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Arguing with Success: COVID-19 and the Failure of Australia’s Regulatory State

04 Jul 2021
By Associate Professor Shahar Hameiri
A road block at the NSW-Queensland border. Source: Advanstra

Australia is touted as a rare success story in the fight against the spread of COVID-19. This was achieved through crude, blunt, and coercive policy instruments.

Australia has successfully kept infection rates and deaths very low by global standards. Australia’s apparent success, however, has hinged upon long-term border closures, including between Australian states, and large-scale lockdowns – and comes despite the evident failure of its pandemic preparedness and response systems. Decades of neoliberal reforms have meant that Australian governments at the Commonwealth and State levels have often struggled to mobilise resources and personnel effectively to manage COVID-19. The hollowing out of state capacity, outsourcing, privatisation, defunding of key services, and confusion over lines of authority and accountability – all inherent aspects of the shift to regulatory statehood – explain failures in major policy areas, such as hotel quarantine, contact-tracing, and the vaccine program. As a consequence of their failure to govern, Australian governments have often resorted to border closures and lockdowns to manage even small outbreaks. The Australian experience shows that to avoid a public health catastrophe or more damaging lockdowns when the next pandemic strikes, states must learn to govern again.

Shahar Hameiri is Australian Research Council Future Fellow, which is a very prestigious position, and Associate Professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland. His research mainly focuses on the intersection of security and development in the Asia-Pacific. He tweets @ShaharHameiri.

This is a recording of an event held at AIIA Queensland on 8 June 2021. To register for upcoming AIIA events, CLICK HERE.