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So how fascist is Australia right now?

“There’s no doubt that since the Abbott government took power, there has been a reduction in personal freedoms, and a corresponding increase in government power” writes Kate M. Where will this continual chipping away at our personal freedoms in favour of government power lead us?

If a fifth-grader can see it, shouldn’t we be paying attention?

Earlier this week, a ten year old boy who had been watching WW2 movies, made a connection between the way the Nazis attacked freedom of speech and the way in which Tony Abbott been trying to “control what we see” on the ABC.

I have to confess that as a general rule, when I see comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis in a political discussion, I think the tone of the discussion has become a bit too extreme. But if a fifth-grader can make that connection – should the rest of us not take a long hard look at what’s going on? Should we not consider the possibility that perhaps the actions of the current Liberal government have taken us way too far to the right?

So is Australia a Fascist State?

Well clearly it isn’t. Unless I slept through a coup, we all still have the right to vote, the right to tweet, the right to speak our mind, the right to sit in a #QandA audience – at least most of us do. In other words, we all still have many of the freedoms that populations of other less democratic countries around the world – like Egypt – covet.

BUT . . . there’s no doubt that since the Abbott government took power, there has been a reduction in personal freedoms, and a corresponding increase in government power. And whilst we are nowhere near being a Fascist state like Nazi Germany right now – and hopefully never will be – these things typically don’t happen overnight. Instead they happen bit by bit. And with each ‘little’ personal freedom we give up – whether it’s the right to report abuse in a detention center, or the right to access whatever internet site we want to – we shift the scales in favour of the state, and give up our individual rights.

So how far along the spectrum have we gone? I’ve taken a look at four key characteristics of the most renowned Fascist state of recent time – the Nazis – to see how we’re travelling against them.

1. Replacing Truth with Propaganda

Image from quotehd.com

Image from quotehd.com

We don’t really call it propaganda anymore – we call it ‘spin’ or ‘truthiness’. And the difference between truth and propaganda (or truthiness), is that the later ignores pesky things like facts, evidence or logic. All truthiness requires is a general ‘feel’ of ‘truth’, not actual truth, making it much easier for politicians to work with.

Here’s some of the ways our politicians are replacing truth with truthiness.

They say whatever supports their point at the time, regardless of whether it’s consistent with what they’ve previously said.

When you’re using truthiness instead of truth, it isn’t restricted by fact, logic or alignment with anything you’ve previously said – even within a relatively short space of time. Here’s a great example from Joe Hockey – who in the space of one week recently, said both of the following:

“If housing in Sydney were unaffordable, people wouldn’t be buying it”
AND
“Housing is very expensive, I understand that.”

They repeat everything. Again. And again. And again.

Repetition was a key tool of the Nazis in convincing the German people of the lies they wanted to get across. In the words of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister for Propaganda:

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition . . . that a square is in fact a circle.”

Tony Abbott is also a master of repetition:

They use short ambiguous catch phrases

Jedi of Truthiness – Tony Abbott – has done this to great effect with his “Stop the Boats” or “We’ve stopped the boats” mantra. As a piece of propaganda – it’s perfect. Firstly, it’s short and easy for people to remember. And secondly, it’s completely ambiguous. It never actually says what the boats are supposed to have stopped doing. This means it can be interpreted in any number of different ways, depending on Abbott’s needs at the time. And on the whole it’s worked. Despite the fact that it’s not true – we haven’t in fact stopped the boats – many people and journalists speak as though it is.

2. Devaluing the truth

The truth is the greatest enemy to a successful propaganda state, said Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister for Propaganda. In today’s information age, the truth – in all but the most left or right-wing states – is ubiquitous. This makes devaluing the truth a challenging and multi-faceted task. Here’s some of the ways that politicians have been doing this in Australia:

People have become desensitised to politician’s lies

The key to a good desensitisation campaign is to do the thing you are trying to desensitise people to – in this case, lies – as often as you can. The more you lie, the more people will stop expecting the truth from you, and the less outraged they will be when you tell a big one. In Aus, this is hardly a new phenomenon. Politicians over the years have paved the way for those that follow in their footsteps to lie with impunity.

This has worked in Abbott’s favour, particularly given the huge number of promises he made to Australians prior to the last election. Promises which, quite frankly, nobody who knew much about anything thought he could really keep. As a result, since being elected, when you compare the number of promises Abbott has kept to those that he has broken, it’s just over 50% (and that’s arguably overstated because the ABC Promise Tracker is being generous).

In a country where people expected their politicians to be truthful, this would be a huge story. But in Australia, Australian journalist Niki Savva recently said on Insiders, that she ranked a politician lying as only a three out of ten in terms of seriousness.

