A CROSS MUCH of Asia, the pandemic has given national leaders an excuse to unleash authoritarian instincts—think Thailand, the Philippines or India. Australia, though, provides a stark contrast. There, authority has conspicuously ebbed away from the federal government and to the vast country's six states. The shift is clearest in the way states have imposed their own quarantine rules. Australia closed to the outside world at the outset of the pandemic. But individual state governments also saw out-of-state Australians as a peril. Backed by state police and pursuing a zero-covid policy, they slammed their borders shut. They have since opened and closed them on states' individual whims, depending on the perceived threat of infections from other states. No more striking exercise of state power has occurred since the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, when states last closed themselves off from each other. But then the Commonwealth of Australia was not even 20 years old. Regional identities were stronger than national ones. Canberra was not yet then the federal capital. And the role of the prime minister of the federation had not yet been properly construed: the premiers of New South Wales and Victoria, the most populous states, wielded more power…. Read full this story
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