Friday, November 1, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Quiet, Australians
We are well down the slippery slope to becoming a police state

Protesters and police at the International Mining and Resources Conference in Melbourne. © David Crosling / AAP Image

Revelations in the Nine newspapers this morning that Victoria Police are pursuing the alleged whistleblowers in the Helloworld scandal just go to show that the federal government is thoroughly insincere about trying to restore press freedoms in this country, which have been eroded over the last two decades. The fact that this comes on the day that our prime minister declares [$] a crackdown on climate activists, especially those “targeting businesses and firms who provide goods or services to firms they don’t like”, suggests Australia is well on the way to becoming a police state. This week we have seen cowardly, thuggish behaviour by Victoria Police, who have sometimes outnumbered protesters, outside a mining industry conference, with social media showing officers wielding batons against unarmed protesters, attacking journalists and apparently flashing white-power symbols. That’s under the Andrews Labor government, and it comes as the Palaszcuk Labor government in Queensland just passed the most repressive anti-protest laws since the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era.

“This is not about free speech, it’s not about the ability to protest, these people are completely against our way of life,” Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton told Channel Nine today. And so it has happened: the national security measures we were told were necessary to protect Australians against terrorists and paedophiles are now going to be deployed against – you guessed it – climate activists. And if you think they’ll stop there, you would be mistaken. Unions? NGOs? They’re not quiet Australians. Decoded, the prime minister’s exhortations against a “new form of secondary boycott” today would even ban the ethical investment and consumer-choice movements. “Together with the attorney-general, we are working to identify mechanisms that can successfully outlaw these indulgent and selfish practices that threaten the livelihoods of fellow Australians,” said the prime minister, “especially in rural and regional areas, and especially here in Queensland. We will take our time to get it right, but be assured we are on the job.” Assured? You’ve got to be joking. 

At least there are signs of resistance coming from the right, as well as the left. Last week the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, chaired by Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie, rejected legislation that would establish a national facial recognition database, enabling widespread deployment of the mass-surveillance technology. That’s the same committee that is now conducting an inquiry into press freedom – with a parallel Senate inquiry looking over its shoulder – so perhaps there’s some hope. This terrific essay by Kieran Pender in Australian Book Review gives some pointers: the committee should review the espionage and foreign interference laws introduced by former prime minister (and supposed libertarian) Malcolm Turnbull in 2017 – which were described as “creeping Stalinism” – and revisit the 33 recommendations Philip Moss made in 2016 on the Public Interest Disclosure Act, meant to protect whistleblowers, of which not one has been implemented.

Incipient, grinding state repression is everywhere. It’s as mundane as needlessly dragging out the administration of freedom of information requests – an analysis today [$] by The Australian’s FOI editor Sean Parnell reveals that of 63 non-personal requests decided by the prime minister’s office in 2018–19, only 12 were done within the statutory timeframe – or redacting them to the point of uselessness.

Freedom of information, press freedom, whistleblower protection, protest rights, all are fundamental to Australia’s democracy. Yet federal and state governments of both political stripes want the public to have less of these things. Apparently they have no qualms deploying the police against their political opponents – especially those pesky activists trying to prevent dangerous global warming – which is not many steps removed from fascism. Yet will NSW Police investigate the provision of a forged document to The Daily Telegraph by the office of the federal energy minister, Angus Taylor, an act for which he has apologised after being caught red-handed by Guardian Australia? Don’t hold your breath. Did the federal police investigate the leaking of classified cabinet security advice to the media when it suited Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s purpose to sound the alarm about the medivac laws? Not on your life.

As celebrated historian and author Mark McKenna asked in The Monthly in July, “Just how quiet does Morrison want Australians to be?” We are now learning the answer. In fact, “Quiet Australians” is properly construed as a command: it’s just missing the comma.

“One, Labor is our best and truest self when we think, speak and act as the party of the outer suburbs. Two, there’s no path to victory that doesn’t travel through the ring roads and growth corridors of outer metropolitan Australia. And three, you can’t have a strong national economy without good jobs and rising living standards in the suburbs.”

In a speech last night, Jim Chalmers, from Logan in outer Brisbane, outlines three things he’s learned since joining the Labor Party almost 23 years ago.

“Great moment. You know #theGreatAwakening is in full swing when the Australian Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP mentions #RitualAbuse.”

Jesse, son of Tim Stewart – a friend of the prime minister and a QAnon conspiracy theorist – tweets after Scott Morrison’s apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse included the word “ritual”, which is reportedly significant to the far-right group.

The surplus disease
The Morrison government is committed to a budget surplus above all else. But as Paul Keating points out, this commitment can be a kind of sickness. Paul Bongiorno on what happens when politics refuses to acknowledge circumstances.

The amount of money that was cut from aged-care funding by then federal treasurer Scott Morrison in the 2016 budget.

“The number of complaints against [aged care service providers] are not published. The number of assaults in their services are not published. The number of staff they employ to provide care are not published … We have heard evidence which suggests that the regulatory regime that is intended to ensure safety and quality of services is unfit for purpose and does not adequately deter poor practices. Indeed, it often fails to detect them.”

The list

“Fifty years and 26 features in, Scorsese has nothing left to prove. And there’s something admirable about the patient assurance of his direction … Billed as a gangster movie, Scorsese’s long-awaited return to the genre he reinvigorated (and arguably perfected) is actually a morality play, a film about death made by a 76-year-old man who’s clearly devoted a not-inconsiderable amount of thought to the subject.”

“Swaths of native forests, which represent some of the nation’s most valuable carbon sinks, could be targeted for logging if the Victorian government refuses recommendations from its independent environmental agency to turn them into national parks.”

“It was on the drive from Athens airport to my aunt’s house on the western outskirts of the city that the immense transformation wrought by the global financial crisis hit home. Along the motorway, the billboards were all bare; there was only mile after mile of skeletal scaffolding. The Greek economy had come to such a standstill that no one was bothering to advertise anymore. This was a first-world nation, part of the EU, and yet capital had drained from it. The empty billboards seemed to presage an apocalyptic future.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


The Monthly Today

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Image of Labor candidate in Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain

Bega pleased

Kristy McBain’s win has implications for the Morrison government

Images of Kristy McBain and Fiona Kotvojs

Southern discomfort

Tomorrow’s result in Eden-Monaro is on a knife edge

Image of Defence Minister Linda Reynolds speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Grey zone

Between war and peace, Australia’s defence strategy is evolving

From the front page

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

Locking back down

Victoria’s woes are a warning for the whole country

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Weal of fortune

Rebuilding the economy means government investment, but not all public spending is equal

Image of Labor’s Kristy McBain and Anthony Albanese

A win’s a win

The Eden-Monaro result shows that Morrison’s popularity has not substantially changed voting patterns – and Labor has still not cut through

The man inside and the inside man

Crime, punishment and indemnities in western Sydney’s gang wars