Conservatives love Law and Order. And wars. War on Terrorism, War on Drugs, War on Bikies, War on Communism. Their response to anything they see as a threat is to enact legislation to Keep us Safe, or to introduce Harsher Penalties. Throw in some Mandatory Minimum Sentencing to Act as a Deterrent. Or Establish a Taskforce, led by an ex-cop who has previously headed a War on Something Very Bad. According to the conservatives, this platform is a foolproof way to beat every threat to modern society and thus let us sleep soundly in our beds at night.
Considering this framework, it is somewhat astounding that the Abbott Government would resort to Paying People Smugglers to achieve its agenda to Stop the Boats.
People smugglers prey on the most vulnerable and desperate people. They are labelled as cruel, heartless and vile in their trade. And Abbott is determined to stop them. He said that he was “not going to do anything that [would] encourage people to get on boats.”
Nope, Nope Nope.
Abbott was extremely adamant. Brutally so. If Australia did the “slightest thing to encourage people, this problem [would] get worse, not better.” On behalf of Australia, he told the world that helping to rescue boatloads of stranded asylum seekers would clearly be sending the wrong message to people smugglers.
Australia would not support this evil trade. No it would not. It never would.
It would smash the people smugglers business model. And stop those Illegal Immigrants seeking refuge in a country that had signed and ratified the Refugee Convention.
And clearly, the best way to not support the business of trafficking people, was to pay the very people who were smuggling them.
This seems to contradict the conservatives’ usual fierce promotion of harsh and uncompromising Law and Order policies.
The conservatives love Three Word Slogans.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott urged everyone to Have a Go after the May 2015 budget. And offered an incentive of up to $20,000 as a tax write-off for small businesses to purchase expensive things like cars and machinery. It was perhaps this policy, one argued by some to Win the Votes, that gave him the idea to pay off people smugglers. After all, boats are quite expensive and the people smugglers could buy a pretty good boat for $20,000 AUD.
However while the media seems to have moved on from Tony’s Tradies (two word slogan?) Abbott has introduced his latest slogan by stealth.
Above the Law.
It might not have the same ring to it as War on Everything, but it nicely sums up Abbott and his ruling party’s present ideology.
With Abbott boasting the boats had been stopped, its little wonder he is as keen as anything to make sure none show up in Australian waters.
“By hook or by crook”, Abbott declared, his Government would Stop the Boats. And he was damn proud of the “creative strategies” his border protection agencies had come up with to do just that.
Because when you’re Above the Law, paying off people smugglers to ship back unwanted people of colour is just a mere nothing.
It’s not clear exactly what inspired Abbott for his new Three Word Slogan.
Perhaps Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, was responsible. At least that would make sense, given he is forging ahead with his recent inspiration to strip Australians of their citizenship by Ministerial direction, despite this supposed genius policy being almost certainly unconstitutional and therefore invalid.
The Abbott Government, evidenced by its slow march towards fascism, seems to be forgetting the very basis of Australia’s democracy.
Former High Court Justice, Murray Gleeson stated, “The source of law-making authority is the Constitution, and the law, including the common law as developed by the courts, must conform to the Constitution.”
What is the Constitution? It is the basic document that provides the mechanism for the very existence of the Commonwealth Government. It includes the powers on which the Federal Government can enact law. It is quite clear as to the expectations of lawfulness of the Government. And the separation of powers between the legislature who make the law, the executive who put the law into operation and the judiciary who interpret the law.
Gleeson continues, “However law is made in Australia, it must be consistent with the Constitution. And so must any substantive principle said to flow from the rule of law itself.”
And the essence of the Rule of Law (a Three Word Slogan Abbott is yet to embrace) is that all authority is subject to, and constrained by law. The High Court has found on a number of occasions that the Commonwealth Government is not above the law. And it cannot define the extent of its own power. That role is for the courts.
It matters not that the Government can enact laws on immigration and foreign affairs and defence. It cannot otherwise act unlawfully. It would be a gross violation of the rule of law to endorse the Government committing crimes and acting illegally. And the Government cannot put forward some tenuous link between national security and any other thing, to attempt to legitimise its powers to enact the law, as found by the High Court in the Communist Case.
Abbott and his Government are not Above the Law. People smuggling is an offence in Australia. It is recognised internationally as criminal behaviour. The United Nations have expressed concern over the reports that Australia has effectively funded a criminal syndicate. Abbott, Dutton and the rest of the Government are refusing to comment on what they call Operational Matters, while still blaming Labor.
Conservatives are dogged in their hounding of anyone else for even the most tenuous of claims of impropriety. Decades old allegations against former Prime Minister Julia Gillard led to the establishment of a Royal Commission. Yet Abbott has indicated no intention of investigating the current people smuggling payment claims, which if true, pose serious questions about the judgement of Dutton and the legality of the entire operation.
Despite what Abbott thinks, he is not Above the Law. It’s time to Establish a Taskforce, or even better, a Royal Commission.
And maybe a new Three Word Slogan.
Vote Them Out.
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