Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It seems the passage of time has isolated all but those familiar with the atrocities of the last World War from the warning signs that signal the rise of malevolent power.
In the post-war wash-up, the world moved progressively toward globalization, and the horrors of war effectively pushed the far-right front into fractured isolation.
We live in a world of cyclical trends – be it fashion and music, or politics and ideology. With regards to the latter, what started quietly as a seed has now germinated (pardon the pun) in many quarters of the Western world into a sense of nationalism which is scarily reminiscent of the pre-Second World War era.
The threat of global terror, be it real or perceived, has driven a tide of xenophobia which runs the gamut from simmering distrust to open persecution. Islamophobia is the new black, and the fear is aggravated by deliberately skewed media spin and propaganda.
The divide between the working class and the ruling class is growing, with the rising sense that the general populace feels disrespected, ignored, and oppressed by their governments, politicians and rich business moguls. This growing dissatisfaction with ‘traditional politics’ has seen the Western world wandering down and old seemingly-forgotten path in the search for alternatives. And it’s not the yellow brick road variety; it’s the shadowy path that leads to grandma getting eaten by the wolf.
We are witnessing the rise of a far-right conservatism which is once again capitalizing on the status-quo to foster the narrative that foreigners and immigrants are to blame for our woes. We see the demonizing of foreigners in USA’s Donald Trump and in Australia’s own Pauline Hanson and the increasingly vocal conservative wing of Turnbull’s LNP government. Foreigners, if you believe the spin, are running amok in violent crime sprees. Muslims are killing our people in terror attacks. Traditional religious freedoms are under threat. Immigrants are taking all our jobs. The phrase ‘border protection’ is bandied about ad nauseam. Far-right conservatism offers protectionism and national security to counter these perceived threats. This sense of territorial nationalism, of ‘taking the country back’ particularly appeals to the poorly educated and the lower working class and unemployed demographic.
Just what is happening under this nationalistic smokescreen with the emergence of the Australian Home Affairs ‘super ministry’ should terrify ordinary Australians to the core. Problem is, as they sit watching the idiot box with a beer and a pizza it isn’t directly affecting them. Yet. Quite to the contrary, it plays to the carefully crafted perception that our streets are under siege from Islamic terrorists. And this is precisely how it happens …
“In Hitler’s Germany, first they came for the Communists but I wasn’t a Communist so I didn’t speak up …”.
Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930’s in similar circumstances. Following the German defeat in the First World War, Europe was plunged into the Great Depression, and Germany suffered years of economic struggle marked by runaway inflation and mass unemployment. Hitler blamed it on the foreigners. The Jews, in particular were made the scapegoat for Germany’s economic and social woes. He offered the German people a solution to make their nation great again.
From 1929 until his regime’s collapse in 1945, the Schutzstaffel, (meaning ‘Protection Squadron’) better known as the ‘SS’, was established as Hitler’s foremost agency of security, surveillance and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe. To counter the perceived threats to the Fatherland – which eventually included communists, Jews, gypsies, trade unionists and homosexuals – SS Chief Heinrich Himmler was tasked with amalgamating the various German police and intelligence forces into a single new centralised agency called the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) and policing authorities took on an increasingly para-military complexion.
Fast-forward to 2016 where concerns are growing that the Australian Border Force is taking on an increasingly military style and ethos.
In January 2016 it was revealed the Department of Immigration spent more than $1.3 million on medals for its staff, outspending the Department of Defence and prompting new concerns about the militarisation of the portfolio. ABF uniforms were changed and took on a severe military air, which reportedly intimidated many travellers. At the same time, Minister Dutton was being handed more and more sweeping powers, and his department became the most litigated against of all government departments. Under his watch, long-term permanent residents have been deported in numbers not witnessed since the Second World War. What war is the government fighting, and who are the enemy? The parallel between the steady development of Border Force as a para-military force and the rise of Himmler’s SS should send a shiver down your spine.
“Then they came for the trade unionists, but I wasn’t a trade unionist so I didn’t speak up …”.
Gaining momentum in 1936, the Gestapo were used for political gain and the crushing of Hitler’s political opponents. Himmler, now promoted to Reichsfuhrer SS, further amalgamated the Reich Criminal Police with the Gestapo to form a ‘super ministry.’
In 2017, the commissioning of the controversial new Australian Home Affairs department saw Mr Dutton – a man who already possesses extraordinary unchecked administrative powers – become the head of a ‘super ministry’ which amalgamated immigration, police, security and intelligence departments including ASIO, ASIS, the Australian Federal Police, Border Force and the Criminal Intelligence Commission. The move drew concern from many quarters, including officials within the very agencies in question.