Politicians don’t bother answering difficult questions anymore

This too is hardly news. Question avoidance is expected of politicians. Media training teaches them to ignore any difficult questions and instead to respond with an answer that’s broadly in the general area of the question and which suits their particular brand of truthiness.

Tony Abbott is a master at question avoidance. For example, recently when he was repeatedly asked whether the Australian government had paid people smugglers to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia, he just kept repeating that the important thing was that they had Stopped the Boats. Stopped the Boats. Stopped the Boats. He kept repeating this, and it didn’t take long before journalists gave up, and he had both buried what could have been a very inconvenient story and promoted his own message.

Of course, he hasn’t always been quite as masterful at avoiding difficult questions:

The Abbott Government has taken a number of steps to minimise our access to facts that might contradict their propaganda

Despite the Liberal party promising a government who would “restore accountability and improve transparency measures to be more accountable to you“, they have arguably been doing the exact opposite. Here’s just some of the things they have done to limit our access to information about what is really going on:

When looked at as a whole, these actions may not be sufficient to confirm a conspiracy by the Abbott government to keep the truth from the Australian public, but they certainly suggest a pattern of devaluing the truth, and an intention to control what information the Australian public does and does not see in service of their own political needs.

They certainly do NOT suggest a government committed to transparency and accountability.

3. Instituting a Climate of Fear

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”
(Herman Goering, Nazi General)

Instituting a climate of fear was a key part of the Nazi’s propaganda program, as when people are in a heightened state of anxiety, they are more emotional, and less likely to think for themselves.

The Abbott Government have certainly done this. They have managed to convince a majority of Australians that a terrorist attack poses the greatest risk to their safety both from within and outside Australia. This is despite all evidence to the contrary. Evidence that shows that Australians are more at risk from falling out bed or off a chair than they are of being killed by a terrorist, even allowing for foiled attacks.

Abbott has even linked stopping the boats with terrorism – completely ignoring the fact that asylum seekers are typically victims of terrorism rather than perpetrators of it. And as a previous chief of ASIO pointed out, if you are a potential terrorist seeking to attack Australia, the very worst way to enter the country would be as an asylum seeker.

4. Invoking patriotism

This too was another one of the Nazi’s key tools. Nazi propaganda “cast Germany as a victim or potential victim of foreign aggressors, as a peace-loving nation forced to take up arms to protect its populace or defend European civilization against Communism”. They overplayed and even staged attacks against the country so that people within the country felt under attack, and believed that the needed to go to war to protect their country.

dontkeepcalm

Image from progressiveconversation.files.wordpress.com

Appealing to patriotism has been a key tool in the Abbott government’s arsenal since day one. Abbott introduced the concept of “Team Australia” – implying a concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – where those he considers to be a ‘them’ being seen as a UnAustralian and a risk to the country.

Most recently, the government has introduced the patriotically named Allegiance to Australia Bill to parliament. This is the Bill they are seeking to use in order to strip citizenship from dual nationals (and potentially others) – allowing them to effectively banish people from the country. And they are invoking patriotism to suggest that anyone who objects to the Bill is UnAustralian and dangerous, silencing any major opposition.

So how Fascist is Australia then?

“Secrecy is completely inadequate for democracy, but totally appropriate for tyranny”. (Malcolm Fraser)

Conclusion: Be alert and alarmed.

Well the good news is that Abbott doesn’t look like growing a short ugly mustache anytime soon. But there are undoubtedly some key indicators in the Abbott government’s behaviour that should cause all of us to be concerned – not about terrorists, but about the state’s impingement on our personal freedoms. As a New Zealand journalist recently said of Australia: “open and accountable government is suffering death by a thousand cuts.”

Abbott & Co’s apparent disdain for the truth in favour of truthiness, the way in which they are undermining our personal freedoms by restricting our access to the truth, their almost ludicrous and self-serving focus on terrorism and their constant invocation of patriotism to support their viewpoint is concerning.

When you then take into account the fact that the proposed Allegiance to Australia Bill seeks to bypass the judicial system and vest power to revoke citizenship in the Minister for Immigration, without the right for judicial review – we really should be both alert and alarmed.

This is not because Australia has become a fascist state, but because this continual chipping away at our personal freedoms in favour of government power sets up an environment to allow extreme ideologies to flourish. The rise of movements like the right-wing ‘Reclaim Australia’ movement are key examples of this.

The real battles we should be fighting and winning right now are not against an enemy who is 11,000 kms away – they are the ones here at home that are weakening our democracy. And that is a far greater risk to our way of life than any terrorist army on the other side of the world.

This is an edited version of Kate M’s article on Progressive Conversation.

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21 comments

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  1. jckstnr

    Great thought provoking article

  2. Mark Needham

    Spin has usually been the descriptor for wayward truth, but now there is a new word ( never heard it before to-day) “Truthiness”
    An article, written by an “Unknown Author” about “Truthiness”
    Lots of Truthiness everywhere in the article.
    Spin has usually been the descriptor for this wayward truth, but now there is a new word ( never heard it before to-day) “Truthiness”.
    Either way, smells like it, so it must be.
    Mark Needham

  3. Maureen Walton

    Great Article and very interesting as you have Explained Abbott and Co incredibly well. Before I read this Article My husband a Labor voter told me that Abbott had stopped the boats which was really good. I said he has not really stopped the boats. Then reading your article I was able to explain what I have been trying to tell people That they have allowed Abbott to get into their Psyche with all of his Repeating and Propaganda…

  4. mars08

    After all the things this government has done, it maintains the support of a large slab of the electorate. Many voters still give the Coalition their consent…

    Are we to believe that, in October 1938, Erich and Helga von Deutschland were shocked and dismayed when German troops entered the Sudetenland? Everything that Hitler had done for the previous decade was within the law. He had simply twisted the system to suit his agenda… meeting with little or no opposition.

    Australia is as fascist as it’s people, it’s media and it’s laws allow it to be.

  5. WeNeedToWakeUp (@Alohaviola1)

    DISTRACTION. Look over there nothing to see is a favourite Abbott tactic. Also appearing to act like a fool. Another distraction is to make people dismiss him as a joke and put their heads back in the sand while he’s screwing them from behind. It will happen very quickly and is part of his year three plan. Interfere with democratic process, the FOI situation is despicable inc blocking his own dual citizenship, Before we know it, martial law, because we are too distracted to see it happen piece by piece. The biggest thing is a weak and compliant opposition! NORMALISATION. We’ll get used to seeing an army wearing funny looking shirts, like we got used to racists embracing our flag.

  6. Andreas Bimba

    Thanks Kate for your article but your focus was centred on the government when in reality the centre of our political control has moved to sections of the corporate world. The power of lobbyists and vested interests over the traditional parties wasn’t mentioned and this is now so strong that they effectively dictate government policy and legislation in most key areas. The most powerful lobbyists are the mining industry, the financial services industry and more recently the China lobby. The IPA is now effectively the coordinating body for government policy. This sounds a lot like fascism but it is more accurately called corptocracy.

    This explains why we continue to follow the total free trade, deregulation and neo-liberalism economic philosophy even though it has led to the net loss of millions of jobs in the manufacturing and associated service industries while creating relatively few new permanent jobs in the mining, finance and the bulk agricultural sector; greatly increased corporate power and wealth disparity as well as the reduction of government services for the needy.

    The false understanding of the traditional political parties that the government should not run deficits is also a part of neo-liberalism and this has greatly increased unemployment and hardship. The Modern Monetary Theory economists have proven that it is possible to have near to zero unemployment and underemployment by stimulating the economy with moderate government deficits within the constraints of the economies ability to grow and without producing excessive inflation.

    The other important area not discussed was the partisan control of most of the commercial mass media to such an extent that public opinion is routinely manipulated into supporting neo-liberal causes and political parties. It was the mass media that gave slogans like ‘stop the boats’, ‘ditch the witch’ and ‘Labors toxic tax’ their power. Constant attacks and budget cuts on the ABC and SBS have intimidated these important independent sources of news and information. The Fairfax group was also subjected to attempts to dictate editorial policy by Gina Rinehart after she bought into the news media group.

    The increased brutality of our police forces and prison systems, harsh sentencing as well as increased crime levels also act to intimidate the common man while the fraudulent behaviour and increasing tax avoidance of the business elite is now largely ignored. Different standards of justice are applied to different stratas of society.

    The growth of neo-Nazi anti immigrant and anti Muslim groups such as Reclaim Australia shares many parallels with Hitlers brown shirts movement that beat up, murdered and silenced political opponents including the then powerful German Communist Party.

  7. Kate M

    Andreas – you make some excellent points. This was one of those articles that I just had to stop myself from writing more, as there’s just so much more to say!! Thanks for adding to it. Your point about corporations is especially relevant – particularly when you look at the role that Murdoch plays.

  8. corvus boreus

    Battlelines (My Struggle)

    To be the best and fairest, you have to throw the first punch.
    Leftist lynch mobs, deals with the devil.
    Evil death cult, coming for us.
    Frankly, heads should roll (by hook or crook).
    Team Australia.
    Whose side are you on?

