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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