Is Australia still the lucky country?

Is Australia still the lucky country?

Over the past 18 months, national governments have tried a lot of different stuff to get the relentless pandemic under control. These approaches range from the radical (hello, Sweden), to the punitive, to the downright risible.

Naturally, I have been focused on the goings on down under in Australia, my home country, where the people I care about most have been hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world since March 2020.

The Australian government has enforced the most stringent curbs on movement of any democratic country in the world. Its punishing international travel ban, which includes blocking Australians from leaving the continent, has been likened to North Korea. So what's been happening, and why does it really matter?

Fortress Australia: Since the beginning, the Australian government has pursued a zero COVID strategy, setting the expectation that anything above naught cases a day would be deemed an outright political and public health failure.

As a result, Australia's borders have been closed to many of its citizens and permanent residents. Arbitrary entry caps have meant that some 34,000 Australian citizens abroad who want to come home remain in limbo. That's 8,000 more people than in September 2020, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed that any Aussie who wanted to get back by Christmas that year would likely be able to do so. No worries, he implied.

Since then, Australia's border policies have only gotten more extreme — and more punishing. Back in May, when India's healthcare system was buckling amid a catastrophic COVID wave, Canberra said that anyone trying to enter the country who had been in India — including Australian nationals — would risk a 5-year jail term, a $66,000 fine, or both. As of May, at least 54 Australians abroad had died from COVID-19 while awaiting Canberra's approval to return home.

And more recently, the federal government doubled down, saying that any expats who travel back to Australia for a visit (if they manage to get a flight) will need permission to leave the country thereafter. (Stranded Australians have to self-fund their mandatory 14-day quarantine stay at a hotel, which comes out to $3,000 a head.)

This all raises a fundamental question: Do people have the right to return to their home country? Well, yes. The UN Declaration of Human Rights says plainly: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." Yet, Australia, which has long seen itself as a fair-dinkum society, has abandoned its citizens during a once-in-a-generation global crisis. Many Australians are asking: what value is a passport if you can't use it to get home in an emergency?

International players are also watching disapprovingly. In April, the UN called on Canberra to "facilitate and ensure" the prompt return of several citizens, including a vaccinated US-based couple who were blocked from visiting a cancer-stricken relative. But the harsh policy remains intact.

A big part of the problem stems from the fact that unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have an entrenched bill of rights. While some human rights are entrenched in the Constitution, they are extremely limited in scope. Indeed, this dynamic raises questions about what responsibility a democratic state has to its citizens in the first place. I posed this question to a few Australian friends living in New York City who are also frustrated with Canberra's hard-line decision-making. Here are some of their thoughts:

Tali Benjamin: At the simplest level, a democratic state has the responsibility to be a place of refuge to its citizens — their home, the place they can always return to if they choose.

Alon Takac: Several times this year I've asked myself; what's actually the point of being an Australian citizen? I used to think that citizenship meant that you always have a 'home' to return to, especially in a time of crisis. That might still be true in general. But not for Aussie citizens living abroad, who have essentially been locked out of our home country by our government.

Daniel Bookman: The contract we had with our home country has been violated. It was difficult enough to get home before the government quietly changed the regulations to create the real possibility that those of us who return for a visit may not be able to leave.

But what happens if this hermetic approach resonates with many Aussie voters? Poll after poll has shown that a majority of Australians — a whopping 85 percent back in December — support the Morrison government's all-or-nothing COVID strategy.

That number is even higher for some state governments that have sealed themselves off from neighboring states. Despite undergoing rolling lockdowns for the past 18-months (Victoria recently entered its sixth lockdown ), Victorians still prefer Dan Andrews as premier (the Australian equivalent of a US governor) to all other candidates. Meanwhile, electorates across Queensland, Tasmania, and Western Australia have delivered solid electoral victories for state governments competing for the tough-on-COVID awards.

No easy answers. A democratic government pledges to protect its citizens, but what happens when citizens disagree on what constitutes safety and security? For some, it means keeping a brutal disease out of the country at all costs. For others, it's the assurance of being allowed to return home at a time of need.

Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company – helping to renew people and planet through our business. We are committed to working towards zero emissions across our global operations by 2040. So far, more than 36% of our global electricity is powered through renewable sources. And through Project Gigaton, we have partnered with suppliers to avoid over 416 million metric tons of CO2e since 2017. Read more about our commitment to the planet in our 2021 ESG report.

The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — has been rejected by half the electorate.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two minority parties don't agree on anything much beyond legalizing weed. So, where does each stand on the policies that divide them?

More Show less

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested a Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

More Show less

40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

More Show less

Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

More Show less

Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

More Show less

As the US economy powers ahead to recover from COVID, many developing economies are getting further left behind — especially those in Latin America. Economic historian Adam Tooze says the region, which did relatively well during the global recession, is now "looking at a lost decade." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal