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Fear is so 20 years ago

It wouldn’t be that hard to take yet another potshot at the conservative side of politics given some of the revelations at the traditional release of ‘Cabinet in Confidence’ documents on New Years Day 2023. It’s probably more realistic to suggest that what was done 20 years ago is done, all the ranting and railing in the world now won’t make any of the decisions more palatable.

As is the National Archives tradition, they invited a former Cabinet Member to be present when the Cabinet Papers were released – which is actually done earlier in December. This year, the former Cabinet Minister was Amanda Vanstone. According to media reports, Vanstone claimed decisions made at the time withstood scrutiny in her view and she is confident that the same decisions would have been made today by the same people in the same room with the same political ideology, without the benefit of retrospect. She has a point

Vanstone called on people judging the actions of governments to try to put themselves in the cabinet room, where nuanced debates were had and making a submission could be all consuming.

What we should be looking at here is the ideology of the people making the decisions. The group making the decisions were richly rewarded for their now discredited claims that children were being thrown overboard a few years earlier and the leadership enjoyed a degree of popularity based on ‘national security’ fears. Arguably, the concept served them well for the subsequent 20 years.

As The Guardian points out, since September 11 2001, 96 new pieces of ‘terrorism related’ legislation have been passed by the Australian Parliament. As recently as December 2022 some were asking if additional laws were required to address concerns with right-wing extremism. They aren’t.

Most of the offences and powers rely on a broad statutory definition of terrorism. A “terrorist act” means harmful conduct or a threat that aims to: (1) advance a political, religious or ideological cause; and (2) intimidate a government or section of the public.

Importantly, this definition is ideologically neutral – as are all the laws. They do not mention Islamist or right-wing terrorism.

The laws apply equally to these and other terror threats, no matter the ideology. A white supremacist who prepares or commits a terrorist act faces life imprisonment in the same way as a religious fundamentalist.

Current Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neill suggested at the National Press Club that while the current laws seemed to be sufficient, there might be some tweaks to definitions and various offences under existing laws to counteract the different methods of operation of right-wing extremists.

We should however remember that those that do not remember their history are destined to repeat it. (As an observation on the way through, The National Library, National Gallery and National Archives are also severely underfunded, which doesn’t help us properly retain our history.) While we all shouldn’t be given all the details of perceived threats to ‘national security’ there is a need for the claimed concerns to be proven as genuine.

Arguably, the classification of those claiming asylum as illegal ‘boat people’ and their implied characterisation as potential ‘terrorists’ who need to be taken to ‘detention centres’ located in foreign countries increases the fear and potential hatred for political purposes of ethnically similar people in the community. It was never about ‘national security’. There is nothing in the UN 1952 refugee agreement that states how a person should travel to a place of asylum. The behaviour of both sides of politics in singling out people by ethnicity or nationality as potential ‘terrorists’ together with the concept of indefinite detention is another stain on our history that Australians need to apologise for. Refusing to discuss ‘on water’ matters and a compliant media company only amps up that fear. As recently as November 2022, the Coalition were still ‘trying it on’ equating people from the middle east with ‘terrorism’ with circumstantial evidence at best to support the argument.

In May 2022, the Albanese Government came to power and actually achieved something the Coalition Government claimed it was going to do – get the federal government off the front page of the paper. Despite the desires of a former US President who incited a failed coup in January 2021, the population of the USA didn’t follow their normal practice of punishing the current President’s political party in their ‘mid-term’ elections. Despite going to the ‘run off’ election, serial candidate and fundamentalist right-wing conservative Marie Le Pen wasn’t elected as French President – again. Both events were a ‘surprise’ to the media reporting.

Perhaps there is a change in the air. The politics of fear and loathing seem to be far less certain of a win than they were a few years ago. In the US anyway, electors have had two years of President Biden and while his televised speeches don’t have the same pizazz as his immediate predecessor, Americans chose to remain close to the status quo. In Australia, according to the political insiders, Albanese stuffed up the election campaign on Day 1 when he couldn’t recount a statistic off the top of his head. By contrast, it seems that more Australians chose to give him a shot (maybe because he came across as a human and capable of saying he didn’t have instant recall of everything) than the incumbent at the time who was trying to be ‘Presidential’, even though the Liberal Party admitted in their election review he didn’t have the popularity to ensure the plan worked.

