This essay considers the etiology of Australian Fascism, an often latent disease during the past one hundred years, a means often used to attempt the solution, albeit temporary, of social problems. The narrative follows the 2004 seminal work by Dr. L. W. Britt on the subject of Fascism. The learned author listed fourteen characteristics of that movement; the present essay develops along the same lines and carries a conclusion which relates specifically to the Australian condition from the English invasion in 1788 to modern times. Particular attention is given to the Australian Government under the prime ministership of Tony Abbott (2013-2015), although not much has changed since. Under that government the disease re-emerged as a subtropical version of a Francoist National-Catholicism impersonated by Abbott and most of his ministers. They caused the most acute symptoms of the social disease, in a combination between the State and Corporatism, which would lead to an incipient Corporatocracy, with the inevitable consequences for national and international reputation of the country.
The word ‘Fascist’ has become a term of abuse, rarely employed in Australia, quite often by people who are short of arguments, and in many cases by people who do not know precisely what the word means. A clarification is essential before proceeding.
Fascism, historically speaking, was a bloody political movement which was linked with Syndicalist-Corporativism. It was born in Italy, existed just 21 years, between 1922 and 1943. There was a criminal ’coda’ on the service of the German occupiers between 1943 and 1945. Any better definition has proved contentious. Historians, political scientists, and other scholars have engaged in long debates concerning the exact nature of Fascism and its core tenets.
In the words attributed to Benito Mussolini, but most probably provided by the Fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism, because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
Literature on subject is monumental, and with a restricted view to Australia there have been several attempts, all of them following the attributes of a Fascist movement listed in a seminal work by L.W. Britt, ‘Fascism anyone?’, Free Inquiry Magazine, Vol 23, no. 2 (July 2004). Among those which specifically referred to Australia, and by now of certain vintage, are: A. Broinowski, ‘A fascist Australia?’, (2006), accessible at http://webdiary.com.au/cms., G. Hassan, ‘The Rise and Rise of Super Fascism’ (2011), accessible at http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_61883.shtml, G. Venturini, ‘Is Australia Fascist ?’, (2011), accessible at www.countercurrents.org., P. Cannon, ‘The characteristics of Fascism and how we might note its presence today’, (2014), accessible at Parallax (blog). These authors followed Dr. Britt’s categorisations; they agreed on fourteen of them. And they had all been preceded by the eminent philosopher U. Eco in ‘Eternal Fascism: Fourteen ways of looking at a blackshirt’, The New York Review of Books (June 1995). There are of course many other examinations, in more comprehensive works, such as Michael Cathcart, Defending the National Tuckshop: Australia’s Secret Army intrigue of 1931 (Melbourne 1988), Andrew Moore, The Secret Army and the Premier (Sydney 1989), David S. Bird, Nazi dreamtime: Australian enthusiasts for Hitler’s Germany (Melbourne 2012). And there is, of course, the famous Kangaroo by D.H. Lawrence (London 1923).
With respect, many of those efforts are not completely satisfactory for reasons too long to explain here. Naturally, most of the basic elements on which they concentrate are present in Australia. None of those writers, however, provided a definition. One will be attempted by way of conclusion. Of course, there are many elements of comparison, and they are shared between Australia and Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and National-Catholic Spain. Comparisons could be drawn from time to time in the following presentation which respects the order of points common to the above scholars, particularly to Dr. Broinowski. But the presentation is more by way of a hypothesis than of a thesis.
It can’t happen here ?
Australia in the 1919-1920 seethed with continual unrest.
In the 1920s sections of the Australian ruling class quickly became sympathetic to Fascism and its aim of completely destroying trade unions, the Left and working class organisations. There was particular admiration for what Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy, had achieved after he was called to power by the Savoy king in 1922. This was preceded by the assassination of many anti-fascists, and later followed by the imprisonment of all opposition leaders and the banning of all opposition political parties and newspapers.
When he returned from Italy in 1923 the Nationalist Premier of Victoria, Harry S. W. Lawson, proclaimed Mussolini as the one, “whom Providence wanted to lead Italy.”
The manager of the Melbourne branch of the Australian Bank of Commerce, today’s Westpac, was pleased to hail Mussolini as, “certainly one of the most wonderful men I have ever seen.”
After the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti in June 1924 and the farce of ‘elections’ in Italy, a returning Premier of New South Wales, Sir George W. Fuller, expressed his admiration “of the man who saved Italy … from Bolshevism.”
During the 1925 seafarers’ strike, the Sydney Morning Herald reminded its readers that, “Italy…was only saved from Red Dominance by the heroic remedy of Fascism – a dreadful medicine for sure, and yet less bitter than the plague it stopped.”
Australia earned its own history of mass Fascist movements. The most serious was the emergence of the Fascist New Guard in New South Wales in the late 1920s. It came as a product of a period of intense class struggle and working class radicalisation which led to the election of a reformist state Labor government amidst what was then the worst economic crisis in the history of capitalism.
Secret and not-so-secret right-wing militias emerged as Australia headed into Depression in late 1929 and Labor Party governments took office.
Anti-democratic ideas became respectable. The press argued openly that such militias might be proved necessary if Labor was re-elected or things got “out of hand”.
There were numerous calls for a dictatorship or a government run by “a committee of experts.” Many conservatives hoped that General Sir John Monash, a first world war commander, could be installed as dictator. The Bulletin argued in 1930 that: “There is only one man who can save Australia…John Monash. Let the remnants of the Old Brigade rally around him and give him a council of financial experts.” To his credit, Monash rejected the invitation, saying that he did not intend to betray the ‘present constitutional system’. He rejected a subsequent written request put to him by a powerful group of Sydney businessmen.
Fascism as a mass phenomenon is a product of a capitalist system which is in deep social and political crisis. That was the case with the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
The crisis of the Depression years led to a political and social polarisation along class lines. More than 30 per cent unemployment, wage cuts, widespread evictions and mass poverty led masses of workers to question the whole basis of capitalist society.
On 18 February 1931 the New Guard was formed by retired Colonel Eric Campbell, a solicitor, and seven other ex-officers turned businessmen, at the Imperial Service Club in Sydney. It was formed as a breakaway from the much larger and more powerful Old Guard, which had prominent capitalist supporters and operated secretly.
In New South Wales the radical populist Labor Premier Jack Lang won an enormous following. To the left of Lang, the Socialisation Units – which were committed to the immediate introduction of socialism – enrolled tens of thousands. The Communist Party also grew.
The New Guard, with 36,000 members, was an open Fascist organisation which physically attacked union, the Australian Labor Party, unemployed and communist meetings. Its leader, Eric Campbell, visited Italy and Germany and established close relations with the Fascists there.
The New was more middle class in character than the Old Guard. At its peak in November 1931 it claimed 36,000 paid-up and active members, and probably twice that in supporters – about 80,000 members in total. This is a vast membership considering Sydney then had only 1.5 million people and a police force of 1850.
Its dramatic rise had come in response to the election of Labor’s Jack Lang as New South Wales Premier in October 1930. Ruling class opinion was hysterical about Lang. Lang was no revolutionary, but he was seen as opening the way for all the disloyal elements in society – the Reds, the unemployed and the Irish Catholics. Irish Catholics were the Muslims of the day – they had betrayed the Empire during its hour of need during the first world war by revolting against Protestant rule.
Every state had its own Fascist or far right organisations. In March 1931 the League of National Security staged a trial run at a coup. Its armed militias seized dozens of towns across rural Victoria.
In 1931-32 there were 130,000 Australians under arms, out of a population of just over 6 million. They trained and drilled with an assortment of Fascist or far right paramilitary organisations. These were ‘respectable’ citizens: solicitors, doctors, dentists, graziers and business owners.
The conservative governments which came to power federally and at the state level shared many of the values of the New and Old Guard. Indeed, at one time at least 20 New South Wales members of parliament were members of the New Guard. There were others from the Old Guard.
The parliamentary arm of the Right achieved a lot of what the paramilitary wing desired: democratic rights sharply undermined, major attacks on free speech, a harsh censorship regime, and a crackdown on the Left, the unions and the unemployed.
At one point the New Guard made plans to kidnap Jack Lang and to stage a coup d’état to place the state under martial law.
The New Guard is best-known for the actions of Captain Francis De Groot, who upstaged proceedings at the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932 to cut the ceremonial ribbon with his sword.
Within one hundred days of Lang’s election, no less than 18 separate right-wing action groups were formed. This included four movements in regions like New England and the Riverina demanding separation from the state. In 1931, 10,000 people rallied in Wagga Wagga to demand a separate state.
All these groups received financial support from big business. Prominent New Guard supporters included Sir Frederick Stewart, a bus company owner and director of the Sydney Sun newspaper, and the aviators Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm.
The New Guard’s Finance head was Captain James R. Patrick, of Patrick stevedore and shipping company. He was assisted by F. W. Radford, the managing director of Patrick’s shipping line, Charles MacDonald, head of the Northern (N.S.W.) Collieries Association and Sidney Bennett of the Retailers’ Association.
Its membership was drawn mainly from the wealthy professional middle classes in banking, law and insurance, the Stock Exchange, and the wealthy North Shore and Eastern suburbs of Sydney. Campbell referred to them as “the right-thinking young men of the business and professional classes.”
The New Guard aimed at the “Suppression of any disloyal and immoral elements in government, industrial and social circles.” This meant attacking working class demonstrations and strikes in particular. Campbell had attempted this in August 1925 during the seafarers’ strike.
Stanley Bruce, the conservative Prime Minister, said he wanted a force of scabs to break the strike if the police could not do it.
Campbell and another former military officer handpicked 500 ex-soldiers. But in the end they were not needed. (The same tactic would be used by the Howard Government against the Maritime Union of Australia in the Australian waterfront dispute of 1998. It was a watershed event in Australian industrial relations history, in which the same Patrick Corporation undertook an illegal restructuring of their operations for the purpose of increasing the productivity of their workforce. Scabs especially trained in Dubai were brought on to the waterfront in balaclava and assisted by assault-dogs.) Nihil sub sole novum.
What distinguished the New Guard from other right-wing groups was that it aimed to build a para-military organisation capable of physically crushing left-wing demonstrations, political parties and unions. This focussed on building a mass movement of street thugs marked it out as a Fascist group distinct from conventional right-wing parties.
In April 1932 the New Guard organised a riot outside Sydney’s Central Police Station as a trial run for a coup. It went badly. But just over a month later Lang was gone. The Guard, which had close connections with the police, the armed forces and the security apparatus, and the leadership of which read like a who-is-who of the Sydney establishment, had mobilised to bring his government down. As well as a secret military wing, the Guard had an open front organisation of 130,000 members called the All Australia League.
On the evening of 13 May 1932 Governor Sir Philip Game dismissed Premier Jack Lang – an action which was regarded as unprecedented in Australia politics. (But it was repeated, with the complicity of the monarch in 1975, when Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam Government.)
In 1932 a brigade of several hundred New Guardsmen was stationed in the basement of a department store building, several hundred metres from the State Parliament House. They had threatened to march upon Parliament House and stage a coup attempt if Premier Lang would refuse to resign. (An enfeebled trade union leadership could not find the strength quickly and decisively to respond to the coup d’état of 1975.)
At Anzac Day parades between 1930 and 1937, Italian Fascists were welcomed to march as a distinct group. Their Fascist salutes provoked no adverse comment in the major newspapers.
Support for Hitler and Mussolini was widespread in establishment circles.
In 1933 the Melbourne Herald ran a series of articles titled “Why I have become a Fascist” by Wilfrid Kent Hughes, a Victorian MP. Kent Hughes came from a well connected Melbourne family. He had been school captain at Melbourne Grammar and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He went on to become deputy premier of Victoria. In the 1950s he was a minister in Menzies’ federal Liberal government.
Menzies, Australia’s longest serving prime minister, was glowing in his praise of Nazi Germany. In 1938, when federal attorney general, he visited the Nazified country and enthused about the “really spiritual quality in the willingness of Germans to devote themselves to the service and well being of the state.”
Hitler and Mussolini were viewed as heroes by conservatives because they had crushed the socialist movement and smashed the unions. They had ensured that profits kept rolling in.
In his seminal work of 2004 Dr. Britt studied the following regimes: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’s Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. To be sure, they constitute a mixed bag of national identities, cultures, developmental levels and history. But they all followed the Fascist or proto-Fascist model in obtaining, expanding and maintaining power. All those regimes have been overthrown, so a more or less complete picture of their basic characteristics and abuses is possible.
Analysis of those seven regimes revealed fourteen common threads which link them in recognisable patterns of national behaviour and abuse of power. These basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others, but they all share at least some level of similarity.
- Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism. From the prominent displays of flags and bunting to the ubiquitous lapel pins, the fervor to show patriotic nationalism, both on the part of the regime itself and of citizens caught up in its frenzy, was always obvious. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity were common themes in expressing this nationalism. It was usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign which often bordered on xenophobia.
- Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realising the objectives of the ruling élite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalising, even demonising, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.
- Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice – relentless propaganda and disinformation – were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite ‘spontaneous’ acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and ‘terrorists.’ Active opponents of these regimes were inevitably labelled as terrorists and dealt with accordingly.
- The supremacy of the military/avid militarism. Ruling élites always identified closely with the military and the industrial infrastructure which supported it. A disproportionate share of national resources was allocated to the military, even when domestic needs were acute. The military was seen as an expression of nationalism, and was used whenever possible to assert national goals, intimidate other nations, and increase the power and prestige of the ruling élite.
- Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political élite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. They were adamantly anti-abortion and also homophobic. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws which enjoyed strong support by the orthodox religion of the country, thus lending the regime cover for its abuses.
- A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power élite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.
- Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling élite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting ‘national security,’ and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.
- Religion and ruling élite tied together. Unlike communist regimes, the Fascist and proto-Fascist regimes were never proclaimed as godless by their opponents. In fact, most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling élite’s behaviour was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling élites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the ‘godless.’ A perception was manufactured that opposing the power élite was tantamount to an attack on religion.
- Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. The ruling élite saw the corporate structure as a way not only to ensure military production (in developed states), but also as an additional means of social control. Members of the economic élite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of ‘have-not’ citizens.
- Power of labour suppressed or eliminated. Since organized labor was seen as the one power centre which could challenge the political hegemony of the ruling élite and its corporate allies, it was inevitably crushed or made powerless. The poor formed an underclass, viewed with suspicion or outright contempt. Under some regimes, being poor was considered akin to a vice.
- Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.
- Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. ‘Normal’ and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime. Fear, and hatred, of criminals or ‘traitors’ was often promoted among the population as an excuse for more police power.
- Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power élite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power élite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic élite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power élite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.
- Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power élite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power élite. ( L.W. Britt, Fascism anyone ? Free Inquiry Magazine. Vol. 23, no. 2 (2004.
‘Is the Abbott Government Fascist ?’
Less than two years ago, John Biggs, a distinguished retired professor, asked for the first time ‘Is the Abbott Government fascist ?’ (9 June 2014, accessible at tasmaniantimes.com/…/weblog/article/is-the-abbott-government–fascist)
The learned professor developed his theme under several headings: 1) A strong leader or small group of leaders with psychopathic tendencies, 2) Rules by fiat and slogan, 3) A culture of lying, 4) Defines and maintains an underclass while distributing wealth and power to an élite, 5) Filters information so that the government only receives advice it wants to hear, 6) Control the media, 7) Is nationalistic and militaristic, 8) Is a poor world neighbour, 9) Takes over industry and commerce.
And so, did Biggs find the Abbott Government to be Fascist ? He answered: “The Abbott Government would no doubt defend its policies and radical change of direction as simply implementing their neoliberal agenda, which they would say they were elected to do. The public’s highly negative reaction to that agenda post-election suggests that they were fooled.
Neoliberalism leads to the adoption of most characteristics of fascism, except for the role of government itself. Neoliberalism’s so-called “small government” just hands control and the destinies of citizens to the corporate sector, which as Joel Bakan’s film The Corporation [:The pathological pursuit of profit and power] (2003) sees as manifesting all the symptoms of full blown psychopathy.
Whether we ordinary people are being bullied by psychopathic fascist governments or by equally psychopathic corporations, it’s not nice to be at the receiving end. Worse, we seem to lack the power to do very much about it. As Richard Cooke points out in “A class of their own” (The Monthly, June, 2014), political accountability is a myth. The values and decisions of political and economic elites are basically unaffected by the needs and values of their constituents. A majority of people want less privatisation, more spending on health care, social welfare for the poor (certainly not for the rich) even if all these mean higher taxes. Neoliberal governments give exactly the opposite to what a majority of people want – and tragically for us they seem to be getting away with it. Neoliberalism is undemocratically grabbing power across much of the Western World; it is a juggernaut that must be stopped.
To answer our question: yes, the Abbott Government at least has strong fascist tendencies. That is what hard line neoliberalism does. It is itself a form of neofascism.
The good news for us Australians, as John Oliver’s little doco points out, is that Abbott and his mates are being so kack-handed about it they’ll self-destruct, to peals of international laughter.”
Hmmm ? Neo-Liberalism ? Neo-Fascism ? One could settle comfortably for ‘the political fence of a Corporatocracy’ – perhaps.
More advantageous would be to consider the Abbott experience on the foreground of a scenario that Biggs magisterially painted in an essay ‘A wave of unreason’, published also in 2014. Even the notion of an Australian Fascism must be seen on a special stage, with lights which both limit and enlarge the resulting issues.
As the learned author alerted, “ ‘A wave of unreason’ is a phrase author Edgar Wallace used in a 1920s Gothic horror story, intriguingly entitled “The Black Abbott”. I use the phrase in another horror story, one about a wave of unreason that is currently sweeping the Western world – and Australia in particular.” Australia is a vast country, in continental Europe’s terms, from which a large contingent of the population has recently come – Germany, Greece, Italy. Australia shares no borders with other countries and it seems to have no real friends around, except perhaps New Zealand – not Indonesia, not the small and imperilled states to the east and north-east, and most certainly not Timor-Leste at the near north.
Such isolation has progressed during the past forty years, roughly from the Royal coup which ambushed the Whitlam Government.
After that, small actors – often just caricatures of real statesmen – have been playing and re-playing on the Australian stage from the same script which carries a part almost unseen and yet clearly understood even by second-rate actors, survivors of Biggs’ superb essay.
The prophets of this new world of Neo-Liberalism and its consequences were joined together in the criminal aggression on Afghanistan in 2001. They are George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard. If Bush could be safe, perhaps because the United States is not a party to the Statute of Rome of 2002 establishing the International Criminal Court, Blair and Howard can still go safe from the charge of being war criminals because the I.C.C. seems to take no interest in complaints lodged against those characters. (Search Foundation, ‘Australia’s former Prime Minister Howard accused of war crimes before the International Criminal Court in the Hague,’ (7 June 2014), ‘Australia former Prime Minister Howard accused …’, accessible at www.countercurrents.org/searchnew2.pdf )
But the moral decay of political life in countries to which Australia feels traditional affinity, Britain and the United States, long precedes the aggression on Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and Yemen …
As already said, in Australia such decay goes back to the coup of 1975, which was made possible by the Governor-General’s use of his ‘reserved powers’ under the direction of agents of the American Deep State.
From that event Australian professional politicians quietly drew the conclusion that there are limits – not well delineated and from time to time referring to ‘the Westminster System’ – and unforgivably enforced by ‘real power’. Australian professional politicians have well understood that there are ‘unwritten rules’, by which any political position, elected or appointed, must abide.
The result, as Dr. Barry Jones put it some ten years ago, and quoted by Biggs, is that “The political process has been deformed, parliaments have lost much of their moral authority, the public service has adopted the cult of managerialism and been increasingly politicised, universities have become trading corporations, the media is preoccupied with infotainment, while lobbying and use of consultants ensures that vested interest is more influential than community interest.” (B. Jones, A thinking reed Sydney 2006)
The cause of this deformation of the political process, of higher education, of media, of vested over community interest, is – in the words of Biggs – the rise of Neo-Liberalism.
Neo-Liberalism asserts that the only legitimate purpose of the state is to safeguard individual liberty and private property rights, and to safeguard especially commercial liberty with free markets and free trade.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull summed it up as: “Liberty, the individual, and the free market”. The slogans might be longer now, but the show must go on. Reduced to the effective three words, slogans may be ‘borrowed’ from the American political satire Veep, and so ‘Continuity with change’ becomes ‘Continuity and change’, or from former President George W. Bush, without adaptation: ‘Jobs with growth’.
“How neoliberalism shaped social policy in Australia is clear – wrote Biggs – if we compare the situation before and after Labor’s rule from 1983 to 1996.
When [Prime Minister Robert James Lee] ‘Bob’ Hawke came to power in 1983, the government set the level of interest rates, the Australian dollar and tariffs, and wages were set centrally by the Industrial Relations Commission. When Labor left office in 1996 the government had virtually abolished tariffs, had ceded control over interest rates to an independent Reserve Bank, the value of the dollar and wages to market forces and had privatised the Commonwealth Bank [founded in December 1911 by the Commonwealth Bank Act, introduced by the Andrew Fisher Labor Government, which favoured bank nationalisation] and QANTAS [which began life in November 1920 and is now held with a 51 per cent share by the Australian Government]. The Hawke-Keating government reduced corporate taxes from 49 to 33 cents in the dollar, and the personal tax rate from 60 cents to 47 cents. The wages share of GDP fell from around 61.5 per cent of GDP to less than 55 per cent, which amounted to a transfer of $50 billion from workers to the already very rich. These changes, by a Labor government, in fact did more than the Fraser [the co-conspirator and beneficiary of the 1975 Royal coup] or Howard Liberal governments to increase inequality, decimate union strength and erode Labor’s own support-base in the working class.”
This transformation, the biggest in the Australian economy since the second world war, was achieved by deregulating controls over business and letting market forces settle prices. Inevitably, corporate profits rose more than did wages. The distribution of this new wealth relied not on taxes so much as on the ’trickle-down effect’: rich people buying more things meant more employment for the less privileged.
“When [Prime Minister Paul John] Keating brought in compulsory superannuation, people’s super funds were locked into the stock market, forcing them to be party to preserving the neoliberal desideratum of annual growth. While the middle class are in real terms wealthier today than they ever were, an underclass of unemployed and under-privileged people are much poorer. By its nature, neoliberalism forces the gap between rich and poor wider and wider.”
The new experiment with Prime Minister Kevin Michael Rudd (December 2007 to June 2010), later with Prime Minister Julia Eileen Gillard (June 2010 to June 2013) and again with Rudd (June to September 2013) did not depart from the accepted Neo-Liberal order of things.
Towards the end of that tormented period of government/s, a distracted populace had not noticed the solemn commitment undertaken on 4 April 2013 by the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at the 70th anniversary of the Institute of Public Affairs, the leading free-market think-tank. The venue was the great stone-and-glass National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne; tickets to the gala dinner cost a minimum of AU$ 500 per head, and an auction to raise funds for the I.P.A. featured prizes including a guided tour of the Reagan Ranch in California and a behind the scenes Fox News ‘experience’ in New York City, including a meeting with host Bill O’Reilly. In attendance at the Dinner were – amongst others: Mrs Gina Rinehart, who received the I.P.A.’s prestigious ‘Free Enterprise Leadership Award’, Cardinal George Pell, Mr. Rupert Murdoch, who delivered the event’s keynote address, and Tony Abbott in his official capacity. In Abbott’s speech there were many references to God, The Bible, and of course faith, freedom – as ‘sung’ by Tennyson, capitalism with a social conscience, western civilisation, John Howard and Murdoch of whom Abbott said that he is “probably the Australian who most shaped the world”, “a corporate citizen of many countries”.
Abbott had previously rejected the suggestion made in an August 2012 in the I.P.A. Review that he should “Be like Gough [Whitlam]: 75 radical ideas to transform Australia”, but he accepted to leave a lasting impact – and secure his place in history – by implementing as many as possible of a long agenda for action.
Here is the list:
- Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it
- Abolish the Department of Climate Change
- Abolish the Clean Energy Fund
- Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act
- Abandon Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council
- Repeal the renewable energy target
- Return income taxing powers to the states
- Abolish the Commonwealth Grants Commission
- Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
- Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol
- Introduce fee competition to Australian universities
- Repeal the National Curriculum
- Introduce competing private secondary school curriculums
- Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
- Eliminate laws that require radio and television broadcasters to be ‘balanced’
- Abolish television spectrum licensing and devolve spectrum management to the common law
- End local content requirements for Australian television stations
- Eliminate family tax benefits
- Abandon the paid parental leave scheme
- Means-test Medicare
- End all corporate welfare and subsidies by closing the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
- Introduce voluntary voting
- End mandatory disclosures on political donations
- End media blackout in final days of election campaigns
- End public funding to political parties
- Remove anti-dumping laws
- Eliminate media ownership restrictions
- Abolish the Foreign Investment Review Board
- Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency
- Cease subsidising the car industry
- Formalise a one-in, one-out approach to regulatory reduction
- Rule out federal funding for 2018 Commonwealth Games
- Deregulate the parallel importation of books
- End preferences for Industry Super Funds in workplace relations laws
- Legislate a cap on government spending and tax as a percentage of GDP
- Legislate a balanced budget amendment which strictly limits the size of budget deficits and the period the federal government can be in deficit
- Force government agencies to put all of their spending online in a searchable database
- Repeal plain packaging for cigarettes and rule it out for all other products, including alcohol and fast food
- Reintroduce voluntary student unionism at universities
- Introduce a voucher scheme for secondary schools
- Repeal the alcopops tax
- Introduce a special economic zone in the north of Australia including:
a) Lower personal income tax for residents
b) Significantly expanded 457 Visa programs for workers
c) Encourage the construction of dams
- Repeal the mining tax
- Devolve environmental approvals for major projects to the states
- Introduce a single rate of income tax with a generous tax-free threshold
- Cut company tax to an internationally competitive rate of 25 per cent
- Cease funding the Australia Network
- Privatise Australia Post
- Privatise Medibank
- Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function51. Privatise SBS52. Reduce the size of the public service from current levels of more than 260,000 to at least the 2001 low of 212,784
- Repeal the Fair Work Act
- Allow individuals and employers to negotiate directly terms of employment that suit them
- Encourage independent contracting by overturning new regulations designed to punish contractors
- Abolish the Baby Bonus
- Abolish the First Home Owners’ Grant
- Allow the Northern Territory to become a state
- Halve the size of the Coalition front bench from 32 to 16
- Remove all remaining tariff and non-tariff barriers to international trade
- Slash top public servant salaries to much lower international standards, like in the United States
- End all public subsidies to sport and the arts
- Privatise the Australian Institute of Sport
- End all hidden protectionist measures, such as preferences for local manufacturers in government tendering
- Abolish the Office for Film and Literature Classification
- Rule out any government-supported or mandated internet censorship
- Means test tertiary student loans
- Allow people to opt out of superannuation in exchange for promising to forgo any government income support in retirement
- Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built
- End all government funded Nanny State advertising
- Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling
- Privatise the CSIRO
- Defund Harmony Day
- Close the Office for Youth
- Privatise the Snowy-Hydro Scheme
At the I.P.A. Dinner in April 2013, five months before the election which brought him to office, Abbott declared: “I want to assure you that the Coalition will indeed repeal the carbon tax, abolish the Department of Climate Change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund. We will repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form. We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver one billion dollars in red-tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one-stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN. So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big ‘yes’ to many of the seventy-five specific polices you urged upon me in that particular issue of the magazine – but Gough Whitlam I will never be !”
Yet, for several days before Polling Day, 7 September 2013, Abbott used all available media repeatedly to reassure the populace that under his own government there would have been “No cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions, no changes to the G.S.T. and no cuts to the A.B.C. or S.B.S.”
It was a blatant, conscious, premeditated lie: by April 2015 every one of those promises had been broken.
Out of the list of 75 points, nos. 1, 2, 30, 43, 44, 47 and 49 were enacted. Several promises made at the I.P.A. Dinner were kept in part only. Difficulties with The Greens and some of the other senators partially affected nos. 3, 18, 23, 50, 52, 53, 60, 64 and 69.
Other proposals were tried but failed. This concerned nos. 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 29 and 72.
Only points 1) for the repeal of the carbon tax and 43) for the repeal of the mining tax had been mentioned during the electoral campaign.
By the time Tony Abbott lost his prime ministership to Malcolm Turnbull on 14 September 2015 he had left behind 478 breaches of promise to the Australian electorate, at least as calculated by a very diligent Sally McManus. (‘Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage’, accessible at www.facebook.com.)
Private correspondence indicates that Professor Biggs still has some reservations on an affirmative answer to the question whether Fascism is creeping into Australia.
In early April 2014 Paul Cannon was observing that “In the current federal government there is:- a complete disdain for human rights (treatment of indigenous communities, gay people, people who need welfare support payments, disability pensioners, refugees); – they have manipulated the population by identifying an enemy and scapegoats (“terrorists”, Muslims, refugees); – the military is not supreme but it is being utilised for civilian purposes, therefore it has been elevated (customs and border control, the indigenous intervention); there is sexism (as demonstrated by Abbott, Pyne and Bernardi among others), and to add – Umberto Eco writes that fascism thrives on creating fear over difference; – there is a sense of control by cronyism with media, and there is censorship in regard to the refugees coming by boat; – there is an obsession (pathological) with national security; – religion is not intertwined but members of the government use their religious affiliation as a bargaining point and they use religious rhetoric to push agendas (Bernardi on the traditional family – whatever that was or is); – corporate power is definitely protected, even exclusively with environmental considerations, workers rights, and community needs overlooked; – the corollary is that labour power is suppressed by legislative means; – there is an unmitigated obsession with crime and punishment (this would be more true of State rather than Federal government but it is present in both).”
Umberto Eco had already made the point that the very first appeal of a Fascist movement is the appeal against the intruders (find a scapegoat and you control a large portion of the voting public).
So – asked Cannon – is Australia Fascist ? Well no – he said – not in the historical sense of 1920 or 1933, “but there is an alarming trend towards fascist methodology (whether overtly or otherwise) and there is a trend towards corporate control, which is a move away from the rights of groups and individuals, and there is a disregard for our international treaty obligations.
The government clearly uses manipulation of the population as to be judged by the government rhetoric that is parroted back on talk back radio by the public often couched in fear ( the refugees would be the clear issue here). There is a disdain for the environment too. And in the proposed education review there is a desire by the education minister to go back in time in terms of how we present contemporary history, labour history, indigenous history, international history (it was Herman Goering who liked the phrase “when I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”).
The fourteen points demonstrate that what is at stake is freedom, language, history, culture, national identity, and human rights. Fascism is an attitude, albeit a political one, but one that pervades the way governments think and behave.”
“With seven of the fourteen points by Britt recognisable in current government action and rhetoric there should be more concern in the community about our identity as a nation and therefore our future as a nation. Umberto Eco puts it well when he says “Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plain clothes.”
This manipulation of the population is the ultimate result of what Sheldon S. Wolin, distinguished Emeritus Professor at Princeton, formulated as ‘inverted totalitarianism’, which brings about a form of ‘managed democracy’. Both concepts, but particularly the first, require an explanation, and it will be offered in the words of the illustrious writer. His last and most important work is titled Democracy incorporated: managed democracy and the spectre of inverted totalitarianism (Princeton 2010).
Resisting the monopolies on left theory by Marxism and on democratic theory by liberalism, Wolin developed a distinctive – and not exclusively American – analysis of the political present and of radical democratic possibilities. He was especially prescient on theorising the heavy statism responsible for forging what is now called Neo-Liberalism, and in revealing a new fusions of economic with political power that he took to be poisoning democracy at its root.
‘Inverted totalitarianism’ projects powers inwards. It is not derivative from ‘class totalitarianism’ of the types represented in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia. Those regimes were powered by revolutionary movements the aim of which was to capture, reconstitute, and monopolise the power of the state. The state was conceived as the main centre of power, providing the leverage necessary for the mobilisation and reconstruction of society. Churches, universities, business organisations, news and opinion media, and cultural institutions were taken over by the government or neutralised or oppressed. (Wolin, at xxi)
Inverted totalitarianism is a system, seemingly more driven by abstract totalising powers, not by personal rule, and one which succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilisation, and which relies more on ‘private’ media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events. (Id. at 44) The new system professes to be the opposite of what, in fact, it is. It disclaims its real identity, trusting that its deviation will become normalised as ‘change’. ( Id. at 46) [Emphasis added]
“Unlike the Bolsheviks, Nazis, and Italian Fascists, inverted totalitarianism does not require as the condition of its success the overthrow of the established system. It has no overt plan to suppress all opposition, impose ideological uniformity or racial purity, or seek the traditional form of empire. It allows free speech, venerates the Constitution, and operates within a two-party system that, theoretically, secures a role for an opposition party. Rather than revolting against an existing system, it claims to be defending it. This suggest that a different kind of dynamic is at work, one that for the most part does depend upon resentments against the prevailing form of government or social system.” (Id. at 56) [Emphasis added]
Inverted totalitarianism thrives on a politically demobilised society, that is, a society in which the citizens, far from being whipped into a continuous frenzy by the regime’s operatives, are politically lethargic, reminiscent of Tocqueville’s privatised citizenry. Every apathetic citizen is a silent enlistee in the cause of inverted totalitarianism. Yet apathy is not simply the result of a television ‘culture’. It is, in its own way, a political response.
“Democracy, according to this line of analysis, signifie[s] not an active citizenry but a political disenchanted and alienated ‘mass’ whose support [is] useful for conferring legitimacy … An artificial combination of propaganda flatter[s] the mass, exploit[s] its antipolitical sentiments, warn[s it of dangerous enemies foreign and domestic, and applie[s] forms of intimidation to create a climate of fear and an insecure populace, one receptive to being led.” (Id. at 53) [Emphasis added]
Where classic totalitarianism – whether of the Italian, German or Soviet type – aimed at fashioning followers rather than citizens, inverted totalitarianism can achieve the same end by furnishing substitutes such as ‘consumer sovereignty’ and ‘shareholder democracy’ which give a ‘sense of participation’ without demands or responsibilities. An inverted regime prefers a citizenry which is uncritically complicit rather than involved. (Id. at 65)
“Inverted totalitarianism reverses things. It is all politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organised, simple-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.” (Id. at 66) [Emphasis added]
Downsizing, reorganisation, bubble bursting, union busting, quickly outdated skills, and transfer of jobs abroad create not just fear but an economy of fear, a system of control the power of which feeds on uncertainty, yet a system which, according to its analysts, is eminently rational.
“Inverted totalitarianism, although at times capable of harassing or discrediting critics, has instead cultivated a loyal intelligentsia of its own. Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities … intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. For the first time in the history of American [and one could easily say, Australian] higher education top professors are made wealthy by the system, commanding salaries and perks that a budding CEO might envy.” (Id. at 68) [Emphasis added]
Inverted totalitarianism idealises individualism and adulates celebrities. And yet both constructs of the ‘outstanding’, of those who ‘stand out’, serve to paper over the fact that instead of a sovereign citizen-body there is only a ‘lonely crowd’. The challenge is to give the lonely crowd a sense of belonging, of selfless anonymity, of solidarity with noble cause. (Id. at 115) The resulting system has “perfected the arts of molding the support of the citizens without allowing them to rule. Having domesticated democracy at home, the administration knew the specification in advance; hence a proven product could be exported, along with expert managers boasting honed skills, tested nostrums, and impressive résumés.” (Id. at 142) [Emphasis added]
“The key components are corporate capital, the very rich, small business associations, large media organizations, … and the Catholic hierarchy. Models of organization tend to be corporate as well as military. The aim is to control politics by settling the terms of competition [with the complicity of useless agencies – the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission comes to mind] and with basic, meaningless slogans: ‘the competitor is our friend, and the customer is our enemy’: substitute ‘the other party’ for ‘competitor’ and ‘active citizen’ for ‘customer’ to get the inverted version of totalitarian politics.” (Id. at 185)
Inverted totalitarianism marks a political moment when corporate power finally sheds its identification as a purely economic phenomenon, confined primarily to a domestic domain of ‘private enterprise’, and evolves into a globalising co-partnership with the state: a double transmutation, of corporation and state. The former becomes more political, the latter more market oriented. The new political amalgam works at rationalising domestic politics so that it serves the needs of both corporate and state interests while defending and protecting those same interests into a creative volatile and competitive global environment. (Id. at 238)
Wolin goes on: “I am convinced that certain tendencies in our society point in a direction away from self-government, the rule of law, egalitarianism, and thoughtful public discussion, and toward what I have called ‘managed democracy’ , the smiley face of inverted totalitarianism.” (Id. at xxiv)
The Abbott Government arrived to office with no seriously declared programme for the benefit of the general citizenry. After years of acrimonious opposition, characterised even by profoundly offensive personal abuse of the prime minister, and particularly when it was Ms. Julia Gillard, Abbott’s ‘popular’ agenda was simple and largely negative: to promote government deregulation, dismantle environmental safeguards, pass tax legislation in favour of the wealthier classes, and reduce social programmes. Its positive agenda took advantage of the politics of gridlock and the role of corporate power to promote the economic-wellbeing of corporate sponsors such as in energy, media, oil, and pharmaceutical drugs.
“The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed” observed Wolin. This applies to Australia, too. This has come about, not through a Leader’s imposing his will or the state’s forcibly eliminating opposition, but through certain developments, notably in the economy, that promoted integration, rationalization, concentrated wealth, and a faith that virtual any problem – from health care to political crises, even faith itself – could be managed, that is, subjected to control, predictability, and cost-effectiveness in the delivery of the product. Voters are made as predictable as consumers, a university is nearly as rationalized in its structure as a corporation; a corporate structure is as hierarchical in its chain of command as the military.” (Id. at 47) [Emphasis added]
For some forty years, the Australian people, supposedly the source of governmental power and authority as well as a participant, has been replaced by the ‘electorate’, that is, by voters who acquire a political life at election time. “During the intervals between elections the political existence of the citizenry is relegated to a shadow-citizenship of virtual participation. Instead of participating in power, the virtual citizen is invited to have ‘opinions’: measureable responses to questions predesigned to elicit them.” (Id. at 59) [Emphasis added]
Inverted totalitarianism and ‘managed democracy’ are the tools for the setting up of a ‘Superpower’. This is the union of state and corporation in an age of waning democracy and political illiteracy. Inquiries are still possible, but not recommended, into some of the political changes which are making the Superpower [obviously and foremost the United States] and inverted totalitarianism possible and demoting democracy from a formative principle to a largely rhetorical function within an increasing corrupt political system. The crux of these changes is that the corporate power and its culture are no longer external forces which occasional influence policies and legislation. As these have become integral, so the citizenry has become marginal and democracy more manageable. (Id. at 131)
The Superpower’s constitution depends upon a symbiotic relation between two elements, one political, the other economic. It has only ‘customers’ and ‘clients’ – countries included. The fundamental element is the globalising corporation. It brings to foreign countries economic good and services as well as the softening power of cultural influences and products. (Id. at 132)
Perhaps the most striking embodiment of the aggrandising ‘culture’ of the corporation is the large shopping mall, the consumer’s low-cost paradise and the perfect economic complement to Superpower. In its own way it is an invasive, totalising power, continuously establishing footholds in local communities, destroying small business which are unable to compete, forcing low wages, harsh working conditions, poor health care on its employees, and discouraging unionisation. It is inverted totalitarianism in a corporate, imperial mode. (Id. at 139)
Professor Wolin’s profound observations apply to Australia, but in the case of the Abbott Government’s experience the personality of the Prime Minister is of further significance, heavily as it is politically rooted in the Australian Fascist Catholicism of Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria, the well-known Australian Roman Catholic anti-Communist political activist and journalist.
B.A. Santamaria was one of the most controversial Australians for more than half a century, until his death in 1998. His sphere of influence ranged across the nation’s political and social landscape. Santamaria, unquestionably as intelligent and he was fanatical, polarised the community into loyal followers and committed opponents.
He was a crusader of the twentieth century, and carried on his wars under papal sanction. For more than sixty years he was Australia’s leading Catholic layman, anti-Communist, anti-Labor if not anti-labour, zealously concerned with stamping out careerism, opportunism, corruption. He cast a long shadow on Australian political life.
He did his studies with the Christian Brothers, who fortified in him narrowness of mind, lack of curiosity, and determination that he would put to good use.
Among the Catholics who would graduate from Melbourne University in the 1930s there was a strong surge of sentiment for the writings of Hilaire Belloc and Gilbert Chesterton. Young Catholic university students would turn with delight to such prophets and polemicists as Ronald Knox, Christopher Hollis and even – though only in moments of desperation, when seeking to make converts – Arnold Lunn. The leading lights though were Belloc and Chesterton.
In the Campion Society, founded in 1931 by direction from Archbishop Mannix, Santamaria met a ‘robust’ English monarchist, Deny Jackson. Jackson was strongly influenced by the ideas of Charles Maurras and Action Française and was among those who identified in Fascist Italy the seeds of a corporate society. It was Maurras, whose conception of nationalism was illiberal and anti-internationalist, elevating the interest of the state above that of the individual and above humanity in general, who coined the term integralism. Santamaria also was amongst the founders of the Catholic worker. Belloc and his followers were profoundly anti-Semitic and, though Santamaria was not – at least no more than the Catholic Church – Jackson was seriously so. There were certainly Echoes and resonances of Action Française in early issues of the Australian Catholic Worker, as documented by Colin Thorton-Smith. (Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal Vol. 11, No.3 1991, 458)
It seems that Santamaria wrote his B.A. Honours thesis on Mussolini, perhaps with the suggestion that the thesis exalted ‘Il Duce of the Fascist regime’. Such probability is high, but the thesis, perhaps dated 1934, could not be accessed after a lengthy and unsuccessful, albeit revealing, search. Under condition of ‘absolute confidence’, a person who will remain as Doctor X yielded the following information. The thesis does exist: it runs for about 100,000 words and about 270 pages; it is titled ‘Italy changed shirts (sic) – The origin of Italian Fascism’. It deals with the setting up and crisis of the Italian State, from Garibaldi (red shirts) to Mussolini (black shirts). It summarises extensively from Fascist Italian literature on the subject – hence the length. Was Santamaria a contemptuous observer ? Dr. X said that “Santamaria did in time so closely identify with the position of Italian Fascism that he became of interest to Commonwealth Security forces.” That is correct. (V. G. Venturini, ‘B.A. Santamaria – An agent of influence’, ConVivio, Vol. 5, No. 2 (October 1999) 123)
But was Santamaria a Fascist agent ? Certainly his anti-Communism was pathological. In time, it easily led him to support Franco’s rebellion against the young Spanish Republic. Support for Franco was total.
On 4 July 1936 Santamaria’s Catholic worker predicted an army intervention in Spain. Immediately after the rebellion of 17 July 1936, all but three of the Spanish Catholic bishops signed a document which certified the act as Christian and just, praised Franco’s Nationalist Movement and announced the war in Spain to be the result of the struggle between two irreconcilable ideologies. Before the end of August, the Vatican formally recognised Franco’s junta as the official government of Spain. The official Catholic position was sealed. All Australian bishops followed, and the Campions mobilised. The Society members were not only formidable debaters; they were – with the possible exception of Santamaria – trained for ‘robust confrontations’, good street-fighting pugilists all !
In March 1937 Russel Ward joined colleagues at Melbourne University and witnessed a heated debate on the Spanish ‘civil war’. Putting the case that ‘The Spanish Government is the ruin of Spain’ were three students, amongst whom was Santamaria. “Santa [as he was familiarly known] and [another] both studied law but were clearly more interested in politics and history: Santa struck me then, and still does, as the cleverest and most fanatical person I ever knew. … He preached eloquently and incessantly the virtues of Franco’s falange, of the Spanish rebels and of Franco himself, but he was very far from being obsessed with Spanish affairs. To back up these views he passionately expounded a whole theory of authoritarianism. Fascism in Germany, Italy and everywhere else was the best form of government, because it was the most viable and in the modern world, to which modern man could aspire, and all human history went to prove it. Art, science and learning – he argued – had always flourished most under royal, imperial or dictatorial rule; the more authoritarian the better.” (R. Ward, A radical life – The autobiography of Russel Ward (Melbourne 1988) 88.
In the 1930s Santamaria served international Fascism. In the 1940s he continued to soldier on for his real motherland: the Vatican.
In the 1940s Santamaria set up ‘the Movement’ in Australia, an anti-Communist organisation. Applying the technique of communist cadres, he had his followers infiltrate the unions to counteract their leftish ideology and to stop the spread of communism. He was president of the organisation from 1943 until 1957, when the Movement evolved into the National Civic Council. He became a key figure in the tumultuous split in the 1950s of the Australian Labour Party. Even more insidious was his part in helping keep the Labor Party out of office throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He was a major influence in the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, a breakaway group of the A.L.P. He hoped to siphon the Catholics from the A.L.P. into the D.L.P., and attract the anti-communist vote.
Subsequently he had much influence as a public commentator on his television programme Point of view and his weekly column in The Australian.
If he ever felt like being a divided man because of his overt support of Fascism, and the state of war declared by Mr. Menzies, it did not show. He was always – he had been all his life – in the service of his real country: the Vatican.
By the 1990s B.A. Santamaria was the only person still active in politics who had been involved in public life before the second world war and in the immediate post-war years. He left behind, amongst other writing, a substantial amount of correspondence which would offer a rare glimpse into a mind which was preoccupied for more than six decades with world events and ideological controversies.
At the January 2007 launch of Your most obedient servant, a collection of selected letters for the period 1938-1996 curated by Patrick Morgan (Melbourne 2007), Tony Abbott said: “I was lucky to know B. A. Santamaria for the last 22 years of his life, to have attended diligently to his writing and speaking.” Santamaria – he said – “left Australian Catholicism more intellectual and less politically tribal”, by which he presumably meant that there are now Catholics in Coalition as well as Labor ranks.
On the death of Santamaria in February 1998 Abbott made a statement in Parliament. He referred to his mentor as “a philosophical star by which you could always steer” and “the greatest living Australian.” As a matter of fact, by then Santamaria had lost all political relevance and the statement was astonishing: how could anyone honour in that way a man who inspired so much hatred ?
Santamaria’s influence on Abbott’s policies has been much discussed in newspaper articles, scholarly studies and books on the period in Australia.
Frequently, reference has been made to Abbott’s close relationship to Cardinal George Pell, another self-proclaimed disciple of Santamaria, and now the No. 3 in the Vatican establishment.
But more important than the influence of particular policies is the ‘type’ of Catholicism Santamaria represented and the subtle, even unconscious, influence this might have on Abbott. (P. Collins, ‘PM Tony Abbott; Personally and Politically Rooted in Fascist Catholicism,’ 26 November 2013, accessible at theageofblasphemy.wordpress.com)
And so one could well ask: what is Abbott’s Catholicism ?
Searching for Tony Abbott
Abbott was born in London, United Kingdom, on 4 November 1957, to an English father, Richard Henry ‘Dick’ Abbott and an Australian mother, who was born in Sydney. Abbott’s father arrived in Australia in 1940 and after the war returned to England, married Fay Peters, and fathered Tony. Towards the end of 1960 the Abbott family left England for Australia.
Tony Abbott is a product of 1950s England. He represents a narrow strand in Australian ‘culture’ which is in many ways more English than Australian, and that is part of the reason why he was unsuccessful.
He is not a modern Australian – whatever that means; try: more of an English soccer thug than of an Australian Football League fan. His father was a dentist and his mother had a science degree. A former pilot who, much to his disappointment, never flew in the war, his father had wanted to become a priest and always impressed on his son that it was better to be a good man than a successful one. There were four siblings, with Abbott the only boy. He was spoiled and, as one sister later remarked, “Tony was always the star”. His mother thought so highly of him that she predicted he would become either pope or prime minister. A favoured son in his own family, and raised in a cloistered world of male institutions, he has always been drawn to powerful mentors from his own caste – priests, zealots, and father figures. Perhaps this is why so many voters, especially women, dislike him: they sense in Abbott’s default aggressiveness and lack of balance a man not attuned to their centre-of-the-road, somewhat secular interests.
He found a mentor at Riverview in Emmet Costello, the chaplain, a worldly Jesuit from a wealthy background who was fascinated by politics. He knew many of the important political players and Abbott often sought him out.
Like Santamaria, Costello saw politics as a vocation, a way of giving glory to God in the human realm. Indeed, by the time he went to Sydney University, Abbott was convinced that he had a bright future, perhaps in politics.
His constant use of ‘mate’ or ‘fair dinkum’ made him seem more like a trade unionist than the usual Liberal supporter. His drinking, which would result in some minor acts of vandalism, and his ability at sport also seemed at odds with the stereotype of the socially cautious, nerdy young Liberal. He was never one to shy away from a stoush, and stated his opinions wherever he went. He gained a reputation for being a braggart, a blabbermouth, a larrikin, and in at least one notorious case a violent hooligan. In that case he might have shown his early propensity for misogyny. That is the case of Barbara Ramjan: it was born on 28 July 1977 and was still quite alive towards the end of 2015. Many persons from the ‘respectable’ Right-wing in the country took an interest in the process and were forced to one démarche or another.
