Australia

Because Every Life Matters: We Must Hold This Government Accountable for the Suicide of Every Australian Who Has Lost Hope

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The Australian government seems particularly pleased to have been a world leader in compromising our future in order to combat a virus that may be no more deadly than the normal flu. Indeed, it is now becoming patently clear that this government has completely over-reacted to this virus.

There have been no new cases of coronavirus reported in Australia on May 7, 2020. According to the nation’s Health Department, of the 6,875 confirmed cases, only 97 have died from or with Covid-19. This means that of all those who have had the virus, only 1.4 per cent have died with the virus.[1]

Of course, many others have never become sick enough to actually get tested. The magazine Science reports that 86 per cent of infections are never documented. We also know now that those under 60 without a pre-existing medical condition have an extremely small chance of dying of coronavirus, and not much chance even of getting very ill.

If that is the actual death rate, surely paralysing the entire country with tremendous social and economic consequences can only be seen as utterly unreasonable. The long term economic and health effects will be felt for generations and simply because the government grossly overreacted to flawed modelling that falsely predicted hundreds of thousands of fatalities.

First of all, this has never been a matter of lives lost from coronavirus versus the economy, as some have painted it and a line of thinking the government has tacitly endorsed. Due to economic pressures caused by these government measures, suicide rates in Australia are forecast to rise by up to 50 per cent due to the socio-economic impact of government measures.[2] These measures may give rise to at last 25 per cent more suicides, with up to 30 per cent of those among young people aged 15-25 years.

As can be seen, the Australian government has created a problem that appears to be much bigger than the coronavirus. Our ruling political class has developed policies that have endangered jobs by trashing the economy and seriously compromised the future of countless people.

The costs to public revenue are likely to be $168 billion-plus.[3] But the social and economic costs for the average citizen are countless and quite unpredictable. Out of Australia’s 13 million employed in March 2020, there are now six million on JobSeeker and JobKeeper.[4]

This means that half of those in the private sector in this country are now dependant on government aid and earning at least 30 per cent less than they did. Most of these people will eventually discover that they are actually unemployed. They will never be able to resume their jobs simply because the company for which they had been working has simply been forced to shut down.

Of course, none of the members of Parliament and the two million employees in the public sector is affected. They comprise a superior caste of privileged individuals. For them, the present crisis represents no more than an opportunity to increase their power and influence over society as a whole.

During this crisis, the Prime Minister keeps telling us that his government is simply doing what a panel of scientists are telling him to do. Of course, good leaders do not hide behind a few “experts”. An expert is only an expert in one field and this present crisis is not solely a medical crisis. Besides, there are a number of medical practitioners who strongly oppose these draconian measures on solely health grounds.

According to Dr David Katz, a professor of public health at the Yale School of Medicine, the unique nature of this virus is that it not only results in quite mild symptoms in 99 per cent of cases but also appears to pose a high risk only to the elderly and those with significant chronic illnesses.[5]

Dr Katz then suggests that governments should depart from a “total war” strategy that our government is employing now – disrupting businesses and restricting the movement of people with no regards to the variance in the risks of contracting the infection – and start adopting instead a rather more “surgical war” approach to the problem.[6]

The surgical approach proposed by Dr Katz is focused on protecting and isolating the most vulnerable and at a higher risk of dying when contracting the disease – that is the elderly, people with chronic diseases and with low immune systems – while treating the rest of the population in the same way as we have always dealt with other and more familiar types of flu.

For those infected by the coronavirus, they should be in isolation for an indefinite period of time and as long as the symptoms last. Those who have developed these symptoms should isolate themselves, with or without tests, which is exactly what one should do when getting the flu. Those who are not suffering any symptom and are part of the low-risk population should be allowed to resume their normal lives, including returning to work and school.

In other words, a better policy would have been temporary closure of the borders coupled with appropriate social distancing measures and special protection of the most vulnerable, and otherwise, allow life to continue as normal. Otherwise, the human costs of government measures to fight this virus may prove to be far more deadly than the disease itself.

Conducted by Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre and supported by the Australian Medical Association, world-leading research carried out by the country’s top health experts has predicted that the impact of such government measures may result in an extra 1,500 deaths a year over the next five years, which is at least 10 times more deaths than caused by the coronavirus.[7]

Professor Ian Hickie is a former mental health commissioner and the head of Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre. According to him, the annual rate of suicide provoked by these government measures could rise from 3,000 to up to 4,500, with youth suicides making up almost half of deaths.

Professor Hickie claims to have already advised the Australia government about the impact of economic measures with the greatest among the young, and those who live in rural and regional Australia. ‘What happens in recessions is that suicide rates go up dramatically … and they hurt the young the most’, Professor Hickie says.[8]

Unfortunately, his advice appears to have been largely ignored. As a result, there will be catastrophic consequences as a result of all these government measures. For instance, writes Janet Albrechtsen, ‘no politician is going to be held responsible for the future suicide of an unemployed young man who has lost hope’.[9]

As she further points also, these are some tough questions the Australian government will have to answer: ‘How did deaths from COVID-19 compare with an awful flu season that kills young people too? How many people died from other medical conditions that were not treated because of the lockdown? How many additional suicides were caused by the lockdown?’[10]

Many of us may have friends and family members who have already lost their jobs and businesses due to this lockdown. We may even know of friends who have committed suicide already due to the consequences of government measures. By contrast, there will be very few of us who know a single person who has caught coronavirus.

When this is over almost none of us will know someone who lost their lives due to this virus. We will all know, however, numerous others who have lost their jobs, their businesses or even their lives as a result of the actions of the government on the basis of “catastrophic” medical advice that has ultimately proven to be unsubstantiated.

The Australian Prime Minister says every life matters. If that is so, he and the state Premiers must be held fully accountable for the death of every Australian who has lost their hope as a result job-endangering policies that are based on “catastrophic” scenarios that have now proven to be completely false and unsubstantiated.

Augusto Zimmermann PhD, LLM, LLB, DipEd, CertIntArb, is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan College in Perth/WA, and Professor of Law (Adjunct) at the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney campus. He is President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA), and former Law Reform Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia, from 2012-2017.

[1] Australian Government, Department of Health

[2] Simon Benson, ‘Coronavirus Australia: Suicide’s Tool Far Higher than the Virus’, The Australian,  May 7, 2020

[3] Alan Moran, ‘Revealed: The True Cost of Our Stimulus Spending’, The Spectator Australia, May 7, 2020

[4] Ibid.

[5] David L. Katz, ‘Is Our Fight Against Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease?’, The New York Times, March 20, 2020

[6] Ibid.

[7] Simon Benson, ‘Coronavirus Australia: Suicide’s Tool Far Higher than the Virus’, The Australian,  May 7, 2020

[8] Ibid.

[9] Janet Albrechtsen, ‘Coronavirus: Charting a Way Out of this Crippling Pollyanna World’, The Australian, May 7, 2020

[10] Janet Albrechtsen, ‘Coronavirus: Old or Young – Every Life Has a Different Value and We Accept That’, The Australian, May 6, 2020


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