Australia's iconic hippie playground is in the news. This time it is not about real estate booms or Hollywood celebrity sightings, but rather it is about the economic and psychological shellacking Byron has had inflicted upon it by the Covid Tsars of Macquarie Street.
On the strength of one single "case" of coronavirus, carried by someone whose current state of health and age is unknown to the public, the bureaucrat-panjandrums who have achieved so much in ruining all our lives this past year have conspired to kill the Bluesfest, one of Byron's standout annual events and a joy to live music lovers, who have been denied so much since the start of the lockdown oppression.
The cost to Byron's economy of cancelling the 'Fest last year has been calculated to be in excess of $100m. This year's cancellation might be lower given that it was already planned to be a scaled-back, "Covid-safe" event. But still massive. Not to mention the disrupted lives and bank accounts of those intending to be there for an event that has been cancelled on a political whim. And, also, not to mention the missed opportunity for recovery for the entertainment industry and for tourism.
These are two of the sectors hit hardest by Covid policy, whose operators and employees are close to economic death and who quite reasonably saw the 'Fest as the beginning of a long, slow journey back to prosperity. Byron, of course, has a concentration of these industries and so their contribution to the local economy is critical to the town's well-being. The economic modellers could calculate the cost to Byron of the collapse of these two sectors as well.
The cost to the region's community psyche is far harder to calculate. The millions who visit Byron every year and who so enliven the place – indeed, who give it much of its aura – have stayed away, many of them simply not allowed to enter the country. All those young, tanned European backpackers whose happy faces and lilting accents light up the region, not to mention the schoolies who routinely do unspeakable things but have a great time doing them – all have been missing in action this year past. Losing much of its beach to the early summer floods and king tides has been a minor blip in comparison to the economic devastation wrought by citycentric government action.
You might think that, well, Byron is benefiting from an "unprecedented" real estate boom, because of Covid. Try telling that to one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of Byron residents who cannot now afford the rent, who, indeed, cannot find a place to rent. The dream of normal people buying a place in Byron is long dead, killed off by the craze of rich people splurging on a pad there. The latter, of course, have driven much of the property buying tsunami of 2020-21.
Byron has suffered in this latest kerfuffle, too, because of the strategic significance of its airport. Byron has benefited from the gazillions of Sydneysiders who have flocked to the place over the past year, absent the chance to catch some rays in Queensland due to that state's Covid fascism. This influx has provided some economic relief in the face of international tourism losses. Ballina Airport is the region's gateway, and flights in and out have grown considerably since the end of the NSW lockdown.
In reality, the 2021 Bluesfest was cancelled mainly because Byron is now an outer suburb of Sydney, and returning Bluesfesters were at risk of becoming "superspreaders" who re-ignited "outbreaks" in the state capital. Or at least the politicians and their all-powerful health bureaucrats would definitely have thought this. (This, of course, perpetuates, indeed feeds, the myth that political actions can control a seasonal and endemic virus).
This is the new political reality. A leader's chances at the next election now ride on "zero cases" and Covid-toughness. So Sydney, especially, must be protected. At all costs. What a catastrophe. Perhaps if all the low-information, freedom-parking voters who seem to have rewarded politicians that were the most effective in shutting down our economies and killing off our basic rights woke up to what has been going on, the goalposts might shift a little in liberty's favour.
The problem of policy Covidmania has been much analysed, both here and overseas. Are governments essentially illiberal – whatever the titles of the political parties in office – or are they simply stupid? Were they panicked? Once committed to an illiberal course of action in response to what every pet-shop galah now knows to be, for just about everyone, a harmless virus, did they simply lack the spine and the smarts to alter course, perhaps even to admit error?
Three things are clear, though.
First, a conception of "public health" that created, once-upon-a-time, merely one portfolio in government, has now become the only policy consideration that appears to matter to our elected politicians. This is novel, and disastrously so.