If the police ever come for me – not that I’m expecting them – I hope it’s with the blues and twos blasting, loudhailer shouts of “Police! Open up!”, a battering ram bursting through the front door, flash grenades, and a smoke-choked mess of chaos and confusion.
I’d know what was happening; I’d be forewarned that things were serious and this was just the beginning of difficult times ahead. Sadly, in my homeland of Australia, the long arm of the law is choosing to track down alleged wrongdoers in a banal, sinister way that to me is far more terrifying.
The police are turning up on people’s doorsteps with a neat little manila folder containing details of crimes and, to them, what must count as incontrovertible evidence in the form of screen grabs from Facebook.
In one instance filmed and uploaded to social media, two officers bear A4-sized printouts from the police station computer of the suspect’s social media account. The evidence comprises images of a protest, along with the caption making the apparently inflammatory accusation, “Your government does not care about you.”
The suspect is asked if he can confirm he took part in a protest six months ago, which had been deemed an illegal gathering in contravention of lockdown laws – and that’s when the absurdity escalates.
Vacillating between anger and incredulity, the suspect realises that this is not, in fact, a joke, but that these two police officers have been sent to his house with the intention of arresting him for attending a public protest that he had almost forgotten. Sensibly, he winds in his disbelief enough to provide a “No comment” and “I don’t recall,” awake to the risk of unintentionally dropping himself in what is clearly considered a serious police matter.
For if it’s not serious, then why are two officers standing at his front door at night trying to coerce him into a confession of wrongdoing?
It’s the everyday courtesy of the officers, the faux-friendly attitude, the line of questioning, the self-assurance and, most of all, that neat little folder, that makes this encounter so unsettling. And it’s patently obvious that they believe they have their man and he can “No comment” all he likes but this conversation is certainly going to continue down at the station. So you better grab your shoes.
Someone, apparently unknown, reported this ‘crime’ to the police, giving the Facebook details to investigators to provide all the evidence they needed to affect an arrest and punish a person who dared to protest about state-imposed restrictions on freedom.
That gutless ‘dobber’ is now sitting at home, maybe even peering out from behind their nets in a house across the road, comforting themselves with the knowledge that they have helped the police apprehend a suspect who allegedly flouted the most draconian rules ever imposed on Australia’s democratic society.
This is not Neighbourhood Watch. This is the suburban Stasi. Snooping, curtain-twitching, suck-up busybodies leveraging their unquestioning adherence to lockdown rules to rat on their neighbours and those who hold opinions not aligned with their own – because they are afraid.
And where did that fear come from? Why, the Australian government and public health officials in charge, of course, who managed to turn an enviably low number of deaths – in global terms – across the population of 25 million into an opportunity for the police to fire rubber bullets and pepper spray at demonstrators who dared question the state’s approach.
The response Down Under to the pandemic has been consistently disproportionate: the borders slammed shut with thousands of expats still stranded abroad, panic set in when cases – not deaths – started to rise, and officials were found culpable of absurdly under-ordering vaccinations when the rest of the world was ahead of it in the queue.
All this was compounded by a total lack of understanding at the highest level about how constant, draconian lockdowns imposed at random were affecting not just the willingness of the population to co-operate, but their mental wellbeing.
It seems that one devastating effect of that approach has been a breakdown in the cornerstone of Australian society: mateship, a characteristic forged in a shared loathing of authority. So strong was the traditional societal bond between fellow Aussies that it provided the basis of one of the country’s longest-running and most successful TV exports, ‘Neighbours’.
Nowadays, however, a knock on the door is unlikely to be Madge Bishop with some well-intentioned advice about how to trim those unruly agapanthus lining the driveway. It’s more likely to be the police, pointed in your direction by someone with an axe to grind. And you can be sure these unwelcome visitors will be bearing a neat manila folder.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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