The Abbott Doctrine.
Oh dear. We appear to have seen this before. And now it’s happening here.
If you thought the first twelve months of the Abbott government was bad, take a look at how the second one is developing. In the last few weeks we have seen the beginnings of what has become the classic 21st century act of smoke and mirrors, when it comes to domestic Islam, and what happens when an Orwellian leader tells his people they are suddenly under threat from the bogeyman.
In the years that followed the events of 9/11, George Bush and Tony Blair implemented swingeing cuts on societal freedom under the guise of national security, took their countries to war, and successfully demonized the Islamic community, to pursue narrow political goals. Now an exact replica has hit the shores of Australia, under a regime bearing uncanny similarities.
It’s a tried and tested formula. Here’s how it works.
First, you scare everyone. On September 12th, Abbott’s government raised the terror threat to ‘high’ for the first time in Australia’s history, meaning a terrorist attack is now considered ‘likely’. Offering no evidence whatsoever, and despite Australia never having been the victim of an Islam-inspired attack, Mr Abbott said ‘we do know that people coming back from the Middle East militarized and brutalized…do pose a threat to our community’, while admitting he had ‘no specific intelligence of particular plots’. Opposition leader Bill Shorten simpered in the corner, adding ‘we are in this together’. It works well on every level – invoking national security (without presenting a shred of evidence) not only gets the public scared, but neuters the opposition, who fear looking unpatriotic in a ‘time of crisis’.
Get the Pretty Pictures
Second, you stage a spectacular ‘raid’. For the newspapers, you see. On 18th September, 800 state and federal officers launched a dawn ‘counter terrorism’ operation across Sydney and Brisbane. Despite the highest level of security required, police and ASIO tipped off the press, so reporters were quickly on site to get the standard images of Islamic looking men with their faces blurred out sitting hand-cuffed on the side of the road and paramilitary style police on our streets. Coverage of the raid is as important as the raid itself.
Although 15 people were detained, most have been released, and just one has been charged with a terrorism offence. You might think that an 800-strong raid for one terrorism charge is unusual. Overreach. It is, but that’s missing the point.
Because, in response, the media has done it’s job – go into a frenzy, and present conjecture and disinformation as fact. Despite zero evidence presented, we have been told that a terrifying attack and beheading was planned in Martin Place. Here is a typical exchange between a journalist and the Prime Minister last week…
Journalist: “People have been asked to remain calm, but how can they when there is news that there are people willing to conduct public beheadings in Australia?”
Abbott: “That’s the intelligence we received. The exhortations, quite direct exhortations, were coming from an Australian who is apparently quite senior in Isil [Islamic State] to networks of support back in Australia to conduct demonstration killings here in this country.”
From Mr Abbott’s point of view, all of this is plausibly deniable, should subsequent events prove that the ‘intelligence’ was faulty. You may recall faulty intelligence being used by other mendacious leaders in recent times. But to many, the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘beheadings’ is all that is required, and suddenly we have women in niqabs being spat on, and 11-year old boys coming home from school and asking ‘why does everyone hate us’. It’s easy to make people feel this way about ‘the other’, but it’s cowardly and treacherous, and shames this government.
But the truth of whether Australian intelligence is onto something doesn’t really matter, because this is about political power. Tony Abbott has seen his personal approval ratings increase by 10% since mid-July. In the past two weeks, Mr Abbott has been ‘front and centre responding to terror threats and taking action’, as one newspaper put it. I may disagree, but the Australian public appears to think he has nailed it.
It doesn’t matter that no proof of these threats has been provided, because the establishment press can be counted on to play it’s part – unquestioningly support the accepted party line, ask no questions, never question a lack of evidence, and present a frenzied and hysterical portrait of a terrifying existential threat to every Australian who wishes to walk the streets.
This is perhaps to be expected, given that 90% of capital city and national newspapers are owned by two billionaires, one of whom (Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of 65% of the print newspapers we read) was gifted A$ 882m cash by a Federal court ruling (over the ATO) that took place as the Federal election played out last year (during which his famously impartial newspapers urged voters to ‘Kick This Mob Out’). Anyone with a passing knowledge of Mr Murdoch knows that 900-million bucks buys you unswerving loyalty, so long as your actions continue to please the Dirty Digger.
This concentration of print media ownership in Australia is unique in the Western world, and leaves us open to precisely the kind of opinion manipulation that is taking place before us.
Premier in a time of War
Third, get involved in a war. Then deny your actions have any link to the domestic threat. War works for so many reasons. Increasing the military budget is the fondest of foibles for the right, but even better, wars get you a guaranteed bounce in the polls, and as with these ludicrous ‘terror ratings’, leave the opposition without a bag to punch.
This time our brave armed forces are off to fight Isis (or Isil), a ragtag mob of disaffected males running riot across the basket case that is war-torn Iraq and Syria, who the Pentagon themselves have said pose no threat overseas and who appear to have very little support amongst their own populations. Yes, they’ve grabbed our attention with undoubtedly horrific beheadings, but if that’s your concern, why are we not attacking Saudi Arabia, who conducted 19 state-sponsored beheadings the week Isis did their first, or Joseph Kony, or Somali warlords. There is plenty of barbarity to go round.
What should be of much more immediate interest is the effect that bombing a small paramilitary bunch of Islamic fundamentalists will have on Australia’s reputation world-wide, on our nearest neighbor, the largest Muslim country in the world, and on our (relatively small) Islamic community here at home. Every community has it’s bad apples, not least white Australians, but a culture of mistrust, divisiveness and demonizing a legitimate group within our society increases the risk that one element within that community will feel anger, rather than despair, at how they feel treated.