  9. Annie B

    A superbly written article – covering so much … thank you to Kate M and AIM.

    Puts so much into proper perspective, doesn’t it.

    While the word ‘truthiness’ does exist – even in the Oxford dictionary – it means literally nothing – it cancels itself out in its’ own interpretation. “The quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.” …. and so we go back to the 1800’s which is when it first surfaced .. and more recently coined in the modern sense by the American humorist ( among other things ), Stephen Colbert. ,, ( and seriously, who could take him seriously ? ) …

    All very interesting – NOT. …. A good word that, plus zilch, zero, nil, naught, nothing – is about all the word deserves, and all that is warranted …

    So ‘truthiness’ is out, or should be. … Truth is simply – truth – and cannot be fiddled with. Oh but wait – this government is fiddling with it …. big time.

    ( at this point, I wish to say I am in no way ‘having a go’ at the author of this excellent article – just pointing up a couple of little facts ).

    Have to somewhat disagree however, that we have not yet become a fascist state … I think the quilt of fascism is all but finished – just a few little stitches here and there, and it’s done. … and thereafter, heaven ( or someone ) help us.

    A mongrel mob at the helm.

    …….

  10. Annie B

    @ mars08,

    I cannot agree that “Australia is as fascist as it’s people, it’s media and it’s laws allow it to be.”

    Fascism is introduced SOLELY by an incumbent government who want to tyrannise their people with threats ( including veiled and possible threats – which have as much if not more impact ), are a dictatorship ( no one can say this government is not THAT ) … and is an ” authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.” …. All the boxes are ticked so far with this pack of despots at the helm. … The only time the ‘people’ can rail against fascism, is at the ballot box – and that’s not too often. Can also protest with protests – which is ok, as long as it doesn’t descend into a punch up – as it did in Melbourne ( again ) today.

    The media ? two thirds of the garbage printed here is autocratic in its endeavours, and the other 3rd try very hard to bring a bit of truth and balance to readers ….

    The law ? … proper legislation makes so many of our laws, but if a government finds a way ‘through the back door’ ( bypassing the Senate and using the loosely termed ‘regulations’ they are allegedly able to use ) … to alter a law or its’ meaning – then they will do it. … which is precisely what this government has done, in recent times.

    http://www.peo.gov.au/learning/closer-look/governing-australia.html

    https://cuttingredtape.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/australian_government_guide_regulation.pdf

    “Regulation may be defined as “Any rule endorsed by government where there is an
    expectation of compliance”. “Rules can take many forms, not all of them the ‘black-letter’ kind. Governments and public servants make rules every day and as a consequence impose sometimes
    unwelcome burdens on businesses, community organisations and individuals.”

    ‘ black letter’ law ( rules in the above case ) can be found by googling the words … there is much on the subject, and I am not about to fill up another page or three, with details. …. If anyone is interested, please look it up. ….. It’s Frydenberg who mentioned it in the 2nd link, along with ‘regulations in its’ many forms’ !!

    I would respectfully ask anyone who can answer, when was there any ‘expectation of compliance’ when the government swiped much needed funds from so many helpful community organisations in its’ current history.

    Just one ( of many, many ) examples of this : ” Defunds peak organisations who advocate for the poor and oppressed including Homelessness Australia, Financial Counselling Australia and National Shelter” – on :

    http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/social-services-scraps-funding-for-homeless-and-housing-groups-20141222-12cf67.html ( December 2014 ).

    Enough said ….

  11. mars08

    Okay… So… the laws are bent by the politicians , the media is compromised by it’s owners and the people are disengaged…

    Yet… you cannot agree with me? Oh dear.

  12. Annie B

    mars08 …

    I did not infer in any way that the people are disengaged … … my main point, which you have obviously not read or perhaps have misunderstood, is that facsism is introduced .. and run by … a totalitarian government, who dictates and threatens. … e.g. our own government that is approaching, if not arrived at now – fascism.

    I do take your points about media being compromised ( 2/3rds of it, which is 2/3rds too much !! ) … however, there are still many outspoken in media against this government – but sadly, not enough. … Monopoly rules ( for the time being ).

    “The law” – yes – it’s been bent by politicians since any form of government was ever heard of … but if it comes to the crunch, lawyers / judges etc, will, if approached through litigation of any kind, make rulings on laws as legislated. … they cannot however, stop a government from changing rules and regulations to suit themselves – no one can – I gave examples.