The case gained notoriety through the diligent work by David Marr, writer and journalist. It originated from the competition between Ms. Ramjan and Tony Abbott, both students at the University of Sydney and both aspiring to the presidency of the Students’ Representative Council. Abbott lost heavily to Ramjan. “Her victory was declared on the evening of 28 July in the S.R.C.’s rooms in the basement of the Wentworth building. It was an especially dismal time for Abbott: his defeat came two days after the birth of the child he thought was his son.” What followed was witnessed by a politically non-committed student who “was using the cheap photocopier in the S.R.C. foyer when trouble erupted around him. … Now a professor of biomedical science, he told me: “Suddenly a flying squad of yahoos led by Abbott came down the stairs. Abbott is unmistakable. Everybody knew Tony Abbott. He was all over campus all the time. He walked past me quickly but his gang screamed ‘commie’ and ‘poofter’ and the guy behind him grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me against the wall. I was furious. I picked myself up and immediately followed these thugs down the corridor.”
Ramjan was in the corridor. As Abbott approached, she thought he was coming to offer his congratulations. “But no, that’s not what he wanted. He came up to within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my head.” She recalls with cold disdain: “It was done to intimidate.”
The witness “saw Barbara being helped up very ashen-faced.” He had no doubt who it was. “These two polarising figures on campus were unmistakable and here was Abbott acting as he did all the time. He was a bit of a thug and quite proud of it I think.” The witness never forgot the incident, and went on talking about it for a long time.
As Abbott and his ‘mates’ disappeared down the corridor, Ramjan looked about for her campaign manager, David Patch. In The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald of 13 September 2012 Mr. Patch would write: “Ramjan found me. She is a small woman, and Tony Abbott was (and is) a strong man. She was very shaken, scared and angry. She told me that Abbott had come up to her, put his face in her face, and punched the wall on either side of her head. So, I am a witness. Her immediate complaint to me about what Abbott had just done had the absolute ring of truth about it. I believed Ramjan at the time, and still do. Barbara Ramjan has been telling that story about Abbott ever since.”
Mr. Patch, a former judicial registrar of the Industrial Relations Court and of the Federal Court, and now a senior barrister in Sydney, was prepared to write because thirty-five years after the event Abbott decided to deny the punch ever happened. “I know what happened. I write not to land a blow on (or near) Mr. Abbott, but to ensure that the debate about the character and suitability of a potential Prime Minister is fully and accurately informed.”
Mr. Patch added: “The wall-punching event was not an isolated one.” As President of the S.R.C. Ms. Ramjan insisted on being addressed as chairperson, but “for an entire year Abbott called Ramjan ‘Chairthing’ whenever he addressed her at SRC meetings.
“The gender-based disrespect for her office and her person is remarkably similar to the disrespectful way that Abbott treats the Prime Minister, and her office, today.”
Mr. Patch said that he knew Abbott well at the time. “Although he was an active member of a fundamentalist political movement with a religious base (the DLP and the National Civic Council led by Bob Santamaria), it was his personally offensive behaviour which stood out.
He was always (verbally) attacking gays and feminists and lefties. You certainly knew what he was against – the trouble was that you couldn’t figure out what he was in favour of! Once again, the parallels with the way he operates today are, to those who knew him then, quite remarkable.” (‘Barrister backs woman’s claim of Abbott ‘intimidation’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 September 2012, accessible at www.smh.com.au)
Mr. Patch was writing less than a month from the now famous speech by Prime Minister Gillard which made international headlines. (A. Lester, ‘Ladylike: Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech’ – The New Yorker, 9 October 2012, accessible at www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/ladylike-julia-gillards-misogyny)
As a novice journalist Malcolm Turnbull watched Abbott at the Australian Union of Students conference of early 1978 and would write in The Bulletin: “The leading light of the right-wingers in NSW is twenty-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS in The Australian and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve.” and ask the question: “how could a student of Abbott’s views hope to be a national leader ?” (D. Marr, Extract from the revised and updated edition of D. Marr, Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Melbourne 2013), accessible at The Monthly, September 2012, https://www.themonthly.com.au/making-tony-abbott-political-animal)
There were even rumours that Abbott had been thrown out of a student house because of his propensity to walk around naked.
In his second year at university, he had a girlfriend, whom he loved – and yet their relationship was an on-again/off-again affair because Abbott was strongly drawn towards the idea of becoming a priest. When she fell pregnant, Abbott knew he was too immature to help raise the baby, and it was adopted.
It was while at the University of Sydney that Abbott encountered Santamaria. From Sydney University Abbott graduated as a Bachelor of Economics (B.Ec.) and a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) He resided at St John’s College and finally became president of the Students’ Representative Council.
He arrived in a state of great excitement. Oxford, for Abbott, was the university. It was a bastion of tradition, educational achievement and the embodiment of all which was good about England. As he has often said, he is an “incorrigible Anglophile”. He flourished there, studying philosophy and politics, and immersing himself in the works of eighteenth-century conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. (L. Nowra, ‘The whirling dervish: On Tony Abbott’, The Monthly, February 2010, accessible at https://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-louis-nowra-whirling)
He took especial note of Burke’s notion that “We fear God, we look up with awe to kings: with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility.” He was also profoundly influenced by Burke’s idea that society is a “partnership” not only between those who are living, but “between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”
While at Oxford, Abbott was a student boxer, earning two Blues. Abbott was a heavyweight with modest height and reach. It can be said without fear of contradiction that boxing has pervaded his life, with effective, conclusive results in disputes with other students at Sydney, translated into his rhetoric in public and political life.
At Oxford Abbott found another mentor in an American trainee Jesuit priest, Paul Mankowski, whom he called the finest man he had ever met. Deeply religious and keeping to a vow of poverty, Mankowski wore the clothes of dead priests. He was intelligent and a boxer. He fully endorsed the idea that “a healthy body means a healthy mind”, which was not so much a strand of Irish Catholicism but its English and American forms. The notion of “muscular Christianity” was especially important for Catholics, who emphasised sexual chastity before marriage and celibacy in priests. Physical activity was a way of finding a physical outlet for sexual frustration.
As a young man, Abbott was influenced by the most radical version of the relationship between Church and State, and of the conception of the role Catholicism – not merely Christianity – ought to play in shaping politics that this country has ever witnessed.
From Oxford Abbott returned to Australia and told his family of his intention to join the priesthood. In 1984, aged 26, he entered St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly. Abbott did not complete his studies at the seminary, leaving the institution in 1987. Interviewed prior to the 2013 election, Abbott said of his time as a trainee priest: “The Jesuits had helped to instil in me this thought that our calling in life was to be, to use the phrase: ‘a man for others’. And I thought then that the best way in which I could be a ‘man for others’ was to become a priest. I discovered pretty soon that I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole … eventually working out that, I’m afraid, I just didn’t have what it took to be an effective priest.”
It is not easy to establish whether Abbott felt a lack of humility – probably needed to be a priest, or a preference for life as a pugilistic adventure.
While Santamaria essentially embraced a form of theological integralism, Abbott inclined for an aggressive public view in the course of which he would, more frequently than not, make reference to his learning as a would-be priest – perhaps more devoted to Ignatius of Loyola the first Superior General of the Jesuits than to Jesus of Nazareth.
Nevertheless, Abbott and Santamaria found their respective points of arrival to integralism quite comfortably. Politically, integralism is particularly associated with the French Action Française movement founded by the French journalist Charles Maurras. The term was coined by Maurras, whose conception of nationalism was illiberal and anti-internationalist, elevating the interest of the state above that of the individual and above humanity in general. The best which may be said is that it is a philosophical position characterised by a view of life, romantic perhaps, but backward-looking, monarchical and authoritarian.
Theologically, integralism sees everything in the world as tainted unless it is ‘integrated’ or brought into the orbit of Catholicism. Integralism assumes that the Church has an unchallengeable, complete and accessible body of doctrine which gives guidance in every possible eventuality – social, political, strategic, economic, familial and personal.
Integralism also defines Catholicism in a particularly narrow, aggressive, ‘boots and all’ way, and argues that Catholic action involves influencing and if possible controlling state policy. Thus Catholics are obliged to do all in their power to ensure that all legislation is in keeping with Church doctrine.
Integralism has much in common with Italian Fascism, and much more so with Franco’s Spain. It is also at odds with the Vatican II Declaration on Religious Freedom: “Freedom means that all are to be immune from coercion … in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs.” It is a real threat to democracy and to what freedom is left to Catholics to make their own decisions on a whole range of issues, particularly political.
What is certain is that integralism has not made Australian Catholicism ‘more intellectual’, as Abbott suggested. Integralism is, in fact, a form of doctrinaire conformism which is the death of thoughtful commitment and is the antithesis of any attempt at reconciling faith with reason and understanding – the two guides of public life.
So, what does this have to do with Abbott ? Difficult to say, but in a few words, Abbott’s is Clerico-Fascism.
Clerico-Fascism is an ideology which combines the political and economic doctrines of Fascism with Clericalism, not necessarily of a specific religious tradition, but in this case Catholicism. In such Fascist regimes the clergy plays a leading role through its organisations and movements.
Examples of dictatorships and political movements involving certain elements of Clerico-Fascism include:
- Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria
- the Iron Guard movement in Romania, led by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu
- the Croatian Ustaše movement
- António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal
- Jozef Tiso’s regime, collaborating with the Germans in the Slovak Republic (1939–45)
- the Rexists in Belgium
- Philippe Pétain regime, collaborating with the Germans – Vichy France.
- António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal.
But the best example of Clerico-Fascism à la Abbott is the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain.
Something else should be remembered further to understand the personality of Tony Abbott: a long life of boxing, almost always as a means, but certainly always as a tool and with a view to gaining power.
In a pen portrait of Abbott playwright Louis Nowra wrote of Abbott as a boxer in his younger days that: “Whenever Abbott entered the ring he was, as he once said, ‘terrified. It’s one of those things you make yourself do’. In his first bout – against Cambridge in March 1982 – he knocked out his opponent within the opening minute, and his three other fights were equally successful. He had little technique but a brutal sense of attack, which he called ‘the whirling dervish’.” (L. Nowra, ‘The whirling dervish: On Tony Abbott’, The Monthly, February 2010, accessible at https://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-louis-nowra-whirling)
Having left the seminary, and after a short-time employment as manager of a concrete batching plant, in March 1987 Abbott found a job writing for The Bulletin and The Australian – but it did not last long. He moved on to become press secretary for Dr. John Hewson, the Leader of the Opposition, but he was more attracted to John Howard, then shadow minister for industrial relations, employment and training. In 1992 Abbott was appointed Director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, a position he held until his election to Parliament. Interestingly, in a series of letters to Santamaria, he had agonised over which party – Labor or Liberal – to join, writing “To join either existing party involves holding one’s nose.” He had been offered a job working for Santamaria’s organisation, the National Civic Council, but eventually decided to join the Liberal Party. When he won the pre-selection contest for Warringah, Sydney in 1994, Santamaria declined to give him a reference.
Abbott was first appointed to Cabinet following the 1998 election, as part of the Second Howard Ministry, becoming Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Their friendship continued throughout Howard’s time as prime minister, and Abbott continued to look up to him. He famously described himself as the ‘ideological love child’ of John Howard and Bronwyn Bishop !
But Howard was not very religious, and on spiritual matters Abbott turned to Cardinal Pell. Like all his mentors, from Santamaria onwards, he hero-worshipped him uncritically. To Abbott, Cardinal Pell is “one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen.” Pell is the type of Catholic Abbott likes – someone who excelled at sports, who is not introspective and who takes a close interest in politics. He is a divisive man who was at the centre of a controversy over his maladroit dealings with victims of sexual abuse by priests. Pell is intelligent but no intellectual – like Howard, in this sense, which suits Abbott. Pell’s articles, however, have none of Abbott’s clarity; they are frequently full of platitudes and non sequiturs as he rails against the “aggressive paganism” of contemporary society.
On 1 December 2009 Abbott was elected to the position of Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia over Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey. He won by a single vote. In his own words, he became genuinely interested in politics in 1976, at the age of 18, when he accepted an invitation to attend a conference of the National Civic Council, the Catholic political organisation run by Santamaria.
Maybe Abbott did not share Santamaria’s apocalyptic views and style. Nevertheless, he was clearly influenced by ‘the prophet’. Abbott’s devotion to the man prompted him to describe him as “the greatest living Australian”. He had already said of Santamaria that he was “the ultimate true believer”. Abbott has also said that what impressed him about Santamaria was “the courage that kept him going as an advocate for unfashionable truths.” And indeed Santamaria was regarded as a has-been by the time young Abbott was attracted to him. He has only moved out from Santamaria’s shadow slowly and even then incompletely. When he drops his guard and informs an inter-viewer that he feels threatened by homosexuality or that he would advise his daughters to treasure their virginity, it is the continuing influence of Santamaria that one sees. Like many contemporary Christians – inside or near the Catholic Church – Abbott is preoccupied by the question of abortion. He might just claim that he does not wish to cause women unnecessary pain, but this has not prevented him from claiming, on one occasion, that abortion is a “black-and-white” moral issue and, on another, that 100,000 abortion deaths have created for Australia “a legacy of unutterable shame”.
In 2007 he had confessed that he had spent his life under Santamaria’s “spell”. Even though there is evidence that Santamaria despised John Howard, it remains very psychologically important for Abbott that one of the last visitors to the Santamaria deathbed was the prime minister Abbott had by then come to idolise. Throughout his life, Abbott has wrestled with the Santamaria legacy. (R. Manne, ‘On your bike, Tony Abbott’, The Monthly, May 2010, accessible at https://www.themonthly.com.au)
“After Abbott’s election as Liberal Party leader, an interesting debate began about the role his Catholic faith was likely to play if he ever became prime minister. According to the left-wing version, as seen for example on Liz Jackson’s [A.B.C.] Four Corners, [Liz Jackson’s report ‘The authentic Mr. Abbott’, first broadcast on 19 March 2010] Abbott is an unreconstructed and old-fashion Catholic, who does not believe in the separation of Church and State, who has already used whatever opportunity has presented itself to impose his religious views, and who is almost certain to continue to do so in the future.” (Id.) Such interpretation seems quite accurate.
Abbott has a long history of dealing with other people’s mortality less than respectfully. In March 2007 Abbott described Kevin Rudd’s account of his own father’s death as sounding “too self-serving to be true”. Infamously, in October 2007 Abbott then Minister for Health said of asbestosis sufferer Bernie Banton – but then terminally ill, and dead at the end of the following month – that “just because a person is sick does not necessarily mean that he is pure of heart in all things.”
In February 2010 a jovial Abbott thought it was funny to remark that “[t]he only one of the Ten Commandments that I am confident that I have not broken is the one about killing, and that’s because I haven’t had the opportunity yet.” In the same month, while pursuing Peter Garrett over the administration of the stimulus package for home insulation, Abbott’s choice of language around the four industrial fatalities in question was sometimes pretty doubtful, including his repeated brandishing of the slogan “electrocution denial”.
In February 2011 Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition, responded to the death of Australian lance corporal Jared MacKinney in Afghanistan by commenting that “shit happens”.
In August 2011 Abbott put political tactics ahead of public grieving and remembrance when he thought it appropriate to refuse parliamentary pairs preventing Simon Crean and Malcolm Turnbull from attending the funeral of painter Margaret Olley.
In January 2012 Abbott was in a lighter mood again, jokily bantering about the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster, which at that stage was known to have involved at least 11 deaths.
In March 2012, on the occasion of the death of Margaret Whitlam, it was deeply disappointing that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott saw fit to take a facile shot at her husband’s political legacy. Tastelessly, he said: “There was a lot wrong with the Whitlam government but nevertheless, it was a very significant episode in our history and Margaret Whitlam was a very significant element in the political success of Gough Whitlam.”
There is something troubling about the sheer number of times Abbott has seemingly been flippant about the deaths of others. His serial insensitivity shows a standard of manners and politeness less than that which should be a minimum requirement for public office. What it reveals is a genuine failure of compassion, instinctive and aggressive callousness; an impulsive failure of empathy.(D. Ritter, ‘Abbott’s humour less than killer, but does he lack compassion ?’, 19 March 2012, accessible at www.crikey.com.au/2012/03/19/abbotts-humour-less-than-killer-but)
Professor Manne drew a tight sketch of Tony Abbott: “For [him] the greatest world leaders of recent times are Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher; the greatest contemporary theologian, Pope Benedict; the greatest Australian churchman, Cardinal Pell; the greatest Australian prime ministers, Robert Menzies and John Howard. Abbott looks to Kevin Donnelly for matters educational, to Christopher Pearson for matters cultural, to Keith Windschuttle for his interpretation of Aboriginal history and to Ian Plimer as his source of understanding in the area of climate change. When thick-as-bricks Sarah Palin won the vice-presidential nomination for the Republican Party, Abbott claimed with a perfectly straight face that she was an outstanding politician with greater experience than Barack Obama or John McCain and that she had just ‘the right stuff for high office’.” (R. Manne, ‘On your bike, Tony Abbott’, The Monthly, May 2010, accessible at https://www.themonthly.com.au)
When Julia Gillard – a woman who is unmarried and childless, and an atheist – became prime minister in 2010, Tony Abbott was left boiling with rage. Not only had he lost, but he had been defeated by a modern woman. For the time being, the ambitions of this fundamentalist Catholic and fiercely combative reactionary politician had been thwarted.
The long period in opposition would begin. And Abbott would give substance to the definition of his function: to oppose – everything, everywhere, anytime, all the time.
In November 2013, during a press conference held by the British Prime Minister at the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka which was boycotted by Canada, India and Mauritius as a protest against the human rights abuses and war crimes, Mr. Cameron said: “Let me be very clear. If an investigation is not completed by March, then I will use our position on the United Nations human rights council to work with the UN human rights commission and call for a full credible and independent international inquiry.”
The British, along with many other nations, were calling for justice for the countless thousands of innocent civilians who had been tortured and massacred, men, women and children. Abbott thought of going one better and weighed in on the discussions. When questioned about the massacre and torture of civilians he said: “We accept that sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen.”
Later on, once back home, he declared that he had never heard of a country being given a free pass for genocide and torture before, and those who committed some of the atrocities must be pleased to hear that someone accepts what they have done.
When the time came, Tony Abbott would accept Sri Lankan torture and genocide, but would not accept Sri Lankan refugees.
Tony Abbott gave the Sri Lankan government two Navy Patrol Boats for them to use in any way they would have seen fit in return for them clamping down on asylum seekers fleeing the country due to tensions which still exist and seeing their family members executed in many cases.
The gift of military boats to the nation that the United Nations accused of war crimes cost the Australian taxpayer $ 2 million. A cynical could say that Abbott was trying to emulate his mentor John Howard who allowed bribes to be paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime through the Australian Wheat Board.
As an irate, but very acute, observer would write early in November 2013 in an open letter to journalist Laurie Oakes, accusing him of having kept voters uninformed by completely failing to scrutinise what Abbott was going to do as Prime Minister: “You perpetuated the utterly ridiculous notion that Abbott could move from nasty, messy, attack-dog to mature, competent Prime Minister. I’m sorry Laurie, but this concept is idiotic. An incompetent, lazy, rude, mean, un-charismatic, unreliable, unintelligent, misogynistic, unscrupulous, inarticulate thug is always going to be all of these things, whether he lives in the Lodge with his apparently attractive daughters or not. He wasn’t just all of these things when he was Opposition Leader because it suited his agenda at the time. It’s not a coat he can just take off. This is it. This is Tony Abbott. With Peta Credlin barking instructions into his earpiece. This is Tony Abbott.”
The writer was concerned with what Abbott was doing: “Handing responsibility for massively important decisions about government spending to a business lobbyist. Cutting funding to scientific research. Embarrassing Australia on the global stage. Slashing and burning public sector jobs. Ripping up future-proofing infrastructure by destroying the [National Broadband Network]. Raising the debt ceiling to all time highs with no explanation as to why just weeks after claiming a ‘budget emergency’. Cancelling the Carbon Price for an expensive joke of a Direct Action Policy which is beyond humiliating for the country, right at the same time when the public are finally starting to realise that electricity bills are not more important than the safety of the planet.
Lying about deals he’s made with Indonesia to turn back boats and pretending the very act of him becoming Prime Minister has stopped the boats. Not to mention the real ‘chaos’ and ‘crisis’ which Abbott refuses to address – his and his ministers’ fraudulent use of taxpayer funds for expensive travel and accommodation for their own egos and personal entertainment.” (This would become a oozing sore, plaguing the Abbott Government for its duration, from Abbott defending claims for travel expenses to participate in sporting events, including Pollie Pedal: ‘Tony Abbott defends claiming travel expenses to …’, 8 October 2013, accessible at www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-08/abbott…ride-over-pollie-pedal/5008456) – the Department of Finance already had documents which showed that Abbott had claimed $ 349 in travel allowance and $ 941 for flights to compete in an ironman event in the New South Wales city of Port Macquarie in 2011; Tony Abbott scheduling last-minute visit to a cancer centre ‘to justify billing taxpayers for a fundraising trip to Melbourne’ for the Liberal Party, (27 August 2014, accessible at www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2735126); ‘Tony Abbott taking a taxpayer-funded military jet to the birthday party of a millionaire Liberal Party donor – $ 250,000 personally and $ 500,000 through a company controlled by him – (24 March 2015, Tony Abbott takes taxpayer-funded jet to party | The New Daily, accessible at thenewdaily.com.au); (8 August 2015, ‘Tony Abbott on travel expenses: go by what would be acceptable to business’, accessible at … – the Guardian, accessible at www.theguardian.com – › … › Australian politicians’ expenses). On this occasion one could learn that the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, had flown his wife and two children from Sydney to Perth on business-class return flights during the April 2013 school holidays. Department of Finance expenses records would show each of the ‘family traveller’ flights cost $1,470,01 for a total of $8,820.06. The trip coincided with the anniversary of Hockey’s speech about ending “the age of entitlement”. On 2 August 2015 Ms. Bronwyn Bishop resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives after coming under pressure for more than three weeks for a series of expenses claims, including $ 5,227 for return chartered helicopter flights from Melbourne to Geelong to attend a Liberal fundraiser. Many more episodes of Marie Antoinette-like demands on public money, office and trust would come to light.)
And the letter-writer concluded: “Whenever I think of Abbott, and what a setback he is for Australia, I can’t help but hear the words of Paul Keating from [an] interview in 2010 where he said:
“If Tony Abbott ends up as Prime Minister of Australia, you’ve got to say, God help us, God help us. A truly intellectual nobody. And no policy ambition. You know, I mean, is that all there is ?” (V. Rollison, ‘An open letter to Laurie Oakes’, 9 November 2013, accessible at theaimn.com/an-open-letter-to-laurie-oakes)
As writer and playwright Louis Nowra recalls, “The 1960s era of the young overturning traditional moral, social and sexual values arrived in Australia in the 1970s. Yet in 1972, at the age of 15, Abbott was drawn towards the DLP, despite the traditionalist party being in its death throes.
While I might have been puzzled by his attitude towards Santamaria, in 1998 he made me realise that I couldn’t take his politics for granted. At the time Pauline Hanson’s populist One Nation party, which had been formed in 1997, was beginning to gain considerable electoral ground through racist rhetoric, and its attacks on gun laws, multiculturalism and economic rationalism. Despite her racially inflammatory comments, John Howard did not criticise Hanson or her party. He seemed morally paralysed, as if he agreed with much of what she had to say but also didn’t want to attack her for fear of alienating conservative voters. It was Abbott who realised that One Nation was “a conservative’s cry of rage and fear” that made “non-Anglo Australians feel like strangers in their own country”. But there was a bigger problem in that Hanson had the potential to divide the conservative vote.
If Abbott had learned one thing from Santamaria’s undermining of the Labor Party and formation of the DLP, it was that such ideological splits were catastrophic for both parties. [Having ‘lent’ David Ernest Oldfield, one of his trusted employees and later adviser, to work for Pauline Hanson and later to co-found the Right-wing One Nation, and] without telling Howard, Abbott launched a campaign against Hanson. Instead of ridiculing her like the media and the Labor Party did, he saw that the easiest way to destroy her influence was on technical grounds – her One Nation party was not validly registered for public funding. His actions were successful and he saw the campaign “as the most important thing I have done in politics”. It was this attack on One Nation that intrigued me: it seemed Abbott was driven by more complex and at times contradictory impulses than I had first thought.”