To deny that bombing yet another Muslim country increases the risks on Australian streets is utter nonsense, and disproved by recent British experience, where the 7/7 London bombers and the murderers of soldier Lee Rigby clearly and expressly stated that their actions were in revenge for Britain’s role in the Iraq war.
There may be a financial crisis in this country that demands unprecedented cuts to education, benefits, the ABC etc, but we can never shrink from spending billions on security and defence. This is the mantra that has crippled America’s economy over the last 34 years, and left 50-million in poverty. They may have 18-trillion in debt and no food to eat, but at least they are ‘free’.
Laws to Protect Your Freedom
Fourth on the list – draw up and Implement draconian new laws. Today, on 24th September, the Attorney General has released the ‘Counter Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill’. It contains a hotch-potch of loosely worded laws designed solely to increase governmental and police powers. There’s a new offence for anyone who ‘advocates terrorism’ – good luck with not picking on the wrong people there. Those who travel to ‘declared areas’ face up to five years in prison if they can’t provide a valid reason for going there, with – crucially – the onus of proof on the defendant, who is guilty until proven innocent. Police will have greater powers to arrest suspects, and access ‘preventative detention’ – being held without charge, in common parlance. Customs can collect your biometrics, facial scans and fingerprints.
Overall, these new laws appear designed to curtail freedom of movement, the presumption of innocence, and the right to silence. These are fundamental tenets of Australian justice, and they are being removed because of the threat of events which have not happened, the evidence for which we are not allowed to see.
This is very familiar to an (ex) Englishman, where Tony Blair’s constant mantra of ‘we have to remove your freedoms in order to protect your freedom’ allowed his (and Gordon Brown’s) government to establish 3,500 new criminal offences, whilst stripping the business lobby of countless industrial restraints, made peaceful demonstration illegal, increased the prison population by nearly 50%, made England the land with the highest number of CCTV cameras in the world, and introduced control orders, which place people under permanent house arrest without charge or trial.
Is this the kind of thing we want in Australia, because it’s undoubtedly on the Abbott government wish-list. This from Mr Abbott – ‘Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protections for others.’
The guy went to Oxford. He must be familiar with George Orwell.
Your freedom is so important, I am going to have to take away your freedom.
Funny story. The first person in England to be arrested under the UK’s new anti-terrorism laws was Walter Wolfgang, an 82-year old man who chose to shout out ‘nonsense’ during a speech by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in which Mr Straw had just said “We are in Iraq for one reason only: to help the elected Iraqi government build a secure, democratic and stable nation”. Police waded in, arrested and forcibly ejected the octogenarian, charging him with terrorism offences. Never for a second think that these laws are just for bad guys, and will not, someday, affect you.
Unfortunately, the fifth element in this guide to modern fascism is an attack on home soil. It’s the only thing we’re now missing from the playbook. Worse still, terrorist attacks have, time and again, been proven pure gold-dust for the leader who has to ‘bear’ them. George W Bush’s approval ratings were plummeting before 9/11. After the attacks he received the highest ratings in recorded history (he went from a 52% approval rating to 90% in 2 ½ months). The same is true for Tony Blair and the London bombings. Frightened people thought he was reassuring and statesmanlike. I fear that the first four elements of this madness put Australia more than ever in the cross-hairs of the fifth.
It’s easy to look at recent figures like Bush and Blair for the widely discredited peripheral figures they now cut, but at the height of their power and mendacity this is not how the public viewed them. Every freedom squandered, every opaque speech warning of a faceless enemy with no proof provided, was rewarded with a boost in the polls, promises of more bipartisan support from a weak and feckless opposition, too scared of looking ‘unpatriotic’ to hold them to account, and yet more power to repeat the same message – ‘I’m only taking away your freedoms to look after you. National security means I can’t show you any evidence, but trust me, these people are really scary’. Although over time even the US and UK public came to the realization that these men were utter charlatans, the powers and laws themselves remain unchanged on the statute books.
And that’s the frightening thing – this lock is almost impossible to unpick. What politician gives back political power unless forced to. What leader would risk reducing draconian measures, lest he or she looks foolish when a random attack does take place.
It’s easy to be cynical about Australian politicians these days, but Tony Abbott has taken things to a new level, and is conducting a national security strategy that endangers at the same time as it divides us. Cynicism is one thing, but given the promises he made the night before the election, then broke, then said he hadn’t broke, and given his conduct over the last two weeks, I personally find it impossible to believe a fucking word he says.
This is ‘by the numbers’ right-wing fear mongering in the 21st century. First, tell people of an appalling threat to their way of life by ‘others’ – people who are not ‘like you’. Demonise entire communities. Then launch spectacular raids. Use the police and the secret services to feed information to the established press, which captures the headlines for days, and leads to fevered speculation about the appalling acts contemplated by these devils. No matter the results, how few are arrested, or how few actual convictions are made. By then the story is on page seven, and the new laws are in place.
We are stumbling into a sectarian war, in a nation thousands of miles from our shores that poses no conceivable threat to us or our interests, save for that which the war itself engenders. Wars should be to defend ourselves and – maybe – our allies. This is neither. Australian fighter planes have no place above the skies of Iraq and Syria. It’s a disgrace.
The greatest threat to this country comes not from radical Islam, but from a white, Christian extremist, ensconced in Kirribilli House, and espousing radical measures of divide and rule, for which he has no mandate, but which – it is his calculation – will firm his grip on political power, and which are fundamentally at odds with the warmth and generosity present within the Australian character, and the human spirit, I might add.
This is not the road down which our country should go. He must be stopped.