    Oh dear – indeed 😉

  13. Mark Needham

    who want to tyrannise their people ..
    is this what is happening…?
    Been missing something, somewhere…?…!
    at the helm, are maybe not the best people……. beggars the question, whom, who, what which, do you recommend.?
    Mark Needham
    Ps. Annie B. I do like your style. That there is some thought of your OWN, is apparent. Thank You.
    I can often say the wrong thing , articulate, I think I am, but not. An argument, right in, but lets keep it clean. Cheers mate.

  14. Annie B

    @ Mark Needham …

    Not absolutely sure what you are getting at here, but will answer – as per the questions.

    re : “is this what is happening” ( tyranny ) … Don’t think I have to look up several dictionaries to describe the meaning of the word ‘tyrannise’ … and yes, that IS what I think is happening. … For the exercise, the word ‘tyrannise’ means : ” rule or treat ( someone ) despotically or cruelly” … and it goes on to show other words that mean the same – e.g. dominate, intimidate, bully, oppress. …

    If this government has not done any or all of these things, then I stand corrected. However, you only have to look at their track record so far, to see that they certainly bully, and attempt to oppress / suppress / intimidate the populace with fear mongering and threats. Sure – the incumbent p m delivers these barbs via his 10 flag speeches, and then backs down – putting bandaids on the verbal blows inflicted. … It’s the blows inflicted that hurt. …. the back-down bandaids, do not have much impact. !!

    ……

    “at the helm, not the best people” … ??? … The captain of a ship is usually in control of the helm of it, if only by issuing the orders to the helmsman ( 2nd mate ). …. the abbutt has behaved like an overbearing, and very dominant captain, and has made many ‘captains calls’ – according to the popular use of the words. …. So – definitely NOT the best people running the ship, or standing at its’ helm – or top post, if you wish. [ “at the helm of government” is a description given in one of the on-line dictionaries, btw. ]

    ” who, what, which … do I recommend ?” … I haven’t a clue at this point in time, but anything would be better than the current lot in charge, and if Labor change their leader ( which I doubt will happen ) … then there will be a landslide towards them. … a week in politics is long time – and anything could happen. Literally, anything. … What I DO know is, we have to keep on striving for a better and fairer government for all the people, not just the elite echelon this government so avidly leans towards.

    ………

    Glad you realise there is some thought of my OWN ( bolded in your comment ?? ) … I happily own, my own thoughts, comments, opinions, searches, and anything else I do or decide – as should we all. … However, if I am shown to be, or proved wrong, I am also happy to admit it.

    And yes, clean debate / argument, is far more desirable ….

  15. Annie B

    @ David Stephens …

    thank you for that link. … It expresses what I would have tried to show in my previous post, except it would have made the comment way too long, to Mark Needham.

    I will post just the first paragraph shown on that link – and I believe it ( horridly ) describes much of the attitude of todays’ government in Australia.

    “Compares the defining characteristics of Fascism, as discerned by Lawrence Britt (2003) and Umberto Eco (1995), with Western polities today. The characteristics are nationalism, disdain for human rights, scapegoating as a means of unifying, supremacy of the military, sexism, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, religion and government intertwined, protection of corporate interests, suppression of labour power, disdain for intellectuals and the arts, obsession with crime and punishment, rampant cronyism and corruption, and fraudulent elections.”

    I was even more mortified when reading this, than I had been before. …. because it shows ( barring one or two points ) the exact means that this government and particularly its’ leader has pursued. … the few most glaring examples being ‘obsession with national security ‘, ‘ protection of corporate interests’, ‘ disdain for human rights’ ….

    The remainder of the short article is worth reading.

    And these observations by Britt and Eco, go back over 10 > 20 years. ?? …. Fascism, however, goes a long way further back than that.

  16. corvus boreus

    Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.
    Nope, nope, nope.

  17. David Stephens

    You are welcome. Cannon I think it was makes the crucial point: just because it doesn’t look like Berlin 1936 or Fascist Rome doesn’t mean we don’t display Fascist characteristics.

  18. Pingback: So exactly how Fascist is Australia – on a scale of One to ‘Hitler would be Proud’? | Progressive Conversation

  19. Ben Courtice

    You miss one key element. Sure for most of us white citizens, even if we’re left wingers or greenies or whatever, it’s not yet fascism. That’s very true and important for context. The fact we’re still here discussing this on a blog suggests it isn’t fascism. But if you’re a refugee in a detention centre, or an Indigenous person in the NT, or a Muslim whose family or friends or mosque have been targeted as terrorism suspects — then the distinction becomes a little academic.

  20. Javed

    You have right to vote but you dont have right not to vote in Australia. Not truely a democratic country.

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