In the kind of parental adoration in which he was reared, “ …it was no wonder that Abbott was a loud-mouthed, attention-seeking boy who saw himself as always being in the right. His parents were gregarious and liked parties. This trait has served their extrovert son well.
He was also studious and fond of books about great leaders and the glory of the British Empire, its Christian virtues and traditional institutions like Parliament. His first school was the Jesuits’ St Aloysius; his next school, St Ignatius, Riverview, on the lower North Shore, was also a Jesuit college. He was quickly attracted to the Jesuit fondness for intellectual argument – for observing issues from opposing sides. There was also a strongly athletic side to him and he did well in sports but, when he failed to play rugby for the school firsts, he could not conceive that it was because he wasn’t good enough – it must have been a conspiracy against him. This arrogance and sense of self-entitlement annoyed many of his peers.”
Back in Australia from Oxford, Abbott made a decision which stunned his family. He wanted to become a priest. Although he went to Mass regularly, he never seemed so much a spiritual man as one whose faith was based on the traditional values of the Church. At the age of 26, he was much older than most of the men entering St Patrick’s seminary at Manly.
“Yet – Nowra noted – instead of finding a form of Catholicism that featured social engagement, poverty and service to the community, he found himself surrounded by a strongly homosexual fraternity.”
A friend of Nowra said, “still with surprise in his voice, that they were “the most effeminate men I had ever seen. And this was when the Church unconditionally condemned homosexuality!” With this indulgent atmosphere came an emphasis on self-absorption. Abbott may have disliked homosexuality, but he agreed with Santamaria that “introspection is the first step towards insanity”. He was and is a man who likes being around other people and he’d sooner act than spend time contemplating his own navel.
He regarded this aspect of Catholicism as solipsistic – and he also couldn’t hack celibacy. Like half of the young seminarians, he left before becoming a priest.”
Undoubtedly the experience left a trait in the man whose spiritual adviser and confessor would become the now Cardinal Pell. Pell’s career took place in Victoria and only in 2001 he moved to Sydney as archbishop. The relationship is unusual if not strange; perhaps there is a common element to it: the shared view of ‘muscular Christianity’. Until his movement to be No. 3 in the Vatican, Pell was Abbott’s personal confessor.
“But Abbott is very touchy about his close friendship with him, no doubt because Pell pushes hard, like Santamaria did, for Catholic intervention in politics. A few years ago, at a conscience vote overturning a state ban on therapeutic cloning, Pell announced: “Catholic politicians who vote for this legislation must realise that their voting has consequences for their place in the life of the Church.” This was a thinly veiled threat of excommunication, running completely counter to secular values.
This may be what Pell and Abbott have in common: a domineering attitude.
Abbott’s conservative politics, his instinct to defer to authority and tradition, and his English Catholicism – with its position as a bulwark of tradition rather than a spiritual force – have been the bedrock of his beliefs since he was young.
All of Abbott’s mentors have opinions which exude with intransigence. “Above all, they regard the traditional institutions of marriage, family and community based on the principles of Christianity as essential for social cohesion.
Abbott has often been criticised for bringing his religious convictions into the world of politics. And although he has strenuously denied this, he has also said that: “A minister of the crown is scarcely supposed to abandon his principles simply because he is a minister of the crown. You don’t become an ethical-free zone just because you are a minister.” The institution that has made him, the Catholic Church, has also shaped his principles, so that he finds it difficult to disentangle his religious convictions from his political agenda. Like all his mentors he loathes abortion, IVF, the morning-after pill and RU486.”
Perhaps Abbott knows that he has personal demons to quell. “Between his belfry-bat ears is a coil of such saturnine weirdness that no one, not even his closest friends, would want to unravel it. This makes him do things he comes to regret. His wife, Margie, knows this. In 2005 when she heard that John Brogden had resigned as NSW Opposition leader, after being found in his office with self-inflicted wounds, she told her husband, “Whatever happens, don’t you say anything about it.” The next day, Abbott, then health minister, joked about Brogden’s actions in relation to a change to a Liberal policy: “If we did that, we would be as dead as the former Liberal leader’s political prospects.” Abbott’s response to the subsequent outcry was, “Look, I’ve never claimed to be the world’s most sensitive person.”
And he is right. “When dying asbestos campaigner Bernie Banton, suffering from terminal cancer, tried to deliver a petition to Abbott’s electorate office in Manly, Abbott, who wasn’t there, called Banton “gutless”, the event “a stunt” and remarked that “just because a person is sick doesn’t mean that he is necessarily pure at heart in all things.”
Rudd may use swear words to his staff and flight attendants but Abbott takes it into the public arena, one time snapping back “Bullshit” at Labor opponent Nicola Roxon, in response to her comment that he could have been on time for a nationally televised debate, and referring to Julia Gillard as having a “shit-eating grin”. He just can’t stop himself. His excitement and adrenaline get the better of him. He always offers a mea culpa and confesses his weakness, but that impulsiveness is hard for him to control. He is a naturally exuberant man.”
“Journalists have called his obsessive cycling and gym-going “self-flagellation”, but it’s more subtle than that. The body is a source of energy that equals that of the will. If he can will his body to overcome its limitations, then he can train his mind to do the same thing.”
“He may act goofy around women occasionally, but he’s capable of self-mockery, as when he repeats one of his daughters’ descriptions of him as “a gay, lame churchie loser”. He also tries to be as straightforward and clear as possible, which will become a virtue given that his [once] opponent, Kevin Rudd, seem[ed] like a hologram that hasn’t been taught proper English.
In December 2009, when he became leader of the Opposition, Paul Howes, then the national secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, labelled him a zealot; Greg Combet M.P. called him an extremist; Robert Manne called him a troglodyte.” (L. Nowra, ‘The whirling dervish: On Tony Abbott |’, The Monthly, January 2010, accessible at https://www.themonthly.com.au/monthly-essays-louis-nowra-whirling)
Should one call it pathocracy ?
The record of the devious, nay false, statements which preceded a turbulent period of tenure and of the two years of the Abbott Government – 18 September 2013 to 14 September 2015 is too well-know and too recent to be resumed here – although certain aspects will be dealt with further on, in attempting to respond to the question: was it a Fascist government ? There is of course the already mentioned list of breach of promises, diligently collected by Sally McManus. It goes, punctiliously, from Abbott’s first default on 14 September 2013: on spending the first week as Prime Minister with an Aboriginal community – as he had solemnly promised to Indigenous elders and participants at the Garma Festival on 10 August 2013 – to the last failure on 14 September 2015: to provide a stable and unified Government. This is No. 478 of Abbott’s broken promises. Credit also should be given to a recent contribution by Mr. John Lord: ‘Day to Day Politics: ‘Remembering Abbott’s Past’ 51 Reasons why he should move on’, 30 March 2016, (accessible at http://theaimn.com/day-to-day-politics-remembering-abbotts-past-51-reasons-why-he-should-move-on/)
There were also very important voices from overseas.
The New Statesman of 23 April 2013 called Abbott’s campaign “a disturbing example of politics at its most crass and exploitative.” It added that “Though Abbott has arguably been driven by a genuine belief in the common good and the Biblical “golden rule” – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – his deep faith is often at the mercy of his ambitions for power. Indeed, the main reason he entered the Seminary was because he wanted to become the Archbishop of Sydney, no less.”, noting how “a dangerous degree of certainty and hostility has permeated some influential sections of Australian society, creating the backdrop on which to build a narrative of Manichean extremes; where morality is black and white, and the ‘good’ can win only by destroying the ‘evil’. Politics is zero-sum. Compromise is failure.”
The New Statesman concluded: “Abbott is a man for everyone and no one, a flatterer of the rich and powerful, and an open vanguard for neoliberal hawks to pull apart the social contract. If he is elected, Australia will no longer be “the lucky country”.
On 6 September 2013 The Los Angeles Times spoke of Abbott as a “gaffe-prone conservative” given to “occasional buffoonery” who has “mused publicly that it may not be ‘a bad thing’ that men have more power than women”, “scandalized political circles by praising a fellow candidate for her ‘sex appeal,’ denounced abortion as ‘a question of the mother’s convenience’ and dismissed the notion of climate change as ‘absolute crap.’ ”
Abbott had been labelled “unelectable” by stalwarts within his own party and was branded by a former American ambassador to Australia – in a 2010 diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks – as a ‘polarizing right-winger’ with a ‘propensity for insensitivity and controversy.’ ”
Two days after the election The Sydney Morning Herald was reporting that views from overseas were still undecided whether Abbott was a “compassionate conservative” in the tradition of George W. Bush, or a “bigoted airhead.” More reassuring was the opinion of English Tory M.P. Douglas Carswell who said that “Mr. Abbott’s victory should inspire his U.K. counterparts. Abbott’s views are throughly [sic] modern. He seems to have seen through global warming fad, wants less government and is pro Anglosphere.”
Labour politicians were caustic. “Oz has elected a bigoted airhead to drag them backwards into mean prejudice and vainglorious chauvinism.” wrote M.P. Paul Flynn.
Meanwhile, columnist Tim Stanley of the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph proclaimed Abbott’s victory a “win for the Christian conservatives.” “Whereas some Western conservatives seem to be entirely motivated by the desire to win (Mitt Romney, Cameron), Abbott has a philosophy and – almost unique in our materialist age – a theology.” he wrote.
Closer to home, The Jakarta Globe queried what an Abbott Government would mean for relations with Indonesia, particularly in relation to foreign aid, defence and the handling of asylum seekers. The paper quoted Mahfudz Siddiq, head of the Indonesian House of Representatives’ foreign affairs commission, saying that a Coalition proposal to buy back Indonesian fishing boats was “crazy” – “the idea is degrading and offensive to the dignity of Indonesians.”
By 23 May 2014 The Washington Post had formed the opinion that Abbott was becoming ‘one of the world’s most hated prime ministers, who was going from “one scandal to the next.” On 21 May 2014 Abbott had been caught winking mid-interview to an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio host when a phone sex hotline worker called in with her comments on the Budget. Abbott had forgotten that the interview was also being filmed.
What the newspaper called a ‘latest Abbottism’ was far from isolated, and it proceeded to recall that, over the years the prime minister had managed to raise more than a few eyebrows with his comments, particularly those relating to women and gender issues. So, in the wake of what it called the ‘winkgate scandal’, the paper looked at some of his most controversial remarks in recent memory.
On women: “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.” Written by Abbott while he was a university student in the 1970s.
On sex:“I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think are both, they both need to be moderated, so to speak.” 19 March 2002.
On virginity: It “is the greatest gift you can give someone.” In response to a question about what advice he would give his daughters about sex before marriage. 12 January 2010.
On gender roles: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.” 8 February 2010.
On homosexuality: “I probably feel a bit threatened.” 5 March 2010.
On Ms. Fiona Scott, candidate M.P. for the seat of Lindsay: “They’re young, feisty, I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal and they’re just very connected with the local area.” 13 August 2013, during the lead up to the election, when asked what Ms. Scott and her predecessor Ms. Jackie Kelly had in common.
On WorkChoices, and the resulting Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Cth): “It’s dead, buried and cremated”, in that order, 17 July 2010.
On climate change: “Climate change argument is absolute crap.”, 2 February 2010.
On the carbon tax: “Let’s be under no illusions the carbon tax was socialism masquerading as environmentalism.”, 26 October 2013.
The Huffington Post of the U.K. went further. On 17 March 2015 it collected ‘The 14 most fecking stupid things Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has ever done’.
He had just come under fire for making a ‘patronising’ St. Patrick’s Day message. Abbott was criticised by his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, for perpetuating the “stage Irish” stereotype that the country’s ‘culture’ is synonymous with alcohol after he mentioned having “a Guinness, or two, or maybe even three.”
The paper listed Abbott’s other top thirteen gaffes:
- Saying “Shit happens” when learning of the death of a soldier … and then being utterly unable to defend himself when questioned about it.
- Winking during a phone call from a sex line worker.
- Giving Prince Philip a knighthood, thus proving just how in touch he is with the mood of the Australian people. Still, it helped the Republican movement…
- Saying that climate change is “absolute crap”. He also clearly remains unconvinced that it is “the most important moral issue of our time.”
- Calling abortion “the easy way out”. Just one of the things which resulted in the blistering take-down by Julia Gillard.
- Saying he felt “threatened” by gays and lesbians. And espousing these views on same-sex marriage.
- Saying that he won’t get his daughters vaccinated. “I won’t be rushing out to get my daughters vaccinated [for cervical cancer], maybe that’s because I’m a cruel, callow, callous, heartless bastard but, look, I won’t be.”
- Eating a raw, unpeeled onion. Who needs cutlery ?! Or for the onion to be cooked ?!
- Saying it is “a lifestyle choice” for indigenous Australians to live in remote communities. Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson called it “a very disappointing and hopeless statement by the prime minister.” No change there, then.
- Remarking on the “sex appeal” of a female political candidate. And justifying by saying he was “a bit exuberant.”
- Whingeing about his domestic political problems when welcoming the G20 leaders.
And telling people like Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin that they could only speak for five minutes at a time. And should use each others’ first names.
- Saying that the women of Australia “do the ironing”. To be exact, in 2010 he said: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand, as they do the ironing, is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price – and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up.”
- Using Jesus to defend his views on immigration. “Jesus didn’t say yes to everyone. Jesus knew that there was a place for everything, and it is not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”
“Fecking stupid” ? Such ‘robust’ language, while quite un-edifying, is not surprising. Indeed it is perfectly attuned to the way some Australian politicians speak of and about each other.
On the other hand one cannot forget that very often some politician’s professional view precisely reaches the target.
Consider for instance the opinion expressed by Dr. Brendan John Nelson AO, a former Member of the House of Representatives and former Opposition Leader for a short time in 2007 and 2008. Nelson was coming from a ‘traditionally’ Labor family. His membership in the Liberal Party was perhaps a matter of convenience against conviction. He was able to secure a position as a minister in the third and fourth terms of the Howard Government, serving as Minister for Education, Science and Training in 2001-2006 and Minister for Defence in 2006-2007.
Following the defeat of the Howard Government at the 2007 federal election, Nelson was elected Leader of the Opposition on 3 December 2007, narrowly defeating Malcolm Turnbull, then Minister for Environment and Water Resources and presently the prime minister, in a 45 to 42 vote, and after the withdrawal of Tony Abbott from the competition. On 16 September 2008 in a second contest following a spill motion, Nelson lost the leadership of the Opposition and of the Liberal Party to Malcolm Turnbull.
There was quite possibly no love lost between the two.
On 25 August 2009 Dr. Nelson announced his forthcoming retirement from politics. The following month he became the Ambassador of Australia to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg as well as Australia’s Special Representative to the N.A.T.O.
On 10 October 2012 Nelson resigned as an ambassador having been chosen Director of the Australian War Memorial, a position he took up on 17 December 2012.
Altogether Nelson seems a person of mild manners, modest political ambitions and relatively well-balanced judgment.
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald on the last weekend of August 2009 – 29 and 30 of the month – Nelson, drawing on his medical experience, diagnosed Malcolm Turnbull with narcissistic personality disorder. By pure coincidence, on 30 August Tony Abbott weighed into a little pop psychology, suggesting that it was then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, not Turnbull, who has narcissistic personality disorder.
According to Professor Henry Jackson, of the University of Melbourne, a personality disorder expert, such condition is one of the ten types of personality disorders outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The disorder is “characterised by patterns of grandiosity, a need for admiration, and most importantly, a lack of empathy for others.” said Professor Jackson. “These people are pretty entitled and pretty exploitative of others.” he said. “They can also be quite envious of others.”
Narcissistic personality disorder is a “disorder of self not a disorder of other” and these people “don’t give a damn about others.” said Professor Jackson. This can mean that, when the person affected by the disorder is disappointed by the people they require admiration from, they can turn quite nasty.
People affected by narcissistic personality disorder come from all walks of life, says Professor Jackson, and personality disorders such as this generally develop during childhood and over a period of time.
When asked, Professor Jackson declined to comment on whether Turnbull could be categorised as having narcissistic personality disorder – of course. But, does Turnbull exhibit patterns of grandiosity ? In February 2009 Labor MP Lindsay Tanner spoke of Turnbull’s “breathtaking arrogance” with regard to blocking government legislation in the Senate. The Sydney Morning Herald columnist Annabel Crabb likened Turnbull to a chest-beating Tarzan “more comfortable with grand gestures” than the realities of political compromise.
And would Turnbull feel a need for admiration ? – of course. Most politicians and people in public life do. According to Abbott, “no one goes into politics without a pretty solid ego.” (‘The Nelson diagnosis: does Turnbull suffer from narcissistic personality disorder?…’, accessible at www.crikey.com.au/2009/08/31/the-nelson–diagnosis–does–turnbull)
On 20 May 2014, shortly before assuming her office in the Senate, Ms. Jacqui Lambie from Tasmania was interviewed by a journalist of the 7.30 programme of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
On being asked: “You said that the Federal Budget proves that Liberals are – and I’ll quote you – gutless sycophants led by uncaring psychopaths. On reflection, did you go too far calling them psychopaths ?” Senator-elect Lambie replied: “No, I don’t think so, I don’t think so at all. I think when it comes to Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott that – I mean, the truth be said, they’re nothing less than a pair of deceitful, lying, political politicians and that’s exactly what they’ve done: they’ve been deceitful and they’ve lied to the public and they’ve lied to the nation.”
Sarah Ferguson, the interviewer: “Psychopath is a pretty strong term though.”
Lambie: : “Well, I’m just saying that politically they’re like they’re psychopathic.”
On 3 July 2014 Senator Lambie criticised Prime Minister Abbott for “parading his daughters around” during the 2013 election campaign and, as noted, she had previously called Abbott a “political psychopath”. She also called the Prime Minister a “bare-faced, uncaring liar”.
Senator Lambie took another swipe at Abbott, declaring the Prime Minister needs “a bucket of cement” to toughen up if he could not cop her criticism.
In the last instalment of a series on ‘The story of the Abbott government’ – 29 November-3 December 2015, Peter Hartcher of The Sydney Morning Herald recorded that, during the February 2015 government crisis “Turnbull commonly told colleagues that Abbott’s capacity for self-delusion, his lack of comprehension for the feelings of those around him, showed that he was “basically a psychopath”.
And Hartcher quickly observed: “Turnbull had been described by an earlier Liberal leader, Brendan Nelson, as suffering “narcissistic personality disorder”. Now it seemed the narcissist was calling the psychopath crazy.” (‘Shirtfronted: The story of the Abbott government’ – SMH, accessible at www.smh.com.au/interactive/2015/Shirtfronted)
Abbott & Co. = “a bunch of psychopaths ?”
Society has conspired with Hollywood to put two seemingly-sexy psychology terms into our collective consciousness – psychopath and sociopath. They are pop psychology terms for what psychiatry calls an antisocial personality disorder. Both types of personality have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features to both types of personality. And, contrary to popular belief, a psychopath or sociopath is not necessarily violent. Both psychopaths and sociopaths present risks to society, because they will often try and live a normal life while coping with their disorder, but psychopathy is likely the more dangerous disorder, because they experience a lot less guilt connected to their actions.
Few disorders are as misunderstood as is psychopathic personality and, instead of indulging in any amateurish analysis, one should reached out to the work of Dr. Martha Stout, a clinical psychologist who was long affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She is the author of The sociopath next door: The ruthless versus the rest of us (New York 2006) and other popular books on emotional disorders. In her writings Dr. Stout tends to use the term sociopath instead of psychopath, on the ground that the terms are often used interchangeably by mental health professionals.
Of course, sociopathy is not a form of insanity. It is a spectrum of personality types classically centering on narcissistic self-importance, a willingness to manipulate others and the charm to do it effectively, and a perpetual habit of deflecting blame when self-interested actions cause harm to others. This all stems from a basic lack of conscience, the defining trait of the sociopath.
The term psychopath has been used by specialists since the nineteenth-century, but was popularised by psychiatrist Dr. Hervey M. Cleckley, a psychiatrist from the Medical College of Georgia, in his 1941 classic The mask of sanity: An attempt to clarify some issues about the so-called psychopathic personality (Augusta, Georgia 1988) For Dr. Cleckley the psychopathic personality was initially defined by a relatively high-functioning, aggressively narcissistic, extroverted persona concealing an antisocial and latent psychotic core. Whether most psychopaths are truly psychotic beneath their affable, charming, manipulative mask is dubious, as Dr. Cleckley later recognised, though some may in fact, like severe borderline, paranoid or schizotypal personalities, be compensated psychotics.
Cleckley’s original list of symptoms of a psychopath is:
- Considerable superficial charm and average or above average intelligence.
- Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking.
- Absence of anxiety or other ‘neurotic’ symptoms considerable poise, calmness, and verbal facility.
- Unreliability, disregard for obligations and no sense of responsibility, in matters of little and great import.
- Untruthfulness and insincerity.
- Antisocial behaviour which is inadequately motivated and poorly planned, seeming to stem from an inexplicable impulsiveness.
- Inadequately motivated antisocial behaviour.
- Poor judgment and failure to learn from experience.
- Pathological egocentricity and total self-centeredness incapacity for real love and attachment.
- General poverty of deep and lasting emotions.
- Lack of any true insight, inability to see oneself as others do.
- Ingratitude for any special considerations, kindness, and trust.
- Fantastic and objectionable behaviour, after drinking and sometimes even when not drinking – vulgarity, rudeness, quick mood shifts, pranks.
- No history of genuine suicide attempts.
- An impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated sex life.
- Failure to have a life plan and to live in any ordered way, unless it be one promoting self-defeat.
Psychopaths are not delusional or psychotic; in fact, two of the hallmarks of psychopathy are a calculating mind and a seemingly easy charm.
Diagnosis, of course, does not require every trait to be evident in an individual.
Dr. Cleckley theorised that some people with the core attributes of psychopathy – egocentricity, lack of remorse, superficial charm – could be found in nearly every walk of life and at every level, including politics.
Dr. Robert D. Hare, Emeritus Professor of the University of British Columbia and another leading expert on the disorder, developed the most commonly used test for diagnosing psychopathy, and has noted that psychopaths generally have a heightened need for power and prestige – exactly the type of urges that make politics an attractive calling.
There is more at work than just the drive to seek office, though; psychopaths may have some peculiar talents for it, as well. Research has shown that disorder may confer certain advantages which make psychopaths particularly suited to a life on the public stage and able to handle high-pressure situations: psychopaths score low on measures of stress reactivity, anxiety and depression, and high on measures of competitive achievement, positive impressions on first encounters, and fearlessness. And does this sound like the description of a successful politician and leader?
When psychopaths capture positions of power the result is totalitarianism, also known as pathocracy. The word derives from Greek, pathos: feeling, pain, suffering and kratos: rule. It defines a totalitarian form of government in which absolute political power is held by a psychopathic élite, and their effect on the people is such that the entire society is ruled and motivated by purely pathological values. At that point, the government operates against the interests of its own people except for favouring certain groups: banksters, tycoons, media proprietors, transnational miners, intercontinental legal advisers, tax experts, turf accountants and other rent seekers parasites …
“Politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths.” Dr. Stout told the Huffpost Science. “I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this.”(‘Are Politicians Psychopaths ?’ – The Huffington Post, 27.08.2012, accessible at www.huffingtonpost.com/david-freeman/are-politicians-psychopaths_b)
Psychopathy is complex and counterintuitive, and understanding has been very slow, even though some psychologists credit (debit?) psychopaths with starting the second world war and with creating the conditions for the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown.
Politicians and stockbrokers share many of the same characteristics as criminal psychopaths. The only difference is that career high-flyers usually stay within the law.
Some could be defined as ‘successful psychopaths’, according to Dr. Lisa Marshall, a forensic psychologist at the University of Toronto and at the Glasgow Caledonian University.
School – she said – was found to be a boring and bad experience for most psychopaths.
And Dr. Marshall suggested: check if the person next to you a psychopath by ticking as appropriate:
– remorseless user of others.
– pathological liar.
– glib and a con artist.
– lacking in remorse.
– failing to accept responsibility for actions.
– with a high sense of self-worth.
– chronically unstable.
– with a socially deviant lifestyle.
– needing constant stimulation.
– with a parasitic lifestyle.
– having had childhood problems.
– a juvenile delinquent.
