Should the Victorian Government extend the State of Emergency until late 2021?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been an advocate for Victorians doing the right thing & respecting the rules in place. That doesn’t mean agreeing every decision or that implementation of rules is always easy,  but we have nonetheless accepted that there are experts working hard to give their best advice to the Government. 

It won’t surprise anyone to note that there are always some Victorians who will do the wrong thing, no matter the social or legal compulsion. However, the overwhelming majority of the people are adhering to the rules, despite the significant costs. 

Photo by Anna Shvets on

As the months progress I fear that what is already a difficult year is becoming a greater burden for huge numbers of Victorians. I am not making light of COVID-19 and the detriment it is to peoples’s lives; it is a serious disease. It is important to also highlight that a pandemic is never one dimensional; it impacts lives and communities in multi-dimensional ways. These costs are mounting: 100,000s of Victorians are unemployed, suicides related to the lockdown have been reported, mental health services are struggling, the economic picture is becoming more bleak with each passing week. On top of this, after 6 months of living under tight restrictions, the general wellbeing of people has been tested. 

For those have secure jobs and whose physical and mental health is unaffected, it is relatively easy to go along with any and every decision coming from Spring St. Not everyone is facing such a comfortable position. Indeed, eventually their costs will become ours.

Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday announced that he is requesting a 12 month extension to the State of Emergency, which will give the Government ongoing control over the everyday and personal lives of 4.9 million Melbournians, and a further 1 million Victorians who live in regional areas. This doesn’t mean that the Government will enforce all these powers for the full duration of time, but it does mean that they can do so at any time.

The announcement is a clear indication that the Government doesn’t trust the people to do what right. I understand the logic behind the thinking but I believe there is an alternative to extending this extraordinary set of powers: we trust the Victorian people to continue behaving in safe and appropriate ways. Victorians have had several months of practicing social distancing and learning to wear masks. The Government can provide detailed guidelines for businesses, schools, churches, and for outdoor activities. The Department of health and human services can provide regularly updates and inform the public of outbreaks and concerns. It remains in everyone’s interest to keep acting responsibly. Those who don’t are, for the most part, probably the very same individuals who are currently flouting the rules. 

If after 6 months the people of Victoria are facing staggering costs, how much more are we prepared to pay should another 12 months be added? Some are suggesting a compromise, perhaps allowing for a 3 month extension; the proposal has warrant. Let’s be clear, the issue isn’t only about public health and safety, nor can it be reduced to economics, but there is an issue here that drives to the very heart of democratic government. Should the people relinquish their civic freedoms and responsibilities and hand it all to the Government and to unelected officials? This may not feel like an urgent matter right now, but it rarely does. Isn’t that the point? The strength of societal freedoms and responsibilities are most tested during a trial such as this. It is a dangerous precedent that we would do well to avoid.

It is no small thing for millions of citizens to give up their democratic and social freedoms to a tiny few. No Government in Australian history has ever assumed such power. No Government in modern history, outside authoritarian regimes, has taken it upon themselves to exercise this kind of absolutist rule. Keep in mind, this includes two World Wars and the Great Depression.

At yesterday’s conference Premier Daniel Andrews made the following admissions:

  1. If there is no vaccine available in 12 months time he will consider extending the emergency powers for another year. That would make a total of 2.5 years, ending in September 2022.
  2. Should a vaccine be found, it will take considerable time before it is available for the public to use.
  3. Should a vaccine be found and made available, no one knows how effective it will be and whether it require subsequent tops ups.

I appreciated the Premier’s candour on this occasion. I’ve noticed in recent days that the Government has taken on board some criticisms and requests that are coming from various quarters of the State. For example, more information is now being provided at daily press briefings and Government websites are about to include more detailed data and information. I’ve also appreciated my local MP who is regularly keeping his constituents informed about COVId-19 related issues. I hope that the Government will now listen to these concerns.

The grass is not always greener on the other side

“Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”

    For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)


In my view, Christians should not be so entrenched in a political ideology that they cannot in principle move to another party and viewpoint;  after all, Gospel values can not be boxed into particular  political ideologies, and the current political landscape in Australia is an example of this. Many Christians are rightly dismayed by the Coalition’s policies on asylum seekers and cuts to foreign aid. Similarly, there is significant concern with Labor’s position on asylum seekers, as well as positions on marriage, sexuality, and freedom of religion that is being platformed by both Labor and the Greens.

Of course, there are a thousand economic issues which should not neglected either, for economics contribute impacts societal good and order, and vice versa.

It feels as though our politicians are digging tunnels in the mud, in a race to the bottom of the quagmire.