Generally, traditional media’s (newspapers and TV news) importance is also declining in popularity and relevance. If you believed the media, Dan Andrews wasn’t going to be re-elected as Victorian Premier either. The Liberal Party opposition and a certain media company ran a pretty negative campaign – stopping just short of interviewing the steps that Dan Andrews tripped down, severely injuring his back some time ago.

The next Australian test for the proposition that people are over the fear and nastiness of election campaigns in the New South Wales state election in March. Let’s hope the majority of the campaigning and advertising is designed to build the respective political parties up rather than tear the ‘other guys’ down. If so, the change of mindset will lead to outcomes where people are respected and opinions are considered regardless of who wins – which is a good result for all.


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  1. GL

    “The next Australian test for the proposition that people are over the fear and nastiness of election campaigns in the New South Wales state election in March. Lets hope the majority of the campaigning and advertising is designed to build the respective political parties up rather than tear the ‘other guys’ down.”

    The Libs have no conception of integrity, let alone knowing what the word means, so I don’t expect them to climb out of the Murdoch encrusted cesspit during the lead up to the election.

  2. New England Cocky

    I am over this war against legal refugees commenced by the Gillard LABOR government and ruthlessly pursued by the successive COALition misgovernments.

    I grew up with European migrant families who had escaped a destroyed Europe to seek a better future for their kids in Australia. They bought with them delicacies like pizza, wine, music & theatre and worked to make the most of all the opportunities that were on offer.

    It is time to release all the legal refugees, provide English language education, community based housing on the way to independent housing and job training for those who need it. This has to be a better outcome than the Scummo $169 MILLION re-opening (for a day) campaign on Christmas Island to demonise the Muggarappan Sri Lankan family, or the BILLIONS of dollars paid to American jail corporations as tribute from a vassal state.

    The biggest threat to Australian democracy is the USA (United States of Apartheid) with their Tindal air force base and 2,500 combat troops stationed in Darwin to insure that Australian politicians realise that Canberra is closer than Beijing and purchasing third rate military materiels does not protect Australia from any political turmoil (remember The Dismissal in 1975).

  3. Terence Mills

    The disturbing thing is that we went to war with Iraq based on very flimsy information and very little discussion either in Cabinet and certainly not in the parliament.

    One document reads: “The cabinet noted an oral report by the prime minister (Howard) on his discussion with the president of the United States on the American position in relation to efforts by Iraq to secure and maintain weapons of mass destruction.”

    Two weeks later, cabinet noted another “oral report” by then-foreign minister Alexander Downer on “developments” in relation to a proposed UN Security Council resolution on Iraq’s “possession of, and attempts to secure or maintain, weapons of mass destruction, and on the prospects for passage of the resolution”.

    In March 2003, Australia would go on to join the US-led invasion without authorisation from the UN Security Council.

    Weapons of mass destruction were never found and more than 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed.

    Surely, this demonstrates that we cannot go to war just on a prime ministerial whim and there should always be vigorous parliamentary debate before we ever deploy troops anywhere.

  4. Regional Elder

    Terry Mills, I agree entirely, and this historical shameful record should not be forgotten.

    An article today in Menadue’s ‘Pearls and Irritations’ provides another disturbing contextual perspective on the decision John Howard as Prime Minister took in 2003, to join the U.S. to invade Iraq.

    Wake up Australia! A new constitution, not a new war!

  5. Michael Taylor

    In 2001 I recall overseas media sites reporting that the Howard government had been returned despite international condemnation of their refugee policies.

    Meanwhile, back home, despite banging the drums of fear at every opportunity (and campaigning on nothing else) Howard had the nerve to say that his government was returned because of their economic management.

    On the front page of Murdoch’s Adelaide Advertiser on the morning of the election, btw, was a full spread in huge font; “Boat people poll (or words to that effect”.

  6. Clakka

    From about the time of Howard, through to the demise of Morrison, and lingering to today, the slide of media acuity, and increase in opinion disguised as reporting, divisiveness, misdirection and sensation has seen in response a proportional slide of the same vein by politicians, political parties, their affiliates and corporate hangers on.

