott Morrison, who has just begun the fourth year of his Prime Ministership, is hoping that the degree of exasperation felt by those in the ‘locked down’ States of New South Wales and Victoria will be the tail that will wag the vaccination dog. He hopes that the ‘lockdown free’ States will accept the new national order by December. Happy Christmas, everybody!
The script of Act 3 is starting to look and sound ugly. Victoria’s Premier, ACT’s Chief Minister and New South Wales’ Deputy Premier have all made scatological references when referring to the latest lockdowns. “Bloody tough choices”, has been another statesmanlike observation from the Victorian Premier. There have been allegations that the NSW Premier referred to the Prime Minister as “evil” in a meeting.
When Australia’s Constitution, an Act of the British Parliament, received Queen Victoria’s Royal Assent on 9th July, 1900, Western Australia had still not voted to join the imminent federation of the other colonies. Alongside Western Australia’s outright suspicion of “the othersiders”, other less populated colonies had to be appeased before voting to join the Federation. Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania were provided with constitutional protections that they considered necessary to provide a buffer against the far greater populations of New South Wales and Victoria.
Each State was to have, and still does, an equal number of Senators irrespective of population, so that any legislation discriminating against the ‘lesser four’, could be blocked in the Commonwealth Parliament’s Upper House. Further, any changes to the Constitution could only be approved by a majority vote of the people and a majority of the States. Our “one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth” was built on acknowledging and appeasing key fault lines in our body politic.
Western Australia voted less than a month after the Constitution receiving Royal Assent to join the Federation, tempted by promise of funds to see a trans-continental railway be completed.
How ironic it is to see the original ‘lesser four’ States, especially Western Australia and Queensland, now vastly more populated and flushed with post-World War 2 resources wealth, threaten the unity of the post-pandemic inoculated Federation! The isolated and paranoid worm has turned.
A principal reason for the creation of the Federation was to create greater economic prosperity for all- the “common weal”, no less. Freedom of trade and commerce between the States was an express right guaranteed by s.92 of the Constitution. Yet, we are reminded again that nothing is entirely free. The High Court has now ruled both during the Spanish flu pandemic and last year, when Clive Palmer challenged the closure of Western Australia’s borders, that a State’s rights to protect the health of its citizens trumps national freedom of trade.
As always, it will be politics that will decide whether the Federation can display the “unity in strength” that was its great promise.
A belligerent refusal from Brisbane and Perth to re-open State borders will fracture the Federation compact. Can Scott Morrison, now supported by the Opposition Leader, stare down the parochial Premiers and have them accept the much vaunted ‘national plan’ for a re-opening of our interstate borders? The prospect that someone at year’s end could fly from Melbourne to London, but not from Sydney to Perth is beyond preposterous.
The world seems to be specialising in the preposterous at the moment. Take the world’s allegedly greatest power unilaterally deciding to withdraw its military presence from Afghanistan and then doing so with unseemly haste. Into the vacuum steps a resurgent and gleeful Taliban advocating an atavistic past. This week, for the first time, none of Australia’s ‘Top 200 Listed companies’ have all-male boards. What chances now exist in Afghanistan for female education and emancipation?
The success of the Taliban will only encourage vile terrorist offshoots to wreak their havoc. Isis K’s attack on Kabul airport is the first of what one fears will be many. When President Biden dies, he may well have Kabul “engraved on his heart”, so spectacular has been America’s loss of prestige and so grave have been the consequences. The residents of Taipei are unlikely to be sleeping easily.
Many might consider Roger Federer’s belief that he can recover from another knee operation and resume his stratospheric place in the tennis world to be another example of the preposterous. Mother Nature seems to be forcing many of tennis’ greats to accept their sporting mortality even if they cannot. Injuries have forced Federer, Nadal and Serena Williams to withdraw from the US Open. When is the last time that a Grand Slam tournament was played without at least one of these players? It would have to be sometime last century, certainly before the American led invasion of Afghanistan which followed the 9/11 attacks, the twentieth anniversary of which will be commemorated at the end of next week.
As Djokovic plays for a 21st Grand Slam title to make him exalted amongst the games’ pantheon of legends, most Australians would happily settle for a return to prosaic normality.
Remember Wimbledon, barely two months ago? A packed Centre Court crowd stood and cheered Dame Sarah Gilbert and Andrew Pollard, two of the inventors of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. Ashleigh Barty gave Australians another fillip by winning the Ladies’ Championship. There were signs that Australia was on the cusp of Covid management albeit with agonisingly slow vaccination rates. Then the Sydney cluster grew, South-East Queensland had another lockdown and suddenly here we are!
The only silver lining in the clouds generated by yet another lockdown is that our leaders have been compelled to tell us what they have known for some time: isolation is not a long-term solution, but vaccination with alacrity is. The quest for a series of ‘donut days’ of zero infections was literally hollow, if not a ruse.
Djokovic and Barty have much to play for over the next fortnight. However, Australians have much more to fight for in the weeks ahead. Not for us the Serbian’s desire for a special suite of trophies that may record four historic victories. Our need is to abate and reverse the grievous human and economic losses and psychological damage to our communities of the last two years. We can slam shut an era of excessive loss. Wouldn’t that be grand?