I don’t disdain politics, nor those who are prepared to serve the public in what is often a much maligned profession. As Christians, we believe we should honour those in authority and to pray for them. This we do, and without denuding these things, in our democratic society we also have opportunity and responsibility to articulate our concerns.

As a Pastor, I have never suggested to others how they should vote, nor do I disclose my own vote. I do however believe it is important for voters to be aware of  agendas their vote will be supporting.

In any Government there is the good and bad, but the bad in our political parties right now is so appalling, it is leaving many voters (not only Christians) despondent and with little enthusiasm for tomorrow. Not only so, the gravity of the issues at stake have provoked more Christian commentary than I have seen in any previous election.

Chief among the issues is religious freedom, which most popularly framed in terms of the debate on marriage, however there are other related issues. For example,

Earlier in the election campaign, opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus referenced one of his own party’s policies, saying, “Labor believes that no faith, no religion, no set of beliefs should ever be used as an instrument of division or exclusion… Condemning anyone, discriminating against anyone, vilifying anyone is a violation of the values we all share, a violation which can never be justified by anyone’s faith or belief.”

Thankfully, Bill Shorten backed away from these comments, albeit in a somewhat imprecise and noncommittal manner.

One of the more bizarre moves I have seen is of some Christians giving weight to the Greens Party whose platform includes taking freedoms from Christians.

On this, I have gently chuckled at the irony of some of my Baptist colleagues, who on the one hand are the most ferocious defenders of church and state separation, are sometimes the most keen to talk politics and in a few instances, happen to be vocal supporters of the Greens.

Perhaps if the Greens stuck to policies on asylum seekers and the environment there may be good reason to offer support. These are issues of grave significance. However, it would be simply naive to vote for these policies without considering the fact that a vote for the Greens is a vote against religious liberty.

Firstly, the Greens’ intention is to limit religious freedoms in Australia; that is without dispute. They themselves have said so:

“Our anti-discrimination laws offer good protections to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities, but they come with a gigantic exemption for religious organisations. Successive Labor and Coalition governments have maintained these exemptions, which mean that a religious hospital can refuse to employ a gay doctor, and a faith-based homelessness shelter can refuse to accept a transgender resident.

The Greens have fought against these exemptions at every opportunity, and we believe they should be eliminated. Anti discrimination laws should apply to everyone”

Nick McKim, Greens Senator, has said “The fundamental principle here is that Australians should be treated the same, whether or not they’re of one particular religion or another or whether in fact they’re not religious at all’.

I don’t disagree with the words as such, but the question is, what meaning and agenda is imported into these words? Let’s not be fooled by the rhetoric, this is not about treating all Australians the same, this is about forcing a narrow secular humanity worldview onto all Australians. The existing exemptions are not designed to give special privileges to certain groups, but to protect freedom of conscience.  In that light, this issue concerns not only Christians, but any Australian who believes in freedom of conscience.

Second, the Greens have not (to my knowledge) defined the extent to which they will remove religious exemptions from the anti-discrimination laws; this is most concerning. Their platform doesn’t site any exemptions, although the examples provided refer to religious based hospitals and schools, and not churches. I suspect though, these examples are carefully chosen, ones that very few people would take issue with. But that’s all they are, examples. They do not stipulate with any precision how far they intend to take these redactions.

Even if they promise not to intrude on Churches and para-church organisations, there remain serious questions relating to religious based hospitals and schools, including:

Will religious based schools be forced to employ persons who do not affirm the values of their schools?

Will religious affiliated hospitals be coerced into providing procedures, such as abortions, against good conscience?

As Andrew Katay has rightly pointed out,

“a basic principle of political theology is the commitment to a pluralist state, where conscience is not coerced.”  The Greens platform betrays this essential democratic ideal, trouncing conscience and forcing people to betray the deepest convictions, and with that bringing “the punitive power of the state to bear against those who seek to follow their conscience.”

Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are not the only serious issues deserving our consideration tomorrow, but we are blindsiding society’s health and freedom should we ignore these matters

While I am grateful for the privilege of casting a vote at the ballot, tomorrow’s task will have little joy in it. Like so many people my heart and mind is scrambling together a retrieval ethic in order to find the least objectionable of choices. And yet even this moral dilemma, we should give thanks that we still have such freedom to choose.

Whatever the outcome, the reality that does gives Christians great joy is that our faith and hope does not lie in the electoral process nor its outcome, but in the Lord of life.  The Australian landscape may well be changing;  the Greens, and any party for that matter, can do their damned best to subvert and silence the Christian hope, but history’s story cannot escape God and the power of his amazing Gospel.