The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s Regional Programme Australia and the Pacific recently initiated a rule of law dialogue between Germany and Australia with the aim of extending it to New Zealand and the South Pacific. KAS Australia seeks to contribute through its Periscope series to the ongoing rule of law debate, including current issues such as the proportionality of coronavirus measures and the interaction between law and politics as well as opportunities and limits of rule of law states. We would like to connect Germany and the European Union with Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific in an endeavour to increase mutual understanding and to foster idea and knowledge sharing between policy makers, legal experts and other stakeholders.
2020 will be remembered for disruptions both of national and global scale, from the Australian bushfires to the coronavirus pandemic. Given KAS Australia’s mandate to foster public debate and to promote theme-focussed dialogues, publishing a Periscope edition on the coronavirus measures from a rule of law perspective was an obvious choice. This edition includes reflections on the approach taken by various countries to protect public health. Our contributors from Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa provide an overview of their respective country’s response to the pandemic to date and analyse the specific measures as to their proportionality and compliance with the rule of law. The contributions were submitted between mid-July and mid-August 2020 and reflect the situation in the aforementioned countries at that date.
While the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, described the temporary interference with citizens’ fundamental rights as an “imposition on democracy”, others labelled the coronavirus measures a challenge to the rule of law. But the pandemic also represents a challenge for democracy in a different respect. More precisely, the measures resulted in disinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories used by political extremist groups. They are indeed a test for liberal democracies. Thanks to the strong and stable foundation of the German political system and that of our like-minded partners, however, they never posed a real threat. Nevertheless, a discussion of how far a state may go to contain a pandemic is a legitimate expression of any democratic culture.
The complexity of the pandemic made extraordinary measures temporarily necessary and required comprehensive trust both in experts and governments. Dealing with the crisis is not only the task of medical experts and politicians alone: we as responsible citizens must also tackle the challenge to public health, and at the same time uphold the values our liberal democracies are built on. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it like this prior to the second lockdown in November this year: I have faith in the power of reason and responsibility in a democracy.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the authors cordially for their insightful and incisive contributions and the co-editors for their well-rounded efforts. It is my hope that this publication is thought-provoking for lawmakers, experts and other stakeholders alike and will further promote the discussion.
Dr Beatrice Gorawantschy
Regional Programme Australia and the Pacific
Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
31 October 2020