Salvatore Babones: COVID-19 was the crisis that Australia didn’t have to have

Associate Professor Salvatore Babones has released a new paper at the Centre for International Studies (CIS), entitled “The 12-Week Window: Coronavirus crisis Australia didn’t have to have”. The paper argues that the federal government acted far too late in closing Australia’s international border, in turn resulting in a harder economic lockdown than would otherwise have been required:

The coronavirus crisis has wreaked death and economic destruction throughout the world, but it was a crisis that Australia didn’t have to have. This paper lays out a detailed weekly timeline of the crucial first 12 weeks of the crisis, from China’s first public admission of the disease outbreak on Monday, December 30 to Australia’s border closure on Friday, March 20. Those weeks were Australia’s window of
opportunity for fighting the virus at the border instead of in the community.

Had Australia properly treated the coronavirus as a border security challenge during those 12 weeks, it could have quarantined a limited number of arriving passengers and thus insulated the rest of the country from the worst effects of the pandemic. Instead, Australia treated the introduction of the coronavirus as unavoidable, focusing instead on managing it as public health challenge, using tools like social distancing and the closure of large parts of the Australian economy to isolate 25 million people from the few infected individuals.

By treating the coronavirus as a public health threat instead of as a border security threat, Australia needlessly imposed hundreds of billions of dollars in financial losses on its own population.

In criticising Australia’s public health led response, this paper presents evidence that Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) he chaired:

  1. Placed inordinate faith in the highly-politicised advice of the World Health Organization;
  2. Placed inordinate faith in China’s ‘transparency and openness’;
  3. Uncritically endorsed the World Health Organization’s advice to rely on China (and, later, other countries) to contain the outflow of coronavirus cases instead of taking independent action to control the inflow of cases from China (and, later, the rest of the world);
  4. Equated handing out informational pamphlets containing advice on self-isolation with ‘quarantines’; and
  5. Inexplicably failed to issue advice on cruise ship sailings until the end of Week 11 or the beginning of Week 12, by which time it was too late.

Notwithstanding these errors, the prime minister and the National Security Committee of Cabinet (NSC), not the AHPPC, bore ultimate responsibility for ensuring Australia’s border security. This paper presents evidence that in exercising this responsibility, the prime minister and the NSC:

  1. Made inappropriately firm public commitments to act only on the advice of their health experts (i.e., the AHPPC);
  2. Counter-productively endorsed the exploitation of loopholes in Australia’s travel restrictions, instead of closing them; and
  3. Failed in the execution of simple border security measures like electronic record-keeping and routine follow-up.

Throughout the crucial first 12 weeks of Australia’s coronavirus response, the critical point of failure in the government’s border security policymaking occurred at the junction between bureaucratic expertise and political leadership. The research presented in this paper leads to the conclusion that political leaders who sit on the NSC could have — and should have — drawn on their extensive foreign policy experience and contacts to:

  1. Discount the advice of the WHO not to impose travel restrictions;
  2. Disregard Chinese propaganda about its success in managing the crisis; and
  3. Critically evaluate the advice it received from the AHPPC in light of actions being taken by other jurisdictions with which the members of the NSC were presumably in regular communication (e.g., Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States).

For the first 12 weeks of 2020, the coronavirus crisis was not a public health crisis, but a border security crisis. By treating the coronavirus as a public health crisis right from the beginning, the NSC abrogated too large a portion of its decision-making responsibility. The AHPPC were out of their depth in advising on national security — a policy area that was not really within their area of expertise.

The coronavirus crisis has exposed fault lines in Australia’s national security decision-making that should be mended. In any future national security crisis, the NSC and the elected leadership should:

  1. Limit the role of bureaucratic advice to narrow areas of expert competency;
  2. Take greater public responsibility for decisions that are, ultimately, political;
  3. Exercise due skeptism of pronouncements from highly politicised intergovernmental organisations like the WHO and other United Nations specialised agencies; and
  4. Apply a ‘reasonable person’ test to policymaking, in the full confidence that the Australian electorate, on the whole, consists of reasonable people.

Australia is one of the oldest, most stable, most successful democracies in the world. Its record of policymaking and policy execution throughout its long history of self-government is vastly superior to that of most of the other member states of the United Nations and its specialised agencies. Although it is appropriate for Australia to conscientiously take notice of the advice of intergovernmental organisations, it makes no sense for Australia to slavishly follow their dictates.

After China’s initial mismanagement and attempted cover-up of the Wuhan outbreak in weeks 1-4 of the coronavirus crisis, it was probably impossible to prevent a near-global pandemic spread of the disease.

Nonetheless, at that point it was still possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus into Australia’s general population. This, the NSC failed to do.

