Second wave of pandemic in Australia – Interview with Melbourne-based human rights lawyer Eda Seyhan

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More than 30 million people around the world got infected by the novel coronavirus and 950 thousand people died because of the virus. In the southern hemisphere, Australia started facing the second wave of the pandemic. Özge Çakır Somlyai’s guest was Eda Seyhan, a human rights lawyer who lives in Melbourne, Australia. We talked about Australia’s fight against coronavirus. More specifically, Seyhan provided insight into the current situation in the heart of Australia’s economy, the state of Victoria, and the city of Melbourne. 

Seyhan and her family are staying in, living under quite strict lockdown measures since the beginning of August like all residents of Melbourne. They cannot leave the city and they cannot leave their house after 9 pm. But Seyhan underlined that the situation in the state of Victoria is quite different than the rest of Australia. “Most of the states in Australia have actually eliminated the virus almost entirely, or they have a very small number of cases” she said. 

“A lot of migrants, refugees were placed under a heavy, militarized lockdown”

The state of emergency is still effective in Australia. Seyhan mentioned that the Australian police has gained more power in the pretext of fighting against the pandemic. She said that some implementations of the measures taken against the pandemic revealed the discrimination against minorities, disadvantaged groups, and indigenous people in Australia. “In Melbourne, nine public housing towers whose residents include a lot of migrants, refugees, and people from the Turkish community as well were placed under a heavy, militarized lockdown. Three thousand residences living in these places were essentially trapped in their own places, and five thousand police officers were watching the area” Seyhan said. “Students who are protesting had to pay fines while sports events with 1000 attendees are allowed” she added. 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, Australia spent about 2 hundred billion Australian dollars, which is roughly 10 percent of the country’s GDP, on the fiscal stimulus package offered by the government” Seyhan said.

A large portion of this package was spared for what is called the JobKeeper Program, a wage subsidy program for businesses that lost their revenues due to the pandemic. Seyhan also said that temporary visa holders such as foreign students studying and living in Australia and immigrated temporary workers have been excluded, therefore could not benefit from this program. As she puts it, a large segment of society -about 1 million people- is in this situation. 

“Coronavirus exposed failures of two central aspects of neo-liberalism”

“In Victoria, coronavirus has become the plague of the working class” says Seyhan and mentions how the pandemic highlighted the job insecurity in Australia. She says, like it was the case in many countries, a lot of temporary visa holders, immigrant workers, low-skilled labors in Australia were forced to go out and continue working even when it was advised to stay in to avoid the virus. She also mentioned that most of the elderly deaths occurred in private care facilities. Thus, Seyhan argues that coronavirus exposed failures of two central aspects of neo-liberalism: privatization of public services and casualization of the workforce. 

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