    To me, it doesn’t matter who did (or didn’t) do what first, it was simply a tango to ignominy and dysfunction. A plunge to process by brutality, a tangled web of shameless deceit, blame and unaccountability.

    And of course despite all attempts, eventually the people smelled the rats, and they tired of them until they became ill by them, and ditched the whole caboodle.

    For how long will the people remember? How long till they feel unafraid? I guess, until the next salvos commence.

  7. andy56

    fear has morphed from “fear of change” to “fear of no change”. The libs havent read the road signs. When things seem to be turning to mush, we want our leaders to do something. The libs fell into the trap of thinking they needed to do nothing because ” people were scared of change”. This created a situation where they were so paralyzed by their non action, they forgot to actually do anything.
    On so many fronts labor promised to act and they were well rewarded.
    Fear only motivates to a certain degree, then it just loses all power. the libs just kept doubling the bet till they lost their shirts. Thats what our democracy has been reduced to, a race to the fucking bottom. Every time the libs open their mouths, fear comes out. Even today . At this rate they will be obliterated soon enough.

  8. Phil Pryor

    Donald Horne might have written of an unlucky country, or was it yukky, or mucky (???) in which tubes of compressed dogshit (a k a, the conservatives) empowered by motors, batteries, chips, programs and loyal planned functions, were able to lie and distort while smiling, grin up propaganda, shine and shout filthy fabrications and pretend Jack Howard and his ugly, incapable, lying office holding descendents, were handsome, intelligent, honest and wonderful.., all of this the UTTER bullshit of posing, plotting, parading and presenting for MONEY, POWER, CONTROL, especially to appease the insistent fanatical drives of foreign corporations and the leaders in need of egogratification. AND, the people in enough numbers, copped this lying, self defeating shit as GOSPEL. HMMNN…Rupert More and More Cock and Bull has used the power of subliminal depth psychology to get people to FAIL…

  9. paul walter

    Terence Mills gets “disturbing”. Phil Pryor takes this insight a step further The mentality.

    It it just “human nature” or have the varlets become so sophisticated as to get inside people’s head without them knowing as has appeared to be the case with the unemployed as a reviled group thru propagnda, hence emotional manipulation.

    This was the case with asylum seekers demonised and vilified to justify a war taken on by us for greedy reasons, altho I’d correct NEC as to Rudd and follow back a decde with the ideas and policies of Howard ( eg SIEV X).and a propaganda situation wedgingthe non-right politicals.

    Can I mention DR and computers allied with ideology producing a simulacram?

    Much much later than the little proles think…

  10. Terence Mills

    Wheels within wheels !

    You may have noticed that the federal government has approved a request to extradite former US marine corps aviator Daniel Duggan to the US, where he faces charges of training Chinese military pilots. Duggan is a naturalised Australian, a dual American/Australian citizen. So we are extraditing an Australian citizen to face charges in the USA.

    Duggan broke American arms control laws by teaching Chinese fighter pilots to land on aircraft carriers. He was arrested by Australian federal police at his home in a regional New South Wales on 21 October, at the request of the FBI and will be removed (or may already have been removed) to the US.

    Why would we do this unless it is a quid pro quo, part of a bigger deal to have Assange released and returned to Australia.

    What do you think ?

  11. paul walter

    I do notice that Americans seem to go beyond a fair idea when it comes to things military they dont want others to know about of the dirty laundry type. When it comes to the mid east, China and oil they don’t seem moveable by ethics guidelines.

    Biden was a great lion taking on Russia, but looked sad going cap in hand to Crown Prince Mohammed. In the end, the fair go takes second best to oil and geopolitics.

  12. andy56

    Yes Paul and Terence, americans are weird in so many ways. “The greatest free country” my arse. “The greatest world democracy “, again my arse. They are a mixture of puritanicals and extreem right wing nut jobs, well half of them are. Sure we need to treat them with respect but we also need to keep them at arms length. This whole aukus subs deal seems pretty sus to me. After howards arse licking, we need to be more circumspect.

  13. GL

    Is it me or is it the fact that bloody Harry and Meaghan are a pair of whining little brats?

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