Salvatore Babones will get zero disagreement from MB. As the virus was initially spreading, we published daily articles over many weeks demanding the closure of Australia’s international border.

Australia’s powerful university sector didn’t help the situation. They initially lobbied hard against travel bans. And then once that was unsuccessful, they smuggled international students into Australia via third countries like Thailand and Dubai.

Now, after Australians have endured months of lockdown and economic pain to get ahead of the virus, we risk repeating the farce all over again. Australia’s universities are once again lobbying hard for tens-of-thousands of international students to be allowed into Australia at the same time as we cannot travel abroad or interstate.

Salvatore Babones’ full paper can be downloaded here.

Leith van Onselen


  1. Old mate’s gonna get himself expelled if he doesn’t learn to keep his big yap shut.

    • Shades of MessinaMEMBER

      Surprised it hasn’t happened yet under the “Pavlou Protocol” !.

    • If you watch his interviews with Martin North I would not be surprised if he has some very high ranking protection. Not that I disagree with what he says. I quite like those interviews.

  2. PaperRooDogMEMBER

    Exactly! Shutting the borders early would only have shut down parts of the economy & it would have been nothing like as bad. Furthermore, imagine if we hadn’t been running a population ponzi since the mining boom endured & taxed international companies properly & didn’t have such a distorted housing industry etc we would have such a hinge war cheat we wouldn’t even have blinked and our years & years without a recession could probably have continued. Amen

    • Ukraine fnMEMBER

      I’m going to your church brother not SFM happy clappy one..

      I’ve Seen The Light !

    • Jumping jack flash

      Its a nice thought but consider that if the world hadn’t loaded up on enormous debt in the period of 1999 to 2007 then there probably wouldn’t have been a resources boom either.

  3. LabrynthMEMBER

    Regardless, in politics its about winning second price in the beauty content. No need to come first just don’t come last. Striving to come first carries risk, for example, if the government shut down everything at the first instance the virus ended up being just a flu, the opposition would label them as economic wreckers.

    Look at the statements from politicians around the world comparing themselves to others on any metric they stand out on. It is like fund managers, we were =/better to the index so we did a good job…

  4. Ooh, the CIS criticising an LNP government.

    As a penance, the government will need to drop the corporate tax rate to 20%.

    Ironically I wonder if the fear of a recession wasn’t also one of the reasons why the government delayed some of those measures. It was so close to Quarter end, the by were just trying to hold on a few more weeks.

  5. SauropodMEMBER

    Yes. Also, the severity and duration of our lock down could have been much less if we had been better prepared. While I am glad the government imposed the lockdown to avoid overwhelmed hospitals, it was our lack of preparedness that gave them no alternative. Our options were limited by our inability to rapidly scale up testing, contact tracing and enforced isolation.

  6. Finally starting to see some proper conversation come to light.

    Some choice quotes:
    “The idea that it was just a totally natural occurrence is circumstantial. The evidence it leaked from a lab is circumstantial. Right now, the ledger on the side of it leaking from the lab is packed with bullet points and there’s almost nothing on the other side.”

    “If the Shi lab has anything to hide, it is not only the Chinese Government that will be reluctant to see an impartial investigation proceed. Much of the work was funded by the US taxpayer, channeled there by Peter Daszak and the EcoHealth Alliance. Virtually every credible international organisation that might in principle carry out such an investigation, the WHO, the US CDC, the FAO, the US NIH, including the Gates Foundation, is either an advisor to, or a partner of, the EcoHealth Alliance. If the Sars-CoV-2 outbreak originated from the bat coronavirus work at the WIV then just about every major institution in the global public health community is implicated.”

  7. LOL
    reality is quite the opposite …
    even if borders were not closed we wouldn’t have seen widespread local transmission – as we didn’t in two months prior to border close
    simply virus was not spreading in Australia, before nor after measures – sure we would have had more imported case and few more locals but not epidemic of any magnitude

    even if we went Swedish model we wouldn’t have seen even 1k deaths,
    but this virus is so benign (IFR is much less than 0.1%) that even with 70% of Australians getting infected we would have seen less than 5k deaths, in the worst case scenario 10k
    instead, measures costed us hundreds of billions of dollars which comes out at tens of millions per every “saved” elderly and frail life
    and, after all of that money wasted we are still as far from the problem as we were before … we wasted $200-300bn just to defer the problem by few months … LOL

  8. Surely SB is well known, reputable, and making a significant point, worthy of coverage?

    But seriously, I cannot find any other coverage, apart from MB. Maybe the MSM doesn’t want criticism of Saviour Morrison. And the “woke” outlets don’t want criticism of our CCP pals.