– having unrealistic goals.
The typical profile of a sociopath certainly suggests they would flourish in politics.
“Robert Hare, perhaps the leading expert on the disorder and the person who developed the most commonly used test for diagnosing psychopathy, has noted that psychopaths generally have a heightened need for power and prestige.” James Silver, a former American federal prosecutor and currently a criminal defence attorney, reported in The Atlantic, “exactly the type of urges that make politics an attractive calling.” Silver also noted that other typical sociopath traits, including fearlessness and strong competitive drives, make sociopaths likely not only to enter politics, but succeed in it. (J. Silver, ‘The startling accuracy of referring to politicians as psychopaths’, The Atlantic, 31 July 2012, accessible at The Startling Accuracy of Referring to Politicians as …, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/07/the-startling–accuracy)
The current understanding of psychopathic mental disorders is only now beginning to attract serious attention by the general public and that would seem to be entirely appropriate given the high associated costs of psychopathic behaviours.
One could very well say that the knee-jerk reaction of calling an offending person ‘psychopath’ is inaccurate, irresponsible, misleading and unethical – unless one is provided with the medical knowledge of a Dr. Nelson, or at least of a psychologist such as Lyn Bender, a graduate from La Trobe University.
On 13 May 2014 she asked the question: “What if Abbott and his cronies are just a bunch of psychopaths ?” She observed that the psychopath may be smart even highly intelligent, but lacks empathy and is a chronic manipulator.
And Ms. Bender went on: “He is morally bankrupt due to this lack of empathy and narcissism. What he doesn’t feel, he mimics to further his own ends.
The psychopath or sociopath is careless of others feelings, exhibits no guilt or remorse, lies compulsively and acts impulsively with little regard for the consequences of those actions.
Grandiosity inflates a sense of getting away with anything.
The focus is never on reparation – but on escaping any responsibility for the harm inflicted on others.
The drive is essentially narcissistic, even if it is paraded as altruistic.
The actions are thoroughly Machiavellian with the end justifying the means – but the ends are narcissistically focused.
The latest revelations about the Abbott Government’s manipulation [such as Treasurer Hockey’s fictional budget crisis], deceit and lies have led me to wonder: is Prime Minister Abbott incapable of human feeling?
What is keeping me awake at night is the following nagging thought: ‘What if Prime Minister Tony Abbott just a psychopath ?’
Surrounding himself with like-minded ministers advisors and old cronies, Abbott is forging his way towards his version of a small government free market quasi neo conservative nirvana.
A brave new land where the poor are punished for being poor, the disabled are abandoned, universal education and health care is degraded and the old and poor are denied health care in the hope that they will work until death, at seventy.
Currently, that is still mostly the inglorious dream of those espousing the perverted Right-wing agenda of the denialist propaganda think tank the Institute of Public Affairs – and Abbott’s handpicked Commission of Audit.
Indeed, while Tony Abbott avoids the A.B.C. like the plague, he is most comfortable in the company of friends.
Indeed, as I write this [in May 2014], Abbott is working to implement his agenda, [which are the I.P.A.’s goals].
They include repeal of measures and bodies to combat climate change and the breaking up and sale of those vile socialists, the A.B.C. and S.B.S.:
- Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
- Privatise S.B.S.
As we know, there is too much free speech and left wing science on the ABC, and Abbott has attacked it for: “… not being enough on the side of the home team.”
The unpatriotic A.B.C. also reported on those asylum seeker abuse allegations – of having their hands burned by the Australian Navy. The A.B.C. should never have reported them, in Liberal Party world, since they were vigorously denied by Morrison and Abbott.”
Ms. Bender then asked: “ … is this just a bumbling rookie government with a fixation on becoming a replica of the American Tea Party movement ?
Or is there evidence that Abbott and his cronies are running a psychopathic government ?
In my view, there is no question.
Consider the evidence – she wrote, and made the following points:
1. Tony Abbott is a compulsive liar.
2. Lack of empathy and compassion.
3. On Tony doing whatever it takes.
“bbott said in 2010 on Lateline that he took the view of Australia Day that, while some Indigenous people regarded it as Invasion Day, they have much to celebrate in Australia’s British culture.
Not much empathy or respect there.
Abbot can’t hear, understand, or empathise with the voices expressing the suffering of aboriginal people as whites celebrate Australia Day.
4. Abbott completely disregards the well being of future generations.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating derides Abbott as failing to adopt carbon pricing.
According to Keating, Abbott’s modus operandi is: “If you don’t give me the job, I’ll wreck the joint !”
5. Abbott’s cronies.
And one should not ignore those whom Abbott has gathered around him and those who are reflecting his psychopathology. For Abbott has beside him cronies who are implementing policy which is downright sociopathic in its intent.
“[Then] Immigration Minister Scott Morrison [and now Treasurer], who could be dubbed the minister without a heart, administer[ed] the illegal murderous Abbott ‘stop the boats’ policy, which has been criticised by the UN. Amnesty International has also critiqued, as inhumane, offshore processing under Operation Sovereign Borders – soon to become Border Force.
The policy now [ in May 2014] has international fame – or rather infamy – for its violation of human rights. Under it, Morrison, on behalf of Abbott, has just pushed another boat back to Indonesia, reportedly adding – as though they were not actually humans – three extra unwanted (by Australia) refugees located on Christmas Island to the vessel being turned back – potentially an offence under Australia’s own domestic laws against people smuggling.
But ultimately, it is in fiscal policy that the greatest good or harm can be done. It looks as though [then] Treasurer Joe Hockey – with Tony Abbott’s blessing – is taking the harm option. [On 8 December 2015 Mr. Hockey was rewarded by Prime Minister Turnbull to become the next Ambassador of Australia to the United States. He assumed his position on 29 January 2016.]
The Treasurer [Mr. Hockey, as he then was] is urging the poor to tighten their belts, while hyperventilating about overspending causing the budget crisis. But most credible economists say is not an immediate crisis, but a long term problem requiring a restructuring of revenue – not belt tightening.
Should we bring out the smelling salts or the cigars ? The financial team appear to be in triumphant cigar smoking mode, as the poor and the disabled the old and unemployed come within the budget’s rifle sights. [The late] Bob Ellis dub[bed] Hockey on [Independent Australia] as the ‘dumbest politician ever’, as the treasurer crows about implementing an austerity regime that has been utterly discredited throughout the western world, including by world renowned economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, because of its clear economic contraction effects. Hockey is also, ironically, under a cloud regarding hefty donations for providing exclusive access to select groups, including business and lobbyists, at pricey functions.
Finally the ultimate destructive piece de resistance by Abbott must be his decision to completely ignore the warnings of 97 per cent (or more) of the world’s climate scientists on the extreme danger to our planetary home, of human induced global warming, including Australia’s own chief scientist Ian Chubb. David Suzuki has called it wilful blindness and a crime against future generations for Tony Abbott to ignore the threat and suppress action on climate change.
Meanwhile, Abbott supports and subsidises fossil fuel polluters and is hell bent on suppressing investment in renewable sources of energy. He has by the way, appointed climate sceptic Dick Warburton to review the renewable energy target – flagging his contempt for renewables.
Abbott shows no respect for scientific evidence or empathy and concern for the fate of Australians and millions of the world’s poor, or for his own children and future grandchildren.
Is it because he is a psycho with no empathy or care for anyone apart from himself, who has gathered a bunch of sociopaths around him ?
Traditional counselling does not work for psychopaths, who may add skills thus gained to their manipulative repertoire.
Less intelligent psychopaths may end up in jail. Smarter ones may end up running companies or the country. If Tony Abbott is a psychopath he is incapable of genuine care for others. He should, therefore, not be running the country.
Be afraid; be very afraid.” (L. Bender, ‘What if Abbott and his cronies are just a bunch of psychopaths ?’, 13 May 2014, accessible at ttps://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/what-if)
Or could Tony Abbott be regarded as a ‘political sociopath’?
Abbott’s time as Prime Minister has been characterised by gaffes, scandals and deeply unpopular policy. But is there something more than incompetence ? Were Abbott and his ‘mates’ (many of them still around) in government pathologically incapable of caring for anyone but themselves ?
There are a number of hallmarks of sociopathy, and a few stand out.
There was lack of remorse or guilt.
Despite having confronted several time on television for reneging on his pre-election vows of no cuts to the A.B.C., or S.B.S., on health and on education, despite clearly disregarding these commitments, Abbott not only failed to apologise – he refused to acknowledge that any promises had been broken.
There was impulsivity.
Early in 2015 Abbott became infamous for making his ‘Captain’s calls’ – seemingly arbitrary decisions made without consultation, apparently even of his ‘mates’, including his ‘brothers in the faith’ in the Cabinet: Joe Hockey, Kevin Andrews, Mathias Cormann, Barnaby Joyce, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb – and, of course, Malcolm Turnbull. And spare a thought for the ‘humble servants’, such as the stolidly Teutonic Eric Abetz, the Hillsong Church ‘impresario’ Scott Morrison, and that Torquemada of The Law, George Brandis. ‘Captain calls’ include reinstituting imperial honours – bestowing a knighthood on Prince Philip, attempting to delist Tasmanian heritage wilderness, and dismissing the chief government whip.
There was glibness.
When Abbott talked about ‘stopping the boats’, he was really talking about stopping desperate refugees fleeing persecution. When he talked about ‘lifestyle choices’, he was talking about the homeland of entire communities. When he said: “shit happens,” he meant that a serviceman had died. And when he said “absolute crap,” he was summarising several decades’ worth of interdisciplinary research on climate change.
There was antagonism/aggressive behaviour, with the consequent difficulty in maintaining relationships.
Sociopaths react badly when criticised. When the Human Rights Commissioner found that the government’s treatment of refugees amounted to criminal neglect, Abbott’s reaction was to launch a swift ad personam attack on her.
When the same conclusion was reached by the United Nations, Abbott took it upon himself to speak for the Australian people, and informed the U.N. that Australians were “sick of being lectured to.” (‘Abbott says Australians ‘sick of being lectured to by UN’, 9 March 2015, accessible at www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-09/tony-abbott-hits-out-united-nations)
He has also been known to issue threats to foreign governments, (‘Bali Nine: Tony Abbott denies threatening Indonesia over clemency for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’, 19 February 2015, accessible at www.abc.net.au/…/bali-nine-tony-abbott-denies-indonesia…/6147832) and heads of state, (Tony Abbott vows to ‘shirt-front’ Vladimir Putin at G20 – CNN, 14 October 2014, accessible at www.cnn.com/2014/10/14/world/asia/australia-russia-abbott-putin) and question the mental integrity of Labor voters. (‘Tony Abbott’s threats, scare tactics only dig him a deeper …’, 2 February 2015, accessible at www.smh.com.au › Federal Politics › Political Opinion)
By the way, ‘shirt fronting’ may be common to many Australians but it will be a mystery to much of the world. As many fans of Australian Football League already know, a shirt fronter is a ‘real Aussie’-rules term for a front-on charge aimed at ‘bumping’ an opponent to the ground. It was the Oxford Blue again, as in the seventies at the University of Sydney, proposing physically to attack the adversary – the enemy ? – by applying a method which is increasingly frowned upon by the A.F.L. The bully was going to show that he is a political man of action, for him the diplomatic equivalent of the gunboat variety. Fascist ‘diplomacy’ ?
There were callousness and lack of empathy.
The Abbott Government’s ministers appeared unwilling to propose any legislation which directly benefits anyone but themselves. Concern for the old, the young, the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged was entirely absent from the government’s first budget, the subsequent protests and objections brushed aside with patronising admonitions of “pull your weight.” (J. Svensson, ‘Tony Abbott a political sociopath? | Politics | Hijacked’, 19 March 2015, accessible at hijacked.com.au/is-tony-abbott-a-political-sociopath)
And there was, unquestionably, risk-taking.
Only on 20 July 2015 it was reported by Channel Ten television that the federal Attorney-General Senator George Brandis QC had secretly met with Cardinal George Pell two months before. The Attorney-General had made several attempts at concealing the encounter.
The Attorney-General should never have met Cardinal Pell given the fact that the Cardinal had been a key witness and was due to appear again before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
It is not credible that Attorney-General Brandis did not know that Cardinal Pell was a witness at the Royal Commission, and that Pell had already given evidence in March and August 2014 and had been put on notice in May 2015 that he would have been required for further evidence later in the year. This eventuated between February and March 2016.
Further, when the Royal Commission will deliver its recommendations to the Australian Government, Attorney-General Brandis might be having a substantial say on such recommendations. It is obvious that, by meeting Cardinal Pell, he should have been fully aware that he was exposing himself to a possible accusation of perceived bias. (‘Tony Abbott and Brandis both secretly met with paedophile protector George Pell. Why ?’, 29 July 2015, accessible at crazzfiles.com/tony-abbott-and-brandis-both-secretly-met-with..)
A person who goes under the nom de blog of ‘Winifredjay’, and probably lives in Tasmania, collected sixteen memorable quotations from Tony Abbott. S/he thought that they would have been useful to remember “why he shouldn’t be Prime Minister” – the date: 9 October 2012.
Well, yes, but many people do not have time, inclination, patience, perseverance and habit to collect such famous dicta. Most of them have already appeared in the preceding pages; some are worth perusing now, for completion.
Here they are:
- ‘Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.’
- ‘These people aren’t so much seeking asylum, they’re seeking permanent residency. If they were happy with temporary protection visas, then they might be able to argue better that they were asylum seekers.’
On rights at work:
- ‘Bad bosses, like bad fathers and husbands, should be tolerated because they do more good than harm.’
- ‘The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.’
- ‘I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.’
- ‘I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak.’
- ‘What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year…’
On Julia Gillard:
- ‘Gillard won’t lie down and die.’
On climate change:
- (already seen) ‘Climate change is absolute crap.’
- ‘If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax.’
- (already seen) ‘I’d probably … I feel a bit threatened.’
- ‘If you’d asked me for advice I would have said to have – adopt a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about all of these things…’
On Indigenous Australia:
- ‘Now, I know that there are some Aboriginal people who aren’t happy with Australia Day. For them it remains Invasion Day. I think a better view is the view of Noel Pearson, who has said that Aboriginal people have much to celebrate in this country’s British Heritage.’
- ‘Western civilisation came to this country in 1788 and I’m proud of that…’
- ‘There may not be a great job for them but whatever there is, they just have to do it, and if it’s picking up rubbish around the community, it just has to be done.’
On Nicola Roxon:
16: ‘That’s bullshit. You’re being deliberately unpleasant. I suppose you can’t help yourself, can you ?’
Read this very carefully Australia, admonished Winifredjay. Unfortunately, most Australians, whether of the zero, mono or ‘multi’culture, read little and remember and care less.
Still, some will remember the article by a political scientist attached to the University of Western Australia. In an opinion piece published in The Australian on 4 May 2013, Professor Peter van Onselen wrote that Abbott was in danger of being a do-nothing Prime Minister. And the reason was this: “the policy goals Abbott has announced so far cut immediately across conservative and liberal principles.”
Abbott Prime Minister could not have succeed in both promising lower taxes and, simultaneously, pledge to support a Medicare levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. (‘Tony Abbott in danger of being a do-nothing PM | The …’, accessible at www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/tony-abbott-in-danger…)
Abbott is the man who, before forming his government, stood in front of a poster that read “Ditch the Witch” and who addressed the public outside Parliament House under a placard on which the Prime Minister Ms. Gillard’s honour was sullied by the most outrageous slurs: “JuLIAR Bob Browns [sic] BITCH”. Bronwyn Bishop, Sophie Mirabella and Ken Wyatt, MPs and Warren Truss, then Leader of the National Party, are clearly recognisable behind Abbott. The date was 23 March 2011, as The Sydney Morning Herald reminded the readers on 23 June 2015. (‘Julia Gillard on the moment that should have killed Tony …’, accessible at www.smh.com.au › Federal Politics › Political News)
Abbott is the same man who did not ever utter a word as Prime Minister Gillard was derided as barren, frumpy, ugly… who ought to be “thrown out to sea in a chaff bag…” – and once more – with Clover Moore, the Mayor of Sydney, and Bob Brown, for good measure. (‘Alan Jones suggests throwing Julia Gillard “out to sea in …” ’, 24 July 2011, accessible at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsaVpepMyA8)
Once in government, from 7 September 2013, Abbott’s policy-slogan ‘stop the boats’ was immediately, cruelly, savagely executed – an example of decisionism so dear to the Fascists. The ‘policy’ was warmly shared by the Opposition. In fact, it was a ‘returned’ Prime Minister Rudd – for a little while, anyway – who, on 19 July 2013, announced the reopening of a concentration camp in Papua New Guinea – under what was called for the occasion a Regional Resettlement Arrangement with that country.
Competing in cruelty with Abbott, Rudd declared that “From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees. Asylum seekers taken to Christmas Island will be sent to Manus and elsewhere in Papua New Guinea for assessment of their refugee status. If they are found to be genuine refugees they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea … If they are found not to be genuine refugees they may be repatriated to their country of origin or be sent to a safe third country other than Australia.”
In a distant 2006 Rudd had written praising Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian, as the man he admired most from the twentieth century, and who during the Nazi nightmare had spoken up for Jewish refugees and helped smuggle some of them out of Nazi Germany into Switzerland.
It was for the new Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, in October 2013, to instruct departmental and detention centre staff publicly to refer to asylum seekers as ‘illegal arrivals’ and as ‘detainees’, rather than as ‘clients’.
Gone was the memory of a great Australian, Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt, QC, who had co-written with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt “Art. 14 (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), then as well as now forgotten along with all treaties and conventions on human rights signed by Australia thereafter. Dr. Evatt was the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations when it adopted the Declaration.
Others would not be so forgetful, though. There are at present four complaints before the International Criminal Court against Australian ministers on the ground of crimes against humanity.
The first submission is by Ms. Tracie Aylmer. It is dated 16 May 2014 and calls for the arrest and prosecution of Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as well as the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaela Cash, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop for the international crimes against humanity which have been perpetrated whilst vulnerable people were held in detention.
In January 2015 Ms. Aylmer was informed by the I.C.C. that the case she submitted was under consideration and that if, subsequently, a decision is made to prosecute, investigations based on evidence already received will commence. (Morrison and Abbott named in International Criminal Court …’, 31 August 2014, accessible at nofibs.com.au/morrison-and-abbott-named-in-international-criminal…)
On 22 October 2014 Andrew Wilkie, the Independent Member of Parliament from Tasmania, assisted by lawyer Greg Barns, wrote to the I.C.C. Prosecutor, inviting her to initiate a proprio motu investigation of the activity of Prime Minister Abbott and all the nineteen members of his Cabinet, including Scott Morrison as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as well as the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Michaela Cash, the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, the Former Chief of the Defence Force General David Hurley, and the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders Lieutenant General Angus Campbell. General Campbell had presided over the ‘militarisation’ of customs services.
Mr. Wilkie’s letter called on the I.C.C. prosecutor to activate Art. 17(2) of the Rome Statute establishing the I.C.C. in relation to all onshore and offshore processing. The submission alleged that the Australian Government committed atrocities in breach of Art. 7 (Crimes against humanity) of the Statute – those crimes having been committed against asylum seekers. (Asylum seekers: Andrew Wilkie takes Australia to …’, accessible at www.theguardian.com › World › Australia › Australian politics)
On 26 March 2015 the Lawyers weekly carried the news that prominent barrister Julian Burnside QC had approached international lawyers to support his appeal for the I.C.C. to investigate Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison, formerly the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, as responsible for mistreatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat and as guilty of crimes against humanity.
Mr. Burnside said that he was preparing a communiqué to the I.C.C. and was hoping that lawyers with international reputations might be prepared to lead the charge. He had in mind Geoffrey Robertson QC and his chambers colleague Ms. Amal Clooney.
The Human Rights Commission’s Forgotten Children Report and the subsequent Moss Review, which highlight human rights abuses on Manus Island and Nauru, would form part of the evidentiary substrata of Mr. Burnside’s communiqué, but he would not pretend to do the I.C.C.’s investigation himself.
While naming Abbott and Morrison as the “two most recent candidates”, Mr. Burnside said that “this sort of conduct has been going on since 2001, arguably before.”
“Scott Morrison is probably the worst of the worst, [but] he’s not the only one and I would not wish this to be seen as a partisan attack on the Coalition.” he pointed out.
Mr. Burnside said that Australian politicians could possibly be found guilty under Australian law, since one of the conditions of joining the I.C.C. was to absorb the provisions of the Statute of Rome into domestic legislation.
However, prosecution under the relevant sections of the Commonwealth Criminal Code would require the consent of the Attorney-General. “I don’t think that George Brandis is going to go out of his way to give this a push along. Where the activity you are concerned about is a matter of government policy the prospect of a local prosecution falls to zero.” he said. (‘Burnside calls for Clooney’s help to make pollies face ICC’, accessible at www.lawyersweekly.com.au/news/16326-burnside-calls-for-clooney-s…)
On 8 July 2015 the Refugee Action Collective of Victoria filed a communiqué for the Office of the I.C.C. Prosecutor. It contains a notice of intention to request the I.C.C. to investigate and act against Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, former Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, and George Brandis, Attorney-General.
This submission, by far the more detailed of the four, exposes “policies and treatment of asylum seekers who attempt to find protection in Australia, and [pursued by] the Abbott Government, [as being] in clear violation of international law as codified in covenants to which Australia is a voluntary signatory. In particular, under the 1951 U.N. Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Australia is obligated to offer protection to asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in Australia, regardless of means of arrival.” The complainants invoke the application of Art. 7 of the I.C.C. Statute.
The submission also makes reference to Art. 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as proclaiming: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” It points out how “The Australian government also ignores the standards of human rights as set in the Rome Statute, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The submission, clearly articulated along eleven points, and well documented, charges and, with a view to aiding the investigation and possible prosecution, relies heavily on the concept of judicial notice. Judicial Notice is defined by the Australian Law Reform Commission Report 102, February 2006, Section 144, as: “common knowledge [which] covers facts, both local and general knowledge, which are so widely recognized that requiring proof of them would be a superfluous exercise”. And further “while matters of common knowledge falling within s. 144 need not be proved formally, parties to a proceeding are not precluded from leading formal evidence of such matters.”
The complainants add for good measure that they “are aware that the [I.C.C.] has the choice of either a narrow or broad interpretation of the concept of judicial notice, and they urge the court to apply the latter, given that much of what is alleged is common knowledge in Australia and is much resented by both humane and expert opinions.”
Refugee Action Collective charges that the Abbott Government has repeatedly brushed off a number of extremely damning reports – both domestic and international – which emphasise the brutality of the offshore detention system. These include: the 2015 ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment’, submitted to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council by Juan E. Méndez, the 2015 ‘Review into recent allegations relating to the conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru’ (otherwise known as the ‘Moss Report’), commissioned by former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, and the 2014 report ‘Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2010’ by Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Such reports have amply condemned the Australian Government for its cruel and unlawful detention of children, women and men who have committed no crime.
Tightly written and cogently argued, the submission is signed by Peter Farago, a distinguished retired academic. (‘RAC submission to the International Criminal Court …’, accessible at rac-vic.org/…/08/rac-submission-to-the-international–criminal–court)
On 7 September 2015, the second anniversary of the Abbott Government, the Opposition did not miss the opportunity to mark the occasion, highlighting in ninety seconds the achievements of the Abbott Government, with Jason Clare, the member for Blaxland, delivering a savage gift in Parliament:
“It is a big day today. Today the Abbott Government turns two, and hasn’t it been a terrific two years ?
The deficit is up. Debt is up. Unemployment is up. Taxes are up. The number of flags at press conferences is up.
They have cut $ 50 billion from hospitals. They have cut $ 30 billion from schools. Last year they tried to cut the pension. They also tried to introduce a tax to go to the doctor. This year they are still trying to jack up the cost of university degrees.
They declared war on wind farms and the ABC. And they have even doubled the cost of their second-rate version of the NBN.
But that is not the best of it: the Attorney General George Brandis told us that ‘people have a right to be bigots’. The Treasurer Joe Hockey told us that ‘poor people don’t drive cars’. The Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce threatened to kill Johnny Depp’s dogs – poor old Pistol and Boo. Prince Philip got a knighthood. The Speaker got a helicopter. And the Prime Minister ate an onion – or two – apparently.
What a cracking government we have got here.
