COVID and the Australian Regulatory State


COVID-19 and the Pathologies of Australia’s Regulatory State” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2022.2106883) is a new article by Tom Chodor of the Department of Politics and International Relations, School of Social Sciences at Monash University in Australia and Shahar Hameiri of the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland in Australia.

The abstract for the paper is:


The COVID-19 pandemic has elicited a wide range of national responses with an even wider range of outcomes in terms of infections and mortalities. Australia is a rare success story, keeping deaths comparatively low, and infections too, until the Omicron wave. What explains Australia’s success? Typical explanations emphasise leaders’ choices. We agree, but argue that leaders’ choices, and whether these are implemented effectively, is shaped by the legacy of state transformation. Decades of neo-liberal reforms have hollowed out state capacity and confused lines of control and accountability, leaving Australia unprepared for the pandemic. Leaders thus abandoned plans and turned to ad hoc, simple to implement emergency measures – border closures and lockdowns. These averted large-scale outbreaks and deaths, but with diminishing returns as the Delta variant took hold. Conversely, Australia’s regulatory state has struggled to deliver more sophisticated policy responses, even when leaders were apparently committed, including an effective quarantine system, crucial for border controls, and vaccination programme, essential for exiting the quagmire of lockdowns and closed borders, leading to a partial return to top-down governing. The Australian experience shows that to avoid a public health catastrophe or more damaging lockdowns in the next pandemic, states must re-learn to govern.

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