A former economist at the Victorian Treasury Department has quit his job in protest at Daniel Andrews’ “police state”, penning a devastating op-ed slamming the government’s coronavirus response.
Sanjeev Sabhlok, who moved to Melbourne from India in 2001, resigned last week after being asked to remove a number of inflammatory social media posts criticising the state government.
Mr Sabhlok runs a blog and has a Twitter account with more than 3000 followers where he has railed against COVID-19 lockdowns, and in some cases called for politicians responsible to be jailed.
“These monsters need to be tried for crimes against humanity and shot,” Mr Sabhlok said in one post earlier this month, responding to a tweet by UK conservative commentator Suzanne Evans criticising a Labour MP.
Mr Sabhlok announced his resignation on social media last week in a message to Mr Andrews. “I did not come to Australia to be a slave of whimsical government,” he said.
“You have not implemented risk-based management, no evidence-based policy, no cost-benefit analysis. No justification. Just whimsy. You must reset Victoria’s policies right now. But if you won’t, then go!”
In an opinion piece for The Australian Financial Review on Wednesday, the public service veteran said he had been approached by the head of human relations at Treasury and asked to remove his posts critical of the government.
“I considered deleting the few direct criticisms, but they wanted all indirect criticism removed too,” he wrote. “I resigned on the same day, the only honourable course for a free citizen of Australia.”
In the piece, Mr Sabhlok describes the pandemic policies being pursued in Australia and particularly in Victoria as “the most heavy-handed possible, a sledgehammer to kill a swarm of flies”.
“These policies are having hugely adverse economic, social and health effects, with the poorer sections of the community that don’t have the ability to work from home suffering the most,” he said.
“Australia is signalling to the world that it is closed for business and doesn’t care for human freedoms. This will dampen business investment but also impact future skilled migration, the education industry and tourism.”
He accused politicians and health officials of using scare tactics, singling out Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton for claiming COVID-19 was the “greatest public health challenge since the Spanish flu”.
“But this is no Spanish flu – we can verify that easily,” he said.
“The Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people worldwide in 1918 when the global population was 1.8 billion. Proportionately, to be as lethal as Spanish flu, a virus would have to kill at least 210 million people today. Instead, only around 0.9 million have died so far (compare this also with the 60 million who ordinarily die each year).”
Even if it were on par with the Spanish flu, Mr Sabhlok maintains the draconian lockdowns “could never have been justified”.
As early as February, he said, it was obvious that the virus was far more dangerous for the elderly, so steps should have been taken to “aggressively” protect them while advising the rest of the population on health precautions.
He criticised the lack of any cost-benefit analysis into different policy options. “The need for good policy process does not disappear just because we face a public health crisis,” he said. “In fact, it gets even more urgent.
“Governments should have also realised at the outset that they are hostage to chronic groupthink and actively sought alternative advice.”
Mr Sabhlok claims he “repeatedly” attempted to raise concerns but his “attempts were rebuffed”.
“The bureaucracy has clamped down on frank and fearless, impartial advice, in a misplaced determination to support whatever the government decides, (instead of performing its taxpayer-funded duty of providing forthright analysis of alternatives),” he said.
“So what happens now? Billions of dollars in income and wealth have been wiped out in the name of a virus that is no worse than the Asian flu.”
He concludes, “The problem for politicians now is to reverse course without losing their job. I don’t know how they plan to do it but if they don’t do it sooner rather than later the damage to Australia’s future would have become so great it would undo the good work of decades of reform.”
Mr Andrews was asked about the opinion piece at his Thursday press conference, and whether he was receiving “frank and fearless advice” from the public service.
“That may be his version of what occurred, I’m not briefed on the accuracy or otherwise of that,” Mr Andrews said.
“He’s entitled to his views, but you, your readers and all Victorians should be assured that we receive frank and fearless advice from the public service each and every day.”
Treasury has been contacted for comment.