You know that taste you get when you bite into an onion? That taste is the taste that has been in the back of the mouths of the people of Australia for the last two years, having to put up with this hopeless, hapless, divided, backward-looking government.” (House of Representatives (Hansard), No. 13, 2015, 7 September 2015, Statements by members, Mr. Clare (Blaxland) (13:29), pp. 2199-2000; ‘Jason Clare Speech – Happy 2nd Birthday Abbott … – YouTube, accessible at www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOLaXLr_Pi8)
Testing the thesis
A fair and fully functioning government needs to address three areas of concern for a well-balanced society: social justice, economic growth, and environmental sustainability. Under neoLiberalism, whether under a Labor or a Liberal flag, annual economic growth is the main river of government policy, at the expense of social justice and of environmental concerns. Herein lies a convenient way of defining ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ in politics. Right-wing politics gives major if not sole weight to economic growth, while Left-wing politics gives proportionately more weight to social justice and to environmental concerns. Prior to the Hawke-Keating reforms, the Labor Party was seen as a party for social justice and thus of the Left. Today A.L.P. policy makes economic growth override social justice, the aspiration for social justice having almost totally disappeared – for example in their latest policies on asylum seekers. The A.L.P. is now another Right-wing party. The Greens started with environmentalism but later have extended their interest to social justice, seeing both as more important than unrestrained economic growth, focusing economic growth on renewable resources and associated infrastructure; they are accordingly a Left-wing party. Ironically, the Greens are accused of being a one-issue party but in this light it is Labor and especially the Liberals who are the one-issue parties.
The first element of an Australian Fascism is nationalism. This is expressed in its widest ramifications: ostentation of flags and lapel pins by way of re-assurance and self-confirmation of and in patriotism, uniforms from the cradle to the grave, an always ill-disguised sense of superiority and reference to ‘race’ – in Australia ‘the white race’, the cultivation, nurturing and indoctrination from early years of cliché views of life, accompanied with the use of symbols and slogans, sublimating in a quasi-religious respect for military ‘tradition’ and its representatives, all of which more often than not leads to an attitude to other people bordering on and often culminating in xenophobia.
Since the arrival of the English to establish a penal colony in 1788, hence the invasion of someone else’s land, Australians have participated, officially and unofficially, in conflicts in New Zealand 1845, 1860-61; Sudan 1885; South Africa, 1899-1902; China 1900-01; on several fronts during the first world war, 1914-18; Russia 1919-21; on several fronts during the second world war, 1939-47; Malaya, 1948-60; Korea, 1950-53; Indonesian ‘confrontation’, 1962-66; Malaya-Malaysia, 1964-66; Vietnam, 1963-75; Thailand, 1965-68; Somalia, 1992-94; East Timor 1999-2203; Afghanistan, 2001 -; Iraq, 2003-2009; and ostensibly against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, I.S.I.S. in and around Syria since 2015. In a recent article Dr. Gideon Polya, a scholar from La Trobe University, has documented that “As UK lackeys or US lackeys Australians have invaded 85 countries as compared to the British 193, France, 80, the US 70 and Apartheid Israel 12. History ignored yields history repeated and look-the-other-way Australia is consequently now into its Seventh Iraq War of the last 100 years.” (G. Polya, ‘As UK lackeys or US Lackeys Australians have invaded 85 …’, 9 February 2015, accessible at www.countercurrents.org/polya090215.htm)
Strong words, but they render the true meaning of sub-tropical bovver boys ready to go for adventure anywhere – and always for king/queen and country, of course !
The loss of Australian lives in such expeditions is close to 103,000. On at least two occasions the Australian people was lied to by its governments: by Prime Minister Robert Menzies about Vietnam and by Prime Minister John Howard about Afghanistan and Iraq. In all other cases, barring some aspects of the second world war, the ‘enemy’ was ‘over there’, unknown and un-identifiable, except in the crassest way: it was brown, red, yellow. It was always a threat to ‘the national interest’ – from time to time invoked by politicians, disrespected at all times but when they sent the best of youth to the slaughter. At those times obedience became blind, un-questioned – the lack of it always considered un-patriotic. Such un-reasoned attitude to life, the result of planned ignorance, has been fuelling in a xenophobic attitude which has only recently been clothed but not suppressed by some un-defined ‘multiculturalism’.
The figure of about 103,000 war dead does not include ‘white’ Australians who died in the wars against the original inhabitants, the Blacks of Australia – whose systematic extermination began in 1788 and is said to have terminated at Coniston, Northern Territory, where the massacre went on between August and October 1928. The fate of the Blacks continues in other forms of government ‘intervention’. And this has left, in the memorable words of distinguished historian Henry Reynolds, “a whispering in our hearts.”
On the contrary, there is a yearly ceremony which is called Anzac Day – by some regarded as an obscene Anzackery.
Consider this: by dictum of Prime Minister Abbott, beginning early in 2014, Australia was preparing itself to spend $ 325 million to commemorate Anzac. “It is an extraordinary amount of money for a country that already has a war memorial in nearly every suburb. It stands starkly in contrast to the cost-cutting across every other area of policy in cash-strapped state and federal governments.
Though we are absolutely right to mark the significance of the centenary of the First World War, Australia will outspend the United Kingdom’s centenary program by 200 per cent. Anzac remembrance on this side of the Tasman will cost nearly 20 times what our New Zealand colleagues have allocated. Rather than letting silent contemplation be our offering to those who served and died for us, we are embarking on a discordant and exorbitant four-year festival, that looks like an Anzacs arms race of sorts.” These are the words of James Brown, presently an academic attached to the University of New South Wales, but also a writer and journalist and for a while scholar in residence at the Lowy Institute. He has previously served as an officer in the Australian Army, commanded a cavalry troop in Southern Iraq, served on the Australian task force headquarters in Baghdad, and was attached to Special Forces in Afghanistan. He was awarded a commendation for work in the Solomon Islands and as an operational planner at the Australian Defence Force Headquarters Joint Operations Command. He also instructed at the Army’s Combat Arms Training Centre. Mr. Brown is entitled to speak that way.
There were contemplated the inevitable side-business: in 2015 cruise ships played Anzac Cove while ‘Bert’ Newton, an Australian entertainer and radio, theatre and television personality/presenter, narrated the war. A company applied for permission to market an Anzac ice-cream, another was awarded AU$ 27million in contracts for Anzac events management. The Abbott Government was crafting an Anzac merchandising plan to match. A century after Gallipoli, the Anzac spirit was being bottled, stamped, and sold.
Brown again: “Over the past years I’ve been staggered by the fact that despite attending dawn services in increasing numbers, Australians I speak to seem to understand less and less about the nature of modern war and the work of our serving soldiers.
Compared to our closest allies, public conversations on the military in Australia seem excessively simplistic and bifurcated.”
And then there followed an observation perhaps influenced by the fact that Australians watch too much third-rate American television: “Because of our constant stories of Anzac, many Australians believe in the exceptionalism of the Australian soldier. A belief that all Australia needs do in time of war is hand a rifle to every athletic man, and a grenade to every cricket player, engenders complacency about current defence policy.”
Finally, the sad truth of the matter: “Today, the military experts on the amphibious battles of the Dardanelles are to be found in Quantico not Canberra. In the 1930s George Patton jnr, then a lieutenant-colonel, was dispatched to Anzac Cove to study the Australian defeat.”(J. Brown, ‘Excess in the Anzac centenary overlooks other military endeavours’, 26 February 2014, accessible at www.smh.com.au › National › WW I Centenary)
Violence abroad is as Australian as drinking beer. Violence at home is accepted for the most incredible non-reasons. So it is ‘alright’ that, as Russel Ward wrote, “in April 1974 Her Australian Majesty’s loyal opposition behaved more like a gang of fascist thugs than responsible politicians in a democratic country.” (R. Ward, Concise history of Australia (Brisbane 1992) 322) It was even ‘more-alright’ that a just meliorist, twice-elected, tormented Whitlam Government should fall victim in November 1975 to a coup by Royal-C.I.A.-Agrarian Socialists and other back-stage-powerbrokers, who had been scared out of their scanty wits, in an ambush performed by an habitually-drunk Governor-General. ‘Respectability’ and ‘stability’ would be returned by the hand of Malcolm Fraser, the beneficiary of the Royal Ambush, who for seven years as prime minister almost succeeded in his avowed ambition to govern so quietly that political news would be replaced in the headlines by ‘sporting intelligence’.
The Australian is one of the most violent societies of similar physiognomy – probably the second most violent after the United States. Silence shrouds certain types of social violence. Suicide kills more Australians than die in road accidents – already at a pick. In 2010 – according to the most recent figures available – 2,361 people took their own lives, while the annual road toll has fallen to 1,193 in 2013. For the past decade suicide numbers have hovered around 2,250 a year – on a population of 24 million. The facts are not widely known because of medieval stigma, prejudice, ignorance and a centuries-old taboo which once barred those who had taken their own lives from burial in the local cemetery. One should understand here: Christian burial.
Fascism being essentially irrational, un-reasoning and violent the tag fits a certain view of Australia.
Demonisation and marginalisation of those who are ‘different’ – ‘difference’ being an important concept which has a particular meaning in everyday’s language as spoken in Australia – may lead to the acceptance in war and even in peace that respect for persons branded from time to time as ‘the enemy’ or ‘different’ is not necessarily owed – as it is said to be professed – to Australians. ‘The other’ is not necessarily Australian. S/he is not sufficiently patriotic, but Communist, terrorist, or as defined from time to time – presently one feels more than a whisper: Muslim. The goals of such exclusion from civilised norms are furthered by the use of propaganda, often passed through the media: newspapers, private radio and television stations, even through the so-called ‘education’ system – now renamed as ‘an industry’, which is, with rare exceptions, an ‘indoctrination’ system and strongly classist. The three levels of that system are essentially: primary = minding centres; secondary = bad jokes; and tertiary = solemn farces.
Disinformation is assisted by secrecy and official denials.
Human rights are occasionally spoken of, but more frequently ignored in the interest of ‘national security’ and according to ‘need’. Conformism and indoctrination being the functions of ‘schooling’, it comes to no one’s surprise that there may be cases when looking the other way is necessary ‘in the national interest’. And if torture be complained of, it certainly does not happen in Australia – of course. Of course, there is a world of difference between summary executions as practiced in ‘dictatorial regimes’ and incarceration as practiced in Australia. But what of incarceration as practiced elsewhere, and favoured, tolerated and ignored when practiced by ‘our ally’, our Great-And-Powerful-Friend, the sole Superpower ?
Every year Amnesty International Reports document the state of human rights: in 2009 it did so across 159 countries. The Amnesty International Report 2015/16, which documented the state of human rights in 160 countries and territories during 2015, opened thusly: “Australia jailed Indigenous people at a disproportionate rate to non-Indigenous people; some children were detained with adults. Australia continued its hard-line policies towards asylum-seekers, including pushing back boats, refoulement, and mandatory and indefinite detention, as well as offshore processing on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea. Those assessed as refugees on Nauru were denied the right to settle in Australia and offered temporary visas or residency in Cambodia. Papua New Guinea had yet to finalize a temporary visa, to be granted to those recognized as refugees, leaving many people in a legal limbo unable to leave Manus Island. Staff and contractors who complained about human rights violations at immigration detention facilities could face criminal proceedings under new legislation. New “security” legislation extended data interception powers and a law was passed stripping dual nationals of their Australian citizenship for terrorism-related activities.”
The Report then proceeded to consider ‘Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
“Indigenous children were 24 times more likely to be detained than non-Indigenous children.
As the age of criminal responsibility in Australia is 10, laws allowed for children aged 10 and 11 to be detained in every jurisdiction in violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Australia detained children with adults in Queensland and provided limited separation between detained children and adult prisoners in at least one detention centre in the Northern Territory. The Western Australian government widened existing mandatory sentencing by introducing mandatory sentences for aggravated home burglaries for adults and children aged 16 and 17, and by tightening the mandatory sentencing counting rules for non-violent home burglaries. Indigenous adults were 14 times more likely than non-Indigenous adults to be incarcerated and deaths in custody continued. In May , an Indigenous man in the Northern Territory died of heart failure in a police watch house, three hours after being taken into custody on suspicion of drinking alcohol in a regulated place. The coroner criticized the paperless arrest system under which the man was taken into custody as “manifestly unfair” in its disproportionate impact on Indigenous people, who were more likely to be targeted by the laws. Three prisoners died in two Western Australia prisons during September, November and December , adding to the list of deaths in custody yet to be heard by the Western Australian Coroner. One prisoner died in a New South Wales prison in December.
In June , the Federal government handed responsibility for essential and municipal services in remote Indigenous communities to state governments. The Western Australian Premier stated that up to 150 communities may be closed as a result; widespread protests ensued. Following the protests the Western Australian government initiated a consultation process.”
Amnesty International Report was equally scathing – and not for the first time – about Australia’s treatment of ‘Refugees and Asylum-seekers’.
“Australia continued its punitive approach to asylum-seekers arriving by boat by pushing them back at sea, returning them to countries of origin without proper assessment of asylum claims, creating a risk of refoulement, or by transferring them to Australian-run facilities in Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
By 30 November , 926 people were detained in Papua New Guinea and 543 people remained in the “open” facility on Nauru, including 70 children.
In March , the government released an independent review of the Nauru centre, which documented allegations of rape and sexual assault – including of children – as
well as cases of harassment and physical assault (see Nauru entry). The Australian government accepted all of the recommendations but despite this in August  a Senate report stated conditions were “not adequate, appropriate or safe”. In October  the Nauru government announced that asylum-seekers would no longer be detained in the centre, which would become an open facility. It also announced that the remaining 600 asylum claims would be processed “within a week”. By the end of December  processing still had not been completed.
In June , four refugees were transferred to Cambodia as part of a deal signed in September 2014 where Australia paid an additional A$40 million (US$28 million) in aid to Cambodia, as well as a further A$15 million (US$10.5 million) for specific expenses, to relocate refugees there from its offshore immigration processing centre on Nauru.
While one of the four agreed to return from Cambodia to Myanmar in October , a fifth man was transferred to Cambodia from Nauru in November . Also in June, Indonesian officials alleged Australia paid people-smugglers US$31,000 in May  to return to Indonesia a boat carrying 65 asylum-seekers. A Senate Inquiry was ongoing at the end of the year.
Australia continued its policy of indefinite mandatory detention, with 1,852 people detained in onshore immigration detention centres as of 1 December . They included 104 children, despite the government’s pledge in August 2014 to end the detention of children. In July  the government introduced the Border Force Act 2015, which includes prison sentences for government staff and contractors, including health and child welfare professionals, who speak out about human rights abuses in immigration detention.
It also proposed legislation that would allow immigration detention employees to use force, including lethal force, against any individual in detention, while removing judicial oversight.
In August  the government announced that since December 2013 it had pushed back 20 boats, carrying a combined total of 633 people, including one directly to Vietnam in July . In November , another boat carrying 16 asylum-seekers was reportedly pushed back to Indonesia.
In September  the government announced that it would resettle an additional 12,000 Syrian refugees in response to the crisis in the Middle East. Between 10 and 30 seem ton have been considered to date.
Passing on to deal with Counter-terror and Security, Amnesty International noted that “Parliament passed legislation stripping those with dual nationality of their Australian citizenship on the basis of suspicion of involvement in terrorist-related activities.
Australian dual nationals risked losing citizenship without any criminal conviction and with limited procedural safeguards. Legislation was passed authorizing the mass surveillance of personal metadata.”
Finally, on International Security, the Report said that “In November , Australia’s human rights record was assessed for the second time under the UN Universal Periodic Review. Australia received criticism for its failure to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and its failure to address Indigenous incarceration rates. Australia received recommendations to introduce a Human Rights Act and to end mandatory detention of asylum-seekers.” (‘Amnesty International Annual Report 2015/2016 | Amnesty…’, accessible at https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/research/2016/02/annual-report)
Already in 2009 events had confirmed that two formidable obstacles stand in the way to justice for all. The first is the fact that powerful states continue to stand above the law, outside effective international scrutiny. The other is that powerful states manipulate the law, shielding their allies from scrutiny and pushing for accountability mainly when politically expedient. In so doing they provide a pretext to other states or block of states to politicise justice in the same way.
Three cases in particular demonstrate that, when in difficulty over the alleged behaviour by some of its subjects, Australia abandons them.
David Hicks, Australia-born, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, sold to American Special Forces by their allies for US$ 1,000, transported to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, repeatedly tortured, tried by a so-called special tribunal, found guilty and returned to Australia in 2007 under certain restrictive conditions. He had been abandoned by the Howard Government. That government’s Attorney-General even went to the extent of writing that sleep-depravation, as suffered by Hicks, is not a form of torture. His name: Philip Ruddock. On 27 May 2015 Ruddock was appointed by the Abbott Gopvernment to the new office of Special Envoy for Citizenship and Community Engagement.
Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian born Australian Muslim was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2001, ‘renditioned’ to Egypt, tortured there and subsequently at Guantánamo, where he was kept until 2005. According to Habib, an Australian consular officer was present to his torture in Egypt. The Howard Government’s Foreign Minister publicly challenged Habib’s claims to torture, saying “no evidence has been found to prove that torture has been used at the camp.” Query: did the government ever inquire about the claim of torture ?
On 26 April 2011 former Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, since March 2014 to be known as His Excellency The Honourable Alexander Downer, AC, Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom – appointed by the Abbott Government, found time to express his belief that both Hicks and Habib were “terrible people – absolutely shocking” !
A better know case is that of Julian Assange, still a ‘fugitive from justice’ holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, having lost the appeal against a February 2011 decision by an English court to extradite him to Sweden for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. He has repeatedly said and maintains that the allegations of wrongdoing are “without basis.” The Australian Ambassador in Stockholm wrote to the Swedish Justice Minister and asked her to ensure that the “case would proceed in accordance with due process and the provisions prescribed under Swedish law.” Assange laments that the Rudd/Gillard Government and then the Gillard Government and then, briefly, the Rudd Government, and the Abbott Government have abandoned him, there having been no further contact with him since December 2010. He also charges those governments with having passed ‘compromising’ information to the United States Government, which may want to send Assange to trial for treason.
What is important in all this is the ‘flexibility’ with which Australian Governments approach their international law obligations: no respect of the Indigenous People, no respect of the human rights of asylum seekers, no respect of those who fall short of the accepted norms of ‘good living’ according to Australian rules – in other words a self-definition of what constitutes law and order in the slogan ‘law-and-order’, which could be uttered by any authoritarian, un-democratic, ultimately fascist regime.
Hicks was a converted Muslim, Habib is the real thing, Assange is nothing less than a troublemaker. He abides by Orwell’s dictum that “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
Amnesty International 2010 State of the World’s Human Rights Report noted that Australia took positive action on human rights in 2009 by signing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, committing to a National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children, and ceasing to charge asylum-seekers for the cost of their detention. Yet, ever since, Indigenous People have continued to be discriminated against throughout the Northern Territory and asylum seekers who arrived by boat were initially detained on Christmas Island, then imprisoned in concentration camps in Manus Island or Nauru – for life, by decision of the two-parties-two-Rightwings of the bird which is called ‘the Westminster System’. These discriminatory policies remain in place. Protests and riots by asylum-seeker detainees have occurred almost every month – in vain.
In vain as well, since 2010 Amnesty International highlighted the government’s failure to implement a national Human Rights Act despite the recommendation of its own National Human Rights Consultation Committee, and the discriminatory freeze on processing of asylum claims from Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals.
“As a member of the G20, Australia has a real opportunity to lead by example, but to do this it must stop putting political self-interest ahead of its legal responsibilities and deliver on its commitments to human rights.” Claire Mallinson, National Director, Amnesty International Australia said. By freezing the processing of asylum applications from people fleeing two of the world’s most violent conflict zones: Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, the Australian Government failed to fulfil its international legal responsibilities. This is a glaring example of a government placing political self-interest above upholding its human rights responsibilities and the well-being of those in need.
Despite some promising steps, Australia is continuously failing to deliver sustainable, long-term solutions to human rights problems.
On 14 February 2015 it was revealed that the Abbott Government had tried to remove the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, following the tabling of the report: The forgotten children: National Inquiry into children in immigration detention 2014.
Professor Triggs, a distinguished former barrister and academic, emeritus professor at the University of Sydney, and former dean of the Sydney Law School between 2007 and 2012, was appointed President of the Commission in July 2012 for a fixed five-year term which is intended to protect the president from political interference. She could only be dismissed for bankruptcy or serious misconduct.
The Report documented that Australia is violating detained children’s basic rights, and seriously compromises their mental and emotional health and normal development.
No country other than Australia mandates indefinite closed detention of children arriving on their shores. By the end of January 2014 over 1,000 children in Australia had been held in immigration detention for more than seven months on average. On 3 February 2014, as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Triggs had announced a national inquiry into children in immigration detention.
The Inquiry investigated the policy and practice of detaining asylum seeker children which had been supported by both Labor and Coalition governments over an 18-month period, from January 2013 to September 2014.
The aim of the Inquiry was not to reconsider the Human Rights Commission’s already formed legal views of immigration detention, but to investigate how the health, wellbeing and development of children was being affected by life in detention. Through visits to eleven different detention centres, the Commission conducted interviews with 1,129 children and parents in immigration detention in Australia, using a standardised questionnaire. The Commission also conducted 104 interviews with people in the community who had formerly been detained; received 239 submissions; held five public hearings with 41 witnesses, and obtained data from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
A crucial aspect of the Inquiry was the involvement of internationally recognised medical experts as consultants who accompanied Inquiry staff on each of the detention centre visits, and submitted expert reports of their observations. The medical professional community also made important contributions through the submissions process and the public hearings.
The Commission had provided its report to the government on 11 November 2014. The Attorney-General had tabled the report in Federal Parliament on 11 February 2015.
Professort Triggs was quite aware that the document would be branded as ‘political’, and did her best to defuse the forthcoming problem in the foreword: “By July 2013, the number of children detained reached 1992. As the federal election was imminent, I decided o await the outcome of the election, and any government changes in asylum seeker policy, before considering launching an Inquiry. By February this year , it became apparent that there had been a slowing down of the release of children. Over the first six months of the new Coalition Government the numbers of children in detention remained relatively constant. Not only were over 1,000 children held in detention by February 2014, but also they were being held for longer periods than in the past, with no pathway to resettlement.
In these circumstances, I decided to exercise the Commission’s powers under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) to hold a National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. ”
The Report provided unprecedented direct evidence of the negative effect of immigration detention on children. Prolonged detention was clearly and unequivocally shown to have serious negative effects on the mental and emotional health, as well as the development of these children. The Report contained the following findings:
– The mandatory and prolonged immigration detention of children is in clear violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including Article 24(1) which provides that all children have the right to the highest attainable standard of health.
– Detention creates and compounds mental health problems in children. Children in immigration detention have significantly higher rates of mental health disorders than children in the Australian community. Clinical assessments by doctors working in detention facilities revealed that 34 per cent of children in detention had moderately severe to very severe mental health problems. Less than 2 per cent of children in the Australian community have problems at this level.
– There are high rates of self-harm by children in detention. In a 15-month period, from January 2013 to March 2014, 128 children in detention, aged 12 to 17 years, engaged in acts of self-harm, including attempted suicide. One 15-year-old boy in detention in Darwin told Inquiry staff: “I don’t feel safe because of my own self”.
– Children are detained in close confinement with adults who suffer high levels of mental illness. Thirty per cent of adults detained with children have moderate to severe mental illnesses.
– Children have been exposed to unacceptable levels of violence in detention. From January 2013 to March 2014 the following incidents were reported from detention centres where children were held: 207 incidents of actual self-harm; 210 incidents of voluntary starvation – 27 of which included children; 436 incidents of threatened self-harm; 57 serious assaults; 233 assaults involving children; and 33 incidents of reported sexual assault – the vast majority involving children.
– The harsh and cramped living conditions on Christmas Island created particular physical illnesses among children. On Christmas Island many children shared a tiny room of 2.5 × 3 metres with up to four people.
– The children detained indefinitely in Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress. While the Inquiry team were not able to visit Nauru, the evidence … received about the conditions through submissions and testimony at public hearings was shocking. [The investigators] received reports that children and their families are being detained in very hot and cramped conditions in vinyl tents, with no privacy or air-conditioning, serious water shortages and problems with cleanliness and hygiene. The Inquiry also received evidence from staff working in Nauru of incidents of harassment, bullying and abuse of children. The recent report from Philip Moss into the conditions in the detention centre in Nauru confirmed many of the Commission’s concerns.
Key recommendations of the Report are: 1) That all children and their families in detention in Australia and Nauru be released as soon as possible; 2) That legislation be enacted so that children may only be detained for as long as is necessary for health, identity and security checks; and 3) That no child be sent offshore for processing unless it is clear that her/hisr human rights will be respected.
