In 2012 Tony Abbott said “Imagine the reaction, for instance, had the Howard government sought to gag naval personnel after ‘children overboard’. But the principle of free speech badly needs reaffirmation now, because of the current government’s attempts to bully critics into silence.”
Yes, he truly said that!
This from the man who has been so highly critical of the ABC and the Guardian for revealing allegations of animal abuse in live exports, abuse of asylum seekers by naval and security personnel , spying on foreign leaders, and the payment of people smugglers by our government. Q&A has evoked hysterical overreaction and government interference with the independence of the national broadcaster.
This from the man who has silenced his own Ministers. He has gagged the public service, journalists, border force personnel, and all people who deal with asylum seekers under threat of gaol time. He has defunded the Freedom of Information Office which is now run by one man working from home. Whole departments no longer answer requests from the media. Reports paid for by us are not released. Advice that does not support the government’s political view is rejected. The phrases “operational matter” and “commercial in confidence” are flung around with gay abandon to stop stakeholders from having any input and the public from having information.
If you are so sure you are right, why keep information secret?
The Abbott government tells us that the adults are in charge but they have veiled their governing in secrecy and reacted ferociously to any criticism. Instead of confidently answering legitimate concerns, they dismiss, attack or ridicule the questioner.
When Obama spoke about the need to protect the Great Barrier Reef our Treasurer responded that Obama “hasn’t had great success” so far with his own plans to cut carbon emissions. Julie Bishop inferred that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
When the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, suggested that bushfires would get worse due to climate change and that Direct Action was a very expensive way to address it, Tony Abbott said she was “talking through her hat”.
When Gillian Triggs produced the Forgotten Children Report, she was mercilessly attacked as a partisan hack and her resignation was sought by the Attorney General.
“The Human Rights Commission, in my view, is an important national institution, but it has to be like Caesar’s wife, it must both be and be seen to be above partisan politics,” Senator Brandis said.
One wonders if he feels the same about Dyson Heydon and the TURC.
When Sarah Hansen-Young expressed alarm at allegations in a submission to a Senate inquiry that she was spied on by security guards at the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru, Peter Dutton slammed her as an attention-seeking “embarrassment to our country” with a record of making unsubstantiated claims that inevitably were proved to be wrong. We are still waiting for his apology.
When the Mackay Conservation Group were successful in court action delaying the approval of the Adani mine, they were labelled as traitors and called every name under the sun, my favourite being “vigilante litigants” – an oxymoron from the moron who holds the position of our highest legal officer in the country and who is now seeking to take away the right of citizens to object to developments on environmental grounds.
When East Timor sought to take the Australian government to court for bugging their parliamentary offices to gain commercial advantage for a private company, George Brandis authorised ASIO officers to raid the offices of East Timor’s lawyer and confiscated the passport of the key witness. This landed Australia in the dock at the International Court of Justice and dealt a serious blow to Australia’s global reputation as a nation that respects the rule of law.
When Tanya Plibersek drew attention to the plight of displaced people in Syria, suggesting we should be providing humanitarian aid, our Foreign Minister accused her of advocating for a “terrorists’ picnic” in Syria.
When the Labor Party sought to ensure that there would be mandatory labour market testing for developments under the Chinese Free Trade Agreement, they were called “racist” and “xenophobes”.
When his own colleagues complain about the excessive control by the unelected Peta Credlin, Abbott calls them sexist.
They even refuse to debate in Parliament the decision to go to war.
Calm confidence is something we should expect from our leader. It is their job to reassure us that everything is under control.
But misplaced confidence can be a very destructive thing.
An increasing trend towards secrecy and virulent attacks on anyone who dares to question does not instil confidence any more than it displays it.
Bravado is no replacement for convincing argument that can bear scrutiny.