Controversy abounded in October 2017 when the Australian Federal Police staged coordinated raids on the Sydney and Melbourne offices of the Australian Worker’s Union in an attempt to uncover documents relating to alleged donations to political factions opposing the government. Not only was the Federal Police used brazenly for ideological and political gain, but the entire operation was staged with media in attendance, drawn by a government tip-off to ensure coverage. Another disturbing move which reads directly from the Nazi playbook.
“Then they came for the Jews but I wasn’t a Jew so I didn’t speak up …”.
With the Nazis established in power, and the outbreak of war; the SS and its collective intelligence arm gained in strength and momentum. They continued to pursue and implement Hitler’s ideological policies. It was of course Himmler’s SS and Gestapo who hunted and rounded up the Jews for placement in concentration camps. Operations enacted through the SS ‘super ministry’ were not constrained by judicial or administrative review, which permitted them a broad reach.
In precisely the same manner, the suite of powers afforded to Minister Dutton have permitted him a ‘ministerial discretion’ in the decisions of who may remain in this country and who may be granted a visa. What this means is that his decisions cannot be challenged by administrative review by independent bodies like the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), and judicial bodies like the Federal Court can only recommend that he re-considers visa cancellation decisions. Dutton’s resentment for the constraints of rule of law has been made abundantly clear in the numerous instances where he has overturned the rulings of the courts to reverse visa cancellation decisions. Like Himmler, he has been given unchecked power to effectively make himself judge, jury and executioner.
Flashback to 2015 when the newly formed Australian Border Force announced an ominous new initiative called ‘Operation Fortitude.’ A press release advised that ABF officers would be stationed around Melbourne’s city checking “any individual we cross paths with” to assess visa status for possible immigration fraud.
It is hard to fathom exactly how a para-military force might randomly “cross paths with individuals” and casually ask if they possessed a valid visa, like a shop assistant offering samples of cologne to passers-by. Common sense dictates that they had an agenda of racial profiling which they would employ to target potential visa holders, and that is a frightening prospect which smacks of the profiling that the Nazis employed to track down their ‘enemies.’ Fortunately, public reaction stopped Operation Fortitude dead in its tracks.
Was Border Force testing the waters for future incursions, or to assess just how much they could get away with? Tellingly, the operation was named after a Second World War operation which was enacted just before the D-Day Normandy landings in 1944.
And yes, Australia has its very own concentration camps. Make no mistake – that is what they are. Not processing centres or detention centres. We have a network of camps where refugees and non-citizens languish in indefinite detention, drawing intense criticism from the UN Human Rights Committee.
With the atrocities of Manus Island now firmly in the spotlight, 2017 saw the largest compensation payout in Australian legal history for those illegally detained there, and it seems the apple is ready to fall in the onshore detention regime as well.
“Then they came for the Catholics but I wasn’t a Catholic so I didn’t speak up …”.
So where will Dutton take his Home Affairs juggernaut in 2018? You can bet your bottom dollar that the ‘foreigners running amok in crime sprees’ theme will continue to get air-time whilst there is political mileage to be gained. This plays to the LNP government’s narrative that the opposition has gone soft on crime; that criminals are protected over victims. It also sets the scene for increasing AFP intervention in state affairs.
We will continue to be reminded of the ever-present threat of Islamic (is there any other kind?) terrorism. Dutton will remind you of the threat of more boats and the pitfalls of relaxed border protection. If we are to believe him, only an LNP government will keep us safe.
This is a ministry which operates under intense secrecy. And here’s the thing about secrets – except for keeping quiet about that surprise birthday present for your partner, you only ever keep dark things a secret. There will be secret files created on target individuals, a fact which Secretary for Home Affairs Mike Pezzullo has already openly alluded to in a scary, off-the-wall speech which confounded businessmen attending the 2017 Trans-Tasman conference.
Expect Home Affair’s intel agencies to start digging the dirt on the government’s political opponents, while Dutton himself continues to grab for further power to extend his reach. His heavy-handed dealings with non-citizens and refugees is now well documented. Hitting the ground running following his promotion to Minister for Home Affairs, he announced plans to pursue criminal offenders holding dual citizenship. In 2018 you can expect him to further test just how far he can stretch the legislation to strip Australians of their citizenship. And beyond that …
“Then they finally came for me — and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
(Quotes in bold italics attributed to Rev Martin Niemöller – a Lutheran pastor who survived years of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp 1938-1945).