The finding that detention causes harm to the mental health of children is not new. The Commission’s report following its first National Inquiry into children in immigration detention, released in 2004, found that children in immigration detention for long periods of time were at high risk of serious mental harm. Since that time successive Australian Governments, and the Australian public, have been on notice about the human cost of Australia’s mandatory detention system.
Despite the recent detailed findings and recommendations in the Forgotten children report, at the end of March 2015 there were still 124 children in detention in Australia, and 103 children detained in Nauru. There is an urgent need to remove these children from these detention environments which are causing them harm.
Medical professionals who have witnessed the health impact of detention first-hand can and do provide powerful evidence against the policy of mandatory detention. Medical professional organisations including the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have accordingly taken a public stance against mandatory detention.
The Commission’s Report was slammed as “partisan” by the Abbott Government but the report is a wake up call for both sides of politics.
The Abbott Government sought the resignation of the Professor Triggs two weeks before it launched an extraordinary attack on the Commission over the Report.
The request was conveyed orally by an official on behalf of Attorney-General Senator George Brandis. It was rejected outright by Professor Triggs, who saw it as an attack on the independence and integrity of the Commission and herself.
The U.N.’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on ‘national authorities’ to respect the role and “high reputation” of Professor Triggs.
No grounds were given for seeking Professor Triggs’ resignation. She was simply told that “some other opportunity” would be available to her if she resigned.
The approach came a fortnight before the government tabled the Commission’s Report calling for a royal commission into the detention of children under Labor and Coalition governments since 1992 on the last possible day available under convention.
Prime Minister Abbott branded the Report a “transparent stitch-up”, adding that the Commission would have been better advised to write former immigration minister Scott Morrison a congratulatory letter for stopping the boats. “I reckon that the Human Rights Commission ought to be sending a note of congratulations to Scott Morrison”, the Prime Minister declared in Parliament on 12 February 2015, [the note to be] “saying. ‘Well done, mate, because your actions have been very good for the human rights and the human flourishing of thousands of people.”
His attacks were echoed by other ministers including Attorney-General Senator Brandis, Mr. Morrison and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who is still in that position with the Turnbull Government.
A spokesman for Senator Brandis declined to offer any comment or answer questions submitted by the press, but the Attorney-General and his department secretary, Chris Moraitis, would be facing questions on the issue when they appeared before a Senate Estimates Committee on 24 February 2015.
Senator Ian Macdonald is currently the Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. Prior to entering politics the senator had practice as a lawyer, probably having qualified as an amanuensis or articled clerk; he had offices in Ayr, Bowen and Airlie, North Queensland.
Senator Macdonald has led the Liberal Party Senate Team at elections in 1990, 1996, 2001, 2007, and 2013. He is a very, very busy man, involved in many other committees – too busy to read the Report. Nevertheless, he judged it “unnecessary, irrelevant and inaccurate” and “not worth the paper it was written on.” While questioning Professor Triggs before the Senate Committee, Senator Macdonald even boasted that he had not read the Report. He later issued a statement claiming he had read an an addendum which confirmed his decision “not to waste my time on a report which was clearly partisan.” He had read “The actual evidence of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection which commented on the Draft Report, [and] was largely ignored by the A.H.R.C. See the addendum to the Report where the Departments objections are published – but unfortunately mostly ignored.
I did read that addendum to the Report – which confirmed the partisan nature of the Report and confirmed also my decision not to waste my time on a report which was clearly partisan … ”
Professor Triggs appeared before the Committee on 24 February 2015 and refused to comment on the push to remove her when contacted by the press. Nevertheless, she mounted a strong defence of the Commission’s impartiality, saying that it had tabled numerous reports critical of the impact of mandatory immigration detention to the former Labor government and had intervened in the High Court to oppose its so-called ‘Malaysian solution’.
“I am very disappointed that the substance of the report is being ignored for an inaccurate allegation of bias.” she said.
The inquiry had been planned to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Commission’s first investigation of children in detention and was called “when the government was not releasing children and their period of detention had reached unacceptable levels.” she said.
Reports raising concerns about the impact of detention on children had been tabled in 2012 and 2013 during the period of Labor rule, she said. “To suggest that, all of a sudden, the Commission concentrated on the issue because there was a new government is a serious misrepresentation of the facts.”
Government criticism of the Report focused on the timing and the fact that it has dramatically reduced the number of children in detention from the peak of almost 2,000 under the former government.
But Professor Triggs said that she welcomed the fall in the number of children in detention under the Abbott Government from around 1,100 to 211 on the mainland and 119 on Nauru. “I totally reject any suggestion that this report is a politicised exercise.”
She also rejected the government’s claim that the Report was out-of-date, saying more than 300 children were still in detention. “This is a document of record, but it is a document of a continuing position in relation to these children.”
The shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, said it was shameful that the government had questioned the integrity the Human Rights Commission’s leadership.
“Good governments don’t attack independent institutions, they respect them.” he said. “This allegation is deeply concerning. Senator Brandis must urgently explain his actions.”
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, described the move as “bullying and intimidation” and an attempt to shut down dissent. “The government thought it could scare Gillian Triggs out of her job, but it turns out they picked on the wrong person.” she said.
Ben Saul, Professor of international law at the University of Sydney, defended Professor Triggs and the Commission, saying that they had performed their roles faithfully: “The Commission’s report on children in immigration detention is a credible, impartial, evidence-based assessment of Australia’s [lack of] compliance with its international legal obligations.”
And now something about the dramatis personae – two of them to be precise.
First is George Henry Brandis QC, briefly Minister for the Arts and Sport in 2007 until the Howard Government was defeated in the 2007 election, Abbott Government’s Attorney-General, Minister for the Arts, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, confirmed as Attorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader in the Senate by Prime Minister Turnbull.
Brandis was schooled by disciples of St. Augustine, he of the ‘Lord make me pure but not yet !’ – at Villanova College – motto: ‘[Omnia] Vincit veritas = Truth conquers all’, located in Coorparoo, a southern suburb of Brisbane; he went to the University of Queensland where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, and a Bachelor of Laws. He served as Associate to Justice Sheahan of the Queensland Supreme Court. He was then selected as a Commonwealth Scholar and went to the University of Oxford where he obtained a Bachelor of Civil Law from Magdalen College.
It is not known how and/or where he acquired the kind of hauteur – haughtiness, arrogance, high horse, bumptiousness – with which he customarily addresses ‘commoners’. He seems to be treating them tamquam de merda geretur, freely translated, as if dealing with shit. No matter. He once was seen ostensibly engrossed, reading a book of poetry during a Senate Committee hearings, to which he should have paid attention.
In that way, he always appears flottant littéralement au-dessus de la mêlée = literally floating as if keeping himself above the fray, as it becomes one who has his eyes on the High Court, one day.
Next comes Christos ‘Chris’ Moraitis PSM, a senior Australian ‘public’ servant, currently Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department. He holds Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of Melbourne and a Masters of International Law from the Australian National University. He was admitted to practice in Victoria as a Barrister and Solicitor in 1988. From November 2002 to December 2006 Moriatis held the position of Senior Legal Adviser in the Department. Between 2006 and 2009, he was Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea. In April 2013 he was appointed a Deputy Secretary at the Foreign Affairs Department, serving less than 18 months in the role before being chosen in September 2014 to head the Attorney-General’s Department, his first appointment outside the Foreign Affairs Department since he commenced his ‘public’ service career.
On 24 February 2015 Professor Triggs testified that Moraitis had approached her on 3 February 2015 with a request from the Attorney-General. She was requested to resign her position as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission – a statutory role from which she could not be removed without proof of criminal misconduct. In return for her resignation, with two and a half years still to run of her five-year role, Moraitis specifically said that Brandis would make available another position – a senior role reflecting her expertise in international law, although – Brandis had said – he had “lost confidence in her.”
In the common language spoken at the market, among low-lifers, ‘people who make offers which cannot be refused’, had she accepted she would have been “looked after”.
Indignantly, Professor Triggs ‘refused the offer’. “I thought it was a disgraceful proposal”.
Disgraceful ? Another word comes to mind: inducement.
Now, there is a civil definition for it – as in ‘inducement to breach a contract’, as well as a criminal – as in ‘the motive, or that which leads an individual to engage in criminal conduct’.
In the case, the latter would precisely define ‘the state of play’. At the market it would be called ‘bribery’. By the first law-officer of the country, the Attorney-General, through his own ‘public servant’ ? There was even the added farce of a briefcase, allegedly containing notes of the ‘offer-not-accepted’, which was appearing and dis-appearing depending on the need: farcical ?, burlesque ?, make it farcesque.
The Abbott Government: a band of pompous ignoramuses ? or a troupe of Mafiosi ?
Even the Abbott Government realised that it had to appear as doing something about children in detention. So it commissioned its own independent review into the treatment of asylum seekers in detention.
Unfortunately the review by the former integrity commissioner Philip Moss not only confirmed everything that the Human Rights Commission had reported, but went further – thanks in no small part to its authors being able to investigate Nauru. The ‘Moss Review’ confirmed that the abuse was rife there, that the mental and physical health was poor, and that entire families – including children – were sleeping in un-air-conditioned vinyl tents, with little privacy and precious little safety. The ‘Moss Review’ was released with little fanfare on 20 March 2015. (‘Review into recent allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru’, 6 February 2015, accessible at Review into recent allegations relating to conditions and …,
The Abbott Government also had another plan: the militarisation of customs services through the Border Force Act, which – among many other things – made it illegal for any workers in detention centres to report abuse, complete with a two-year jail sentence for doing so. Teachers and doctors were specially outraged, pointing out that they are actually obliged under law to report any suspicion of child abuse and can be prosecuted for failing to do so. A supine Labor Opposition, even though having been given barely any time to read the proposed legislation, supported it and thereby allowed it to pass in May. The Australian Border Force is the agency charged with border protection and ‘national security’ duties. It was established on 1 July 2015 after the merger of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and some parts of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The A.B.F. officers are also now equipped with firearms and wear a different uniform.
An open letter, signed by more than forty current and former detention centre staff on Manus Island and Nauru, was published on 1 July 2015, the day the Border Force Act came into effect. The forty staff confirmed that they had witnessed abuse of children in detention; they demanded that the government remove all children from offshore detention and challenged the government to prosecute the signatories for speaking out. Nothing happened. (Australian Border Force Act (No. 40 of 2015), assented on 20 May
No authoritarian, un-democratic, Fascist regime would refrain from scapegoating a minority as a tool of domination of the masses.
Examples are still staring in one’s face: Mussolini blamed strikes on the workers because they were led by subversives, meaning by that Socialists – of whom he had been one – and Communists – to whose left he had been when he was an atheist-syndicalist. Hitler narrowed the ‘targeted’ group: it had been the Jews who, through their speculations, ‘had lost the first world war for Germany’. Franco attempted to justify his coup against the Spanish Republic – and found great comfort in that from the Catholic Church – on the ground that it had fallen prey of Judeo-Masonic-Communists. In all this the wearing of the ‘right’ shirt against that of the ‘wrong’ colour – or no specific colour – is very important. So Mussolini prescribed his to be black, Hitler brown and Franco blue. In Australia, with Liberal/National Governments, it is the colour of the tie which counts !
Depending on ‘need’, it is easy to see the progression in the famous statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller – roughly as follows: “First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.” Then he was not a trade unionist, and a Jew, a Liberal, an atheist, a secularist, et cetera. Finally, they – the Nazis – had come for him, “and there was no one left to speak out for [him].” But what if somebody is a homosexual – or a Muslim ? Things may be quite different then.
There are often matters over which public ‘discussion’ is encouraged – if it can be controlled – better still ‘managed’. They are, of course, just distractions from issues which really matter. But they make for good entertainment and find courageous paladins in the most august venues. Not long ago a ‘Liberal’ senator spent an inordinate amount of time, in the Senate, on radio interviews, and newspaper articles to advocate the banning of the burqa. The learned senator succinctly stated the grounds for his proposition: “Equality of women is one of the key values in our secular society and any culture that believes only women should be covered in such a repressive manner is not consistent with the Australian culture and values.”
If Senator Bernardi had his way a woman wearing the burqa, or other facial coverings, would be banned from the visitors-gallery of Parliament House in Canberra. Senator Bernardi had first raised the issue in Senate Estimates in 2010. On that occasion the senator was told that a person wearing a balaclava entering Parliament would trigger an alert and be watched but s/he would be allowed to enter the building without removing the facial covering.
Senator Bernardi persisted and on the week of 22 September 2014 wrote to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, urging that the rules be changed in light of the heightened terror threat, which has seen armed police guard Parliament House for the first time and the ministerial wing locked down to the public.
The South Australian conservative argued that the burqa is a security risk because it prevents a person being identified and believes the religious headwear is a “symbol of oppression” and should be treated no differently from a balaclava or a motorcycle helmet.
The states of New South Wales and Western Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory have laws allowing police to require, under certain circumstances, the removal of burqas or other items which may conceal identity.
Speaker Bishop and the Senate President Stephen Parry, the presiding officers were considering Senator Bernardi’s request. In 2004 Bronwyn Bishop had called for the hijab headscarf to be banned from being worn by girls in schools. Two other federal Coalition MPs, George Christensen and Brett Whiteley had joined Senator Bernardi’s calls for the burqa to be banned, despite Prime Minister Abbott urging people not “to fret” about a person’s religion or clothing.
Labor Senator Anne Urqhart had written to Mr. Abbott urging him “publicly [to] condemn” Mr. Whiteley for seeking to equate ‘Islam with terrorism’. (‘Senator Cory Bernardi requests burqa ban in Parliament House’, 24 September 2014, accessible at www.smh.com.au › Federal Politics › Political News)
The presiding officers obliged Bernardi and associates with an interim decision, personally adding the controversial ‘burqa ban’ in Parliament House to official security advice because they feared a group was intending to disrupt Parliament.
Bishop said that the decision had been based on advice of “an action planned that would disrupt the business of the House” but would not say where that advice had come from. Parry said that he had based his decision to add the interim ban on two pieces of advice, but one of the officials he cited as giving him that advice said that she had not been told of any intended “disruption”, but only that a group wearing facial coverings intended to ‘enter’ Parliament House. Parry also conceded that “A.S.I.O. and the Australian Federal Police were not involved” in the decision.
The Senate official, the usher of the black rod, told a Senate Estimates Committee hearing that she had received a call mid-morning on 2 October – the date of the controversial interim decision – from the parliamentary security operations manager who “said that he had become aware that a film crew was on the forecourt of Parliament House because they believed a group of people were planning to enter question time wearing burqas.” She had passed this information to Parry. Bishop said that the decision had been based on advice of “an action planned that would disrupt the business of the house” but would not say where that advice had come from.
Bishop and Parry had met on 19 October 2014 to discuss their next step. Abbott could not formally order them to change their ruling but he had left them with no practical option.
Parry told the Senate Estimates Committee that he and Bishop had decided on the segregation after advice that “a group of people, some being male, were going to disrupt question time in the House of Representatives. The advice further indicated that this group would be wearing garments that would prevent recognition of facial features and possibly their gender.”
No protest occurred. Later evidence to the committee indicated the original suggestion about people in facial coverings potentially entering Parliament House went from a Nine Network crew, which was in front of the building on the day, to the Australian Federal Police who passed it onto parliamentary security officials. But it was thought no action was needed. That changed when the information reached the presiding officers.
Parry would not go into the way in which he and Bishop came to their segregation decision but confirmed that neither the A.F.P. nor A.S.I.O. advised it. Parry said that he had not been contacted by the Prime Minister’s Office to reverse the decision. When Bishop was asked in the House: “Did the Prime Minister ask you to withdraw the ruling?” she replied, “In a word, no”. Abbott told the media at the time that he had asked the Speaker to rethink the decision.
In the end, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry reversed their initial decision to segregate veiled women watching parliamentary proceedings – but the women would still have to show their faces on entering the building.
The retreat followed an outcry over the ruling – which would have put these women behind glass rather than in the chambers’ open galleries – and the intervention of Prime Minister Abbott, who said that the decision should be reversed. The glassed-in areas are usually reserved for school parties.
The two presiding officers subsequently denied having reversed their ‘interim’ decision at the request of the Prime Minister, although Abbott clearly stated that he had asked them to rethink it. On 3 October Abbott said: “I asked the Speaker to rethink that decision.”
A statement from the Prime Minister’s office suggested the difference might come down to what constitutes a “formal request”. “The Prime Minister spoke to the speaker the day the revised security arrangements were announced. He made clear his views on the changed arrangements. No formal request was made to change the arrangements as they are a matter for the presiding officers.” a spokeswoman said.(M. Grattan, ‘Bishop backs down on burqas, with a twist’ – The Conversation, 20 October 2014, accessible at theconversation.com/bishop-backs-down-on-burqas-with-a-twist-33172)
Someone was not telling the truth. And who it was is not really that important, given the atmosphere of the Abbott Government.
In that kind of cockamamie situation, the incident appeared as another smoke-screen: equality of women is not a value in Australia – it does not exist; the society is not secular – the head of state is still the defender of the Anglican religion; Parliaments still open with invocations to a Christian god; court witnesses are proffered a King James’ Bible for oath-taking, et cetera. ‘Culture’ in every day jargon is a very fluid concept, more often than not an empty vessel – a synonym for ‘fashion’, or ‘habit’, maybe ? One would be very hard put to look for ‘Australian values’ anywhere.
To substantiate his case the ‘Liberal’ senator had referred to a then recent case of robbery in Sydney by a burqa-wearing bandit. As the learned senator reported, “The bandit was described by police as being of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’.” Balaclava-wearing bandits are unknown to the senator. And, assuming but not conceding that the burqa is a requirement in professing one’s faith, trying to take seriously for a short moment the senator’s call, one wonders how many people he has actually seen wearing a burqa in Australia. What would the senator suggest next: that the Jews who congregate in certain suburbs, particularly in Melbourne, should not wear their shtreimels – the fur hat worn by many married ultra-Orthodox Jewish men – in public because it is ‘un-Australian’ ?
Of course the senator would not dare suggesting that nuns in traditional habit look very much like women in burqas, and monks moving about in sandals and dressing gowns are not typically Australian. What would the senator say of those various eastern orthodox Catholic priests with their bizarre attires ? Would some priests and Jews with their ‘un-Australian’ funny little skull caps upset the senator ? And what to say of all those new Australian women subjects who came from Africa and continue to wear in public traditional African dresses ?
Translated into plain English what the ‘Liberal’ senator and his associates meant is: curtail, and if possible stop the entry of Muslims, because they tip the well-balanced Judeo-Christian society on which Australia is said to be founded. The real substance is of a much cruder kind and is demonstrated by the then shadow minister for immigration Scott Morrison enjoining his ministerial colleagues, at a meeting of the Shadow Ministry in December 2010, to use community concerns about ‘Muslim immigration’ for the Opposition’s political advantage. It is not a pleasant view, and that Opposition had no monopoly of narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and base calculations.
One of the most common tools of Fascist propaganda is scapegoating of people from minorities. In Europe, even before the events of 11 September 2001, Muslims were identified as enemies, accused of ‘taking-over’ Europe. Those events offered an opportunity to justify attacking the scapegoats, Islam and Muslims. Following the bad examples coming from Europe, but also from the United States, and Australia, Muslims are often unfairly portrayed in Australia – by radio talk-show hosts who feature material which is deliberately offensive, vulgar, and sufficiently suggestive of racist views – as terrorists, anti-women and violent in order to justify social discrimination and to sustain injustices.
Yet, do not talk about Islamophobia. It simply does not exist in Australia. “Really ?” wondered Roswell on 18 October 2014, about the time of the Bernardi’s crusade.
“Has anyone else noticed the ever increasing drift from reality those famous bed-partners – the Coalition and the Murdoch media – have settled comfortably into ?” Roswell asked.
“Not only have they drifted into a land that resembles nothing like the one where we others dwell, they also have some absurd idea that this new, fabulous paradise is all that exists.
But alas, unbeknown to them it renders them ignorant, and oh so hypocritical.
Take Joe Hockey [the Treasurer at the time] for example. He repeatedly bellowed that the age of entitlement was over, and followed up with a budget that showed us that the age of entitlement is of course over, except for those who are entitled to it. It’s a strange world he lives in. It’s not in this universe.
Miranda Devine [an Australian columnist and writer noted for her conservative stance on a range of social and political issues] lives there too. Her blog piece, ‘The Left’s race to call us all bigots‘ was the inspiration for [Roswell’s] satirical response in calling this piece ‘The Right’s right to be wrong’. I didn’t have to read all the article to see how wrong, hypocritical, and off the planet Ms. Devine must be. I got as far as the first two sentences:
‘The self-appointed tolerance tsars of Australia are having such a hard time proving Australia is a land of bigots they are now jumping at shadows.
They see racism where most people see patriotism. They cry Islamophobia where there is none to be found. They hear dog whistles that never sounded. They are obviously losing their collective minds.
There is much in those claims to dispute, but I want to focus on Islamophobia where there is none to be found.’
“Maybe – Roswell continued – Ms. Devine hasn’t been reading the very paper she writes for, which over the last month has been belting us with the news that does nothing more than highlight that we live in a country where Islamophobia has become a part of the national psyche.
Let’s take a random look at what her newspaper – and other media outlets – have been saying:
# Young filmmaker Kamal Saleh is optimistic for the future of Australia after his social experiment on Islamophobia but says discrimination remains an issue in the community.
# Five threatening letters delivered to Muslim businesses and groups in Lakemba are being investigated by police, with more incidents believed to be going unreported. Campsie crime manager detective Inspector Paul Albury said the material was offensive and would be to anybody in the community. “It’s degrading, disgusting and derogatory to people and their religion,” he said.
# Last week, after Bernardi’s comments, I was interviewed by the ABC for an explanatory article on the burqa, the niqab, and my choice of garment, the hijab, which covers only a woman’s hair, neck and shoulders. Bizarrely, when posted by the ABC on Facebook, the article received more comments than the ABC’s reports on the anti-terror raids themselves. The comments section is sobering reading for anyone with any doubts about the perniciousness of Islamophobia in Australia.
# Australia has emerged as a fertile environment for Islamophobia. Stereotypical representations of Muslims in the early years of the ‘War on terror’ – which linked terrorism, violence and Islam – gained wide currency by the mid-2000s. Sections of the news media, politicians and social media have re-activated these stereotypes. Muslim Australians are made to feel they are targets – for everything from the everyday racism encountered in schools and on the streets, to draconian counter-terrorism legislation that restricts civil liberties, to war and the preparations for war.
# In the contemporary socio-political context of Australia, Islamophobia continues to be haunted by the cycle of moral panics around the Muslim ‘Other.’
# Tony Abbott has been urged to speak out more strongly against Islamophobia in Australia following reports of mosques being defaced, women verbally abused on the street and death threats issued to Muslim figures. Community leaders have said they are deeply worried that Australia’s mission against Islamic State (Isis) and recent anti-terrorism raids are fuelling attacks against Muslims in Australia.
# The waves of abuse on social media has also highlighted how open bigotry has become, as if the disgust around the Islamic State has given a free pass to intolerance.
# Many Muslim women, say Ms. Kay and other community members, are fearful of going out and many won’t venture far beyond their homes. Ahmed Kilani, editor of website muslimvillage.com, says some are now questioning whether Australia is still a safe and tolerant society. “My own mother rang me yesterday,” Mr. Kilani told SBS, “with concern about what’s going, she said, ‘I don’t feel safe and secure.’ She made the comment to me that despite living here for 40 years which is a lot longer than she lived in Egypt. She said perhaps I need to consider moving back there and questioned whether I should go and get myself a dual citizenship in case things get really bad.” Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has called for calm, saying, “Muslim Australians are entitled to a fair go and to be treated with respect and there is simply no place for this kind of bigotry and this kind of criminal behaviour.”
Roswell was sure by now that the reader was getting the point. “And to top it off The Daily Telegraph – the very paper Ms Devine works for – even published an article titled ‘Incidents of Islamophobia‘.
I’m baffled that Ms. Devine finds it necessary not only to blame the Left for Islamophobia in this country – then announces that it doesn’t exist here anyway – yet works in an industry (and a newspaper) that keeps telling us how rampant it is.”
‘The drift from reality is almost complete, concluded Roswell. [Ms. Devine] is quickly catching up to Joe Hockey.”(Roswell, ‘The Right’s right to be wrong – » The Australian …’, 18 October 2014, accessible at theaimn.com/rights-right-wrong)
Signs were all contradictory.
Someone wrote: “Leave now before we behead your mother and bury you all with pigs.” “Your [sic] next whore” posted another, with an image of a decapitated pig attached. These were two of the messages recently tweeted at human rights activist Mariam Veiszadeh, lawyer and Muslim Community advocate, a 30-year-old Australian of Afghani heritage who has endured a barrage of abuse since being singled out by racist group The Australian Defence League earlier in 2015.
“We’re coming to deport you tonight pig fucker.” another tweet said. “Leave our country now or we bury you with the pigs.”
This is the treatment one can expect to endure in Australia if one has the audacity to be a Muslim woman with an online presence who speaks out against racism.
Ms. Veiszadeh is a well-known community advocate, a lawyer by training who serves as an ambassador to refugee group ‘Welcome to Australia’ and runs the ‘Islamophobia Register Australia’, which records assaults and abuse of Muslims. In 2014 Ms. Veiszadeh started the viral ‘Women in Solidarity With Hijabis’ – WISH campaign, which aimed to draw attention to the physical and verbal harassment many Australian Muslim women suffer. In her efforts to expose and fight racism, she had made herself a kind of bigot’s focal point. As her prominence had grown, and her social media campaigns had taken off, the targeting of Ms. Veiszadeh had intensified. In a recent incident which has resulted in legal proceedings, a young woman allegedly accessed Ms. Veiszadeh’s personal Facebook page and left a series of racist comments.
Ms. Veiszadeh’s crime had been publicly objecting to a Queensland Woolworths store selling singlets decorated with the Australian flag and the slogan “If you don’t love it, leave”.
Any Australian could immediately identify the racial undertones of that catchcry, but Ms. Veiszadeh was nonetheless hammered for expressing her outrage.
The attacks on her proved that those who claim to object to the extreme iterations of Islam – including the treatment of women – in fact find nothing more infuriating than a successful, well educated Muslim woman, who immediately began contributing after being accepted as a refugee. Ms. Veiszadeh’s family fled Kabul in 1988, eventually settling in Australia in 1991.
While the tone of the threats against her had been harrowing, Veiszadeh has also found significant support, with Australians of varying background expressing their disgust at her treatment.
That support increased on 23 February 2015, as Ms. Veiszadeh encouraged her twitter follower to report three accounts sending her threats. And they did – many of them, but not before #IStandWithMariam got trending, drawing a response from at least two Federal MPs.
On the same day that the Liberal member for Reid tweeted his support for a Muslim anti-bigot, Prime Minister Abbott alarmed Muslim groups by singling their communities out, sacrificing their public safety and standing in the eyes of other Australians.
The government’s attitude against Muslims sought to build legitimacy on the assumption that they are a hostile outsider group in Australia, prone to ignoring domestic law and custom, and the civil rights of fellow citizens.
But the end goal of venomous insinuations has been to allow the passage of legislation which eats away at privacy, civil rights, and due legal process. Even if one is not a good little bigot living in the nation’s whitest suburb, the government could still soon be sifting through years of one’s phone and internet data – warrant needed.
Ms. Veiszadeh is trying to scream over the dog-whistling, but as a lawyer she is also a symbol of the kinds of processes, procedures, and checks on executive power against which the Abbott Government consistently battled.
It was Ms. Veiszadeh who acted within and respected Australian law, not the supposed patriots who went after her, or the government which subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – gives a nod to their racism. (M. Chalmers, ‘Australia, Where standing up to racism ensures you’ll endure an eternity of racism’, 24 February 2015, accessible at newmatilda.com › Civil Society)
By early 2015 it seemed official: the Australian Government was at war with Muslims and Islam. Many, too many actually, Australian politicians and the racist media are fanning the flame of prejudice and racially-motivated violence against Muslims. Anti-Muslims bigotry has become the most important issue in Australian politics – often in common parlance. The purpose is to demonise Muslims and connect Muslim Australians to U.S.-led war in the Middle East and justify Australia’s direct complicity in U.S.-led aggression in Syria and Iraq.
As David Marr wrote: “Mapping the Australia of old race fears is one of the tasks of the Scanlon Foundation’s impeccable annual surveys of social cohesion. The 2013 survey found 25 per cent of us have “negative sentiments” about migrants from the Middle East. That’s the national figure. In suburban Brisbane add another 10 per cent. On the Atherton Tableland dislike edges up to 42 per cent.
Polling in a handful of centres in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia shows 28 to 45 per cent of those living in these rural and suburban communities troubled by Muslims.
Pollsters don’t call the issue race. They call it cultural diversity. Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University who conducts the surveys for the Scanlon Foundation says of Australia: “There is a core of 10 per cent and a wider group around 25 to 30 per cent with strong negative views towards cultural diversity.” And those numbers seem to be growing.” (‘David Marr on race, votes and free speech’ | The Saturday Paper, 5 April 2014, accessible at https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2014/04/05/david…)
First one should look at how Australia treats Muslim Australians.
Already in 2014 the Social Cohesion report, published by Monash University and the Scanlon Foundation, found that Australians were five times more likely to hold negative attitudes towards Muslims than any other religious group. The Abbott Government and the media were bearing full responsibility for the rise in Islamophobic and racially motivated attacks against Muslim Australians. (‘Mapping social cohesion 2014 – Scanlon Foundation’, accessible at scanlonfoundation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/mapping-social…)
Just as the bloodletting in Iraq and then in Syria began, the Abbott Government had begun a vicious campaign against Muslim Australians and Islam.
Repeating his mentor, John Howard, Abbott said not long ago: “If someone [Muslim woman] walked into a bank with a full covering of their body, I’d be fretting about it. There are legitimate security issues that people have when someone walks into a public place where you cannot identify them.” Prime Minister Abbott was attacking the few dozens of Muslim women who wear hijab or niqab. It is “confronting” to see people like these, said Abbott. The Abbott Government was displaying the same fear-mongering attitude, scapegoating refugees and Muslim Australians to win votes. (G. Hassan, ‘Australia’s declared war on Muslims’, 31 December 2014, accessible at www.countercurrents.org/hassan311214.htm)
Muslim Australians are discriminated for being Muslims. The niqab or hijab is a pretext for persecution and used to encourage attacks on Muslim women. In the whole of Australia there are perhaps only a few dozen women wear the niqab or the hijab, and they are mainly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.
The impact of this vicious campaign is to feed a tide of Islamophobic and racially-motivated violent attacks on Muslim Australians. A December 2014 ‘Victorians’ attitudes to race and cultural diversity’ , on data from the 2013 survey, found that about 40 per cent of Australians feel “cold” towards Muslim Australians, Australians of Middle Eastern, African backgrounds and refugees. (‘Victorians’ attitudes to race and cultural diversity …’, accessible at www.vichealth.vic.gov.au › … › Research & publications) It is most likely those Australians who feel “cold” have never met a Muslim Australian, an African Australian or a refugee. Their knowledge of Muslims, Africans and refuges is acquired from a daily diet of xenophobia supplied by ignorant politicians and their racist media. The Muslim Legal Network collected a large number of anti-Islamic assaults and acts of violence, including threats made against the Grand Mufti of Australia. “In one case, a western Sydney mother and her baby were spat on and her pram kicked. In another, a man in Perth tried to rip the scarf off a woman’s head. Several mosques around the country have been threatened, egged, vandalised and a pig’s head impaled on a cross”, said Ms. Veiszadeh. In addition, the vicious campaign is designed to foster fear and prejudice in the non-Muslim Australian population.
The ‘Liberals’ have made it their business to discriminate against Muslim women who do not conform to their liking: what clothing they should wear, and where they should go. Their freedom should be curtailed ‘for their own good’ – not a chance to reflect that Muslim women decide what to wear as a matter of personal choice, and has nothing to do with religion.
According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, one woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner (‘Family violence protest – Melbourne CBD | Victims of crime’, accessible at victimsofcrime.com.au/family-violence-protest-melbourne-cbd), and one in three women would say that she has suffered violence from someone she knows.
If Abbott and his ‘Liberals’ were serious about the human rights of Muslim women, they would have immediately: 1) freed all Muslim women refugees (and their children) who are languishing in Australian concentration camps in remote parts of Australia, in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea. and 2) made it their policy to treat refugees, including women, as humans.
On 24 September 2014 – just a few days before Abbott warned of random attacks by Muslim Australians – an Australian teenager, 18-year-old Abdul Numan Haider was shot dead by police outside a Melbourne police station. He was killed in broad daylight after attending an interview with the police at the Endeavour Hills Police Station. (‘What we know about Abdul Numan Haider’ – ABC News, accessible at www.abc.net.au/…/what-we-know-about-abdul-numan-haider/5767044)
After his death, the police and the media concocted a “radicalised” profile for him. He was soon accused of posing a “threat to Australia’s security”. It would be so of any Muslim who would dare to speak up publicly against western-perpetrated war crimes, including the rape of Muslim women and the slaughter of innocent Muslim women and children in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
By contrast, some criminals who could pose serious threat to the community are set free and allowed to spread anti-Muslim propaganda. The case of Man Haron Monis, who took seventeen hostages at Lindt Café in Sydney on 15 December 2014, is significant. Monis was on parole for crimes committed in Australia. It is known that he has committed crimes in Iran before fleeing to Australia in 1996, that he had entered Australia as a ‘refugee’ in 1996 and was granted political asylum in 2001, and that the Iranian Government had requested his extradition, but was rebuffed by the Australian authorities.. In 2004 Monis was granted Australian citizenship and began waving the Union Jack.
Monis was used as the perfect stooge to serve the Abbott Government’s anti-Muslim agenda. As Julian Burnside QC was reported to say on 26 February 2015, “Tony Abbott referred to Muslims a number of times in his speech on Monday [23 February], and he referred to the Lindt café siege in Sydney. It is important to bear in mind that the Lindt café siege was not a Muslim terrorist event: it was not any sort of terrorist event. It was the terrible act of a madman. The fact that he was a Muslim is utterly irrelevant. The fact that it is used, even indirectly, to stir up fear of Muslims is utterly disgraceful.
Of course, Muslims are an easy target: Islamic State (Isis) is doing a pretty bad PR job for Islam. But most Muslims do not support terrorism, either here or overseas. A small group of zealots support Isis and want to join its fight. If there are 50 jihadists in Australia who would fight with Isis (unlikely), that represents about two Australians in a million who are sharply at odds with us. Is two in a million really a big enough threat to encourage us to abandon long-held principles of justice, fairness and liberty ?” (‘The Islamophobia stirred up by Abbott and Bolt is a bigger …’, 26 February 2015, accessible at www.theguardian.com › Opinion › Australian politics)
The 2015 Report of the Scanlon Foundation presented the findings of the eighth ‘Mapping Social Cohesion’ national survey. It was conducted in June-July 2015. The report builds on the knowledge gained through the seven earlier Scanlon Foundation national surveys, which provide, for the first time in Australian social research, a series of detailed surveys on social cohesion, immigration and population issues.
According to the Report’s findings the Scanlon-Monash Index of Social Cohesion had moved in the strongest positive direction since the Index was established in 2007.
The Scanlon Foundation survey asked respondents for their view of ‘the most important issue facing Australia today’; “change has occurred in the ranking of national security and social issues, which are now both second ranked (the economy remains first).”, the Report noted.
Concern over immigration remained at the lowest level recorded by the Scanlon Foundation surveys; attitudes towards asylum seekers arriving by boat had also changed little since 2014.
The high level of support for the proposition that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’ had been maintained.
There were significant differences in attitudes of young adults, the middle-aged and older Australians, evident in response to questions on national identity and cultural diversity. Significant difference was also evident across Australia’s regions, with lower support outside capital cities for immigration, resettlement opportunities for asylum seekers and cultural maintenance. Difference in attitude was also evident in comparison of Australia’s major cities.
With regard to immigration, the 2014 survey had found relatively low concern over issues of immigration and cultural diversity. Just 35 per cent considered that the immigration intake was ‘too high’, the lowest recorded in the Scanlon Foundation surveys.
As for asylum seekers, the views on policy towards them also remained unchanged in 2015: 24 per cent were of the view that asylum seekers arriving by boat should be eligible for permanent settlement – same as in 2014; 31 per cent thought that they should only be allowed to apply for temporary residence – 30 per cent in 2014; 9 per cent was of the opinion that they should be ‘kept in detention until they can be sent back’ – 10 in 2014; 33 thought that ‘their boats should be turned back’ – 31 in 2014.
On the basis of earlier findings, it appeared likely that negative opinions reflect views on mode of arrival, not on providing opportunities for refugee resettlement. Scanlon Foundation surveys between 2010-2012 asked respondents for their view on the ‘humanitarian programme’, which was explained as resettling ‘refugees who have been assessed overseas and found to be victims of persecution and in need of help’. A large majority, in the range of 67 to 75 per cent, indicated that they supported the ‘humanitarian programme’. (‘Mapping Social Cohesion 2015: The Scanlon Foundation …’, accessible at www.monash.edu/…/public-opinion/social-cohesion-report)
Still, the main and most consistent target for discrimination and hatred by the Abbott Government remained the so-called ‘Illegal arrivals’. As Reporters Without Borders noted in August 2015, Australia was suppressing the coverage of refugees on ‘national security’ grounds. The organisation was mainly concerned with the effect of the Border Force Act 2015, which entered into force on 1 July 2015. The organisation noted that the Act “reflects a disturbing desire to deny access to information about the often deplorable treatment of refugees in detention centres by classifying this information as ‘protected’ on national security grounds.” (Australia suppresses coverage of refugees on national security grounds’, 4 August 2015, accessible at …
Approved by the two main political parties, the Act provides for two-year gaol terms for ‘entrusted persons’ working in Australia’s refugee detention centres – including the centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru, should such persons disclose information about conditions in the centres and how refugees are treated.
Without prior permission from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, doctors and health professionals working in the centres are now forbidden to talk about the conditions in which asylum-seekers are being held and to report any abuses or human rights violations. They are nonetheless the only people who could act as whistleblowers about what is going on in these centres, to which the public has no access.
“We firmly condemn this act, which effectively censors all sources of information about the problematic issue of refugees in Australia,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. And he added: “Doctors and other care personnel are potential whistleblowers. They have long been the only people able to talk about conditions in these centres and the health of the detainees. As such, they are a link between these closed and secret centres and the media and public opinion. By threatening this link, which is essential for media coverage, the authorities are clearly flouting the right of Australia’s citizens to question their government’s stance on human rights and democracy.”
The Australian Government already imposed drastic curbs on journalists’ access to refugee detention centres in 2011, after several refugees died in detention. These restrictions constituted a grave violation of the right to information, which is supposed to be guaranteed by the law.
“They are trying to prevent any information about conditions in detention centres reaching the public.” said Julian Burnside QC.
“A journalist who requests information or records from an entrusted person can be charged with aiding and abetting the commission of that offence.” added George Newhouse, another human rights lawyer.
Many people have spoken out against this latest attempt to prevent doctors, social workers and other employees of detention centres for asylum-seekers from the telling the media about any human rights violations and abuses they might witness.
A health workers collective has held demonstrations in various Australian cities to protest against the Border Force Act. One of its members, University of Sydney Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh, a geriatrician, said that doctors have a duty, both as professionals and citizens, to report human rights violations. Although some of the law’s opponents have said they will circumvent it, “many are afraid of losing their jobs, which is stated in the act, or imprisonment up to two years.” Singh said.
In a Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, prepared by Juan E. Méndez, formerly Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame from October 1999 to 2004, and now of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Australia was criticised for its treatment of refugees. The Report, dated 9 March 2015, voiced particular concern about the detention of immigrants, including children, in the camps located in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
The Report said that Australia is violating its obligations under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment by failing to guarantee sufficient protection for refugees, and that the conditions in which it detains asylum-seekers and recent changes to its maritime laws violate international conventions on immigration. The Abbott Government disputed these conclusions, the Prime Minister abandoning himself to this: “[Australians are] sick and tired of being lectured to by the United Nations.”(L. Cox, ‘Tony Abbott: Australians ‘sick of being lectured to’ by …’, accessible at www.smh.com.au › Federal Politics › Political News)
Reporters Without Borders had previously documented the existence of favourable discrimination in certain cases. There was clear discrimination in favour of high-positioned persons, as happened in June 2014.
In that case a court placed national interest before public interest to protect certain Asian leaders.
The source of information had been WikiLeaks, which had revealed the existence of a blanket gagging order applying to all citizens and news media throughout Australia.
The order had been issued on 19 June 2014 by the Victorian Supreme Court, and cited the need to protect ‘national security’ and not “[to] damage Australia’s international relations” as grounds for banning any form of coverage of an alleged case of bribery involving several Asian presidents, heads of state, ministers, and high-positioned persons – and most of them Muslim !
The existence of this sweeping ‘suppression order’, posted by WikiLeaks on 9 July 2014, said volumes about the current level of transparency in Australia.
Effective for five years, the order forbade any media coverage of a case involving seven senior executives with banks affiliated to the Reserve Bank of Australia, who had been charged with spending millions of dollars in bribes to obtain contracts with the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries to print plastic banknotes.
The Court injunction named seventeen international political figures including Vietnamese President Trương Tấn Sang – currently serving as the President of Vietnam, alongside Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng and Party general secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The injunction is so sweeping that the Australian media and journalists are even forbidden to mention its very existence. As a result, Reporters Without Borders found itself unable to discuss it with its correspondent in Australia.
“The grounds given for this gagging order, which include national security, are unacceptable and cannot justify such complete censorship applying to all news and information providers, including both journalists and ordinary citizens.” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“This disproportionate order, whose aims include protecting the interests of certain Southeast Asian leaders, is tantamount to asking everyone to turn a blind eye to a crucial aspect of this case – the identity of those receiving these ‘financial incentives.’ We urge the authorities to put the public interest above national interest and to restore transparency in this case by rescinding this order at once.”
As it turned out, Victoria’s courts are in the habit of issuing such bans. An average of 200 suppression orders a year were issued from 2008 to 2013 often for unclear reasons and unlimited periods, and were rarely rescinded.
The order follows:
“IN THE SUPREME COURT OF VICTORIA AT MELBOURNE
BARRY THOMAS BRADY & ORS
GENERAL FORM OF ORDER
JUDGE: The Honourable Justice Hollingworth
DATE MADE: 19 June 2014
ORIGINATING PROCESS: Indictment
HOW OBTAINED: Oral application, following the giving of notice under s 10 of the Open Courts Act 2013 (Vic)
Dr. S. Danaghue QC and Mr. J. Forsaith, for the Commonwealth of Australia (instructed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade);
Mr. J. Forsaith, for the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police;
Mr. N. Robinson QC and Mr. K. Armstrong, for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions
Mr. M. Cahill, for Barry Thomas Brady;
Mr. C. Thomson for, John Leckenby;
Mr. P. Tehan QC, for Steven KimWong;
Mr. P. Higham, for Christian Boillot and Clifford John Gerathy;
Ms. M. Fox, for Myles Andrew Curtis.
THE COURT ORDERS THAT:
- Subject to further order, there be no disclosure, by publication or otherwise, of any information (whether in electronic or paper form) derived from or prepared for the purposes of these proceedings (including the terms of these orders, and the affidavit of Gillian Elizabeth Bird affirmed on 12 June 2014) that reveals, implies, suggests or alleges that any person to whom this order applies:
(a) received or attempted to receive a bribe or improper payment;
(b) acquiesced in or was wilfully blind as to any person receiving or attempting to receive a bribe or improper payment; or
(c) was the intended or proposed recipient of a bribe or improper payment.
- Subject to further order, order 1 applies to the following persons:
(a) any current or former Prime Minister of Malaysia (including references to ‘PM’);
(b) any current or former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia (including references to ‘DPM’);
(c) any current or former Finance Minister of Malaysia (including references to ‘FM’);
(d) Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak, currently Prime Minister (since 2009) and Finance Minister (since 2008) of Malaysia;
(e) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (also known as Pak Lah), a former Prime Minister (2003 – 2009) and Finance Minister (2003 – 2008) of Malaysia;
(f) Puan Noni (also knows as Ms/Madame Noni, or Nonni), a sister-in-law of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi;
(g) Mahathir Mohamed, a former Prime Minister (1981 – 2003) and Finance Minister (2001 – 2003) of Malaysia;
(h) Daim Zainuddin, a former Finance Minister of Malaysia (1984 – 1991; 1999 – 2001);
(i) Rafidah Aziz, a former Trade Minister of Malaysia (1987 – 2008);
(j) Hamid Albar, a former Minister for Foreign Affairs (1999 – 2008) and Minister of Home Affairs (2008 – 2009) of Malaysia;
(k) Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (also known as SBY), currently President of Indonesia (since 2004);
(l) Megawati Sukarnoputri (also known as Mega), a former President of Indonesia (2001 – 2004) and current leader of the PDI-P political party;
(m) Laksamana Sukardi, a former Indonesian minister (2001 – 2004; in Megawati Sukarnoputri’s goverment);
(n) Truong Tan San, currently President of Vietnam (since 2011);
(o) Nguyen Tan Dung, currently Prime Minister of Vietnam (since 2006);
(p) Le Duc Thuy, a Former Chairman of the National Financial Supervisory Committee (2007 – 2011) and a former Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam (1999 – 2007); and
(q) Nong Duc Manh, a former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (2001 – 2011).
- Subject to further order, order 1 does not prevent:
(a) disclosures to and among Commonwealth officers (as defined by s 3 of Crimes Act 1914 (Cth)) or international investigators, international prosecuting authorities, and other like international entities;
(b) provision by the Court to registered media organisations, under cover of a notice referring to the existence of these orders, of transcript and exhibits (which, for the avoidance of doubt, must then be treated in accordance with order 1 above);
(c) provision of material by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to Note Printing Australia Pty Ltd and its legal representatives, provided any such material is provided together with a copy of these orders.
- The prohibition on publication in order 1 applies throughout Australia.
- The purpose of these orders is to prevent damage to Australia’s international relations that may be caused by the publication of material that may damage the reputations of specified individuals who are not the subject of charges in these proceedings.
- These orders are made on the grounds that they are:
(a) necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice that cannot be prevented by other reasonably available means; and
(b) necessary to prevent prejudice to the interests of the Commonwealth in relation to national security.
- These orders operate for a period of 5 years from the date of these orders, unless sooner revoked.
- The affidavit of Gillian Elizabeth Bird affirmed on 12 June 2014 be sealed in an envelope marked “Not to be opened without an order of the Court”, and not be opened without order of the Court.
- There be liberty to apply.
DATE AUTHENTICATED: 19 June 2014.” (‘Australian court imposes generalized news blackout on bribery case’, 30 July 2014, in appendix to Reporters without borders, ‘Australia suppresses coverage of refugees on national security grounds’, 4 August 2015, accessible at https://rsf.org/en/news/australia–suppresses–coverage–refugees…)
The military remains supreme.
Australia’s defence expenditure increased by 50 per cent between 1989 and 2007. The Government allocated $ 22 billion to the Australian Defence Organisation in the 2007-08 financial year. In the 2006-07 budget the Howard Government announced that it would continue to increase real defence spending by at least 3 per cent each year until 2015-16.
According to the World Bank in 2014 Australia’s military expenditure was measured at 1.78 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.
The following data are taken from a table of the top twenty countries on the List of countries by military expenditures by the International Institute for Strategic Studies World Military Balance 2016 (for 2015) with the highest military expenditure for 2015 published in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 2016 using current market exchange rates in 2015 U.S. dollars: Australia ranks fifteen ; it spent 22.7 billion, equal to a share of 1.8 per cent of 2015 G. D. P., or 1.000 per capita.
The list prepared by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
2016 Fact Sheet (for 2015) places Australia as thirteenth in comparison with other countries:
|% of GDP|
Military expenditures data from S.I.P.R.I. are derived from the N.A.T.O. definition, which includes all current and capital expenditures on the armed forces, including peacekeeping forces; defence ministries and other government agencies engaged in defence projects; paramilitary forces, if these are judged to be trained and equipped for military operations; and military space activities. Such expenditures include military and civil personnel, including retirement pensions of military personnel and social services for personnel; operation and maintenance; procurement; military research and development; and military aid – in the military expenditures of the donor country.
As Broinowski noted: “Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected.” The ‘Australian Defence Force’ is a misnomer. It has mainly four functions: 1) to serve overseas in support of other governments’ decisions, 2) to employ weapons which are force-sold to Australia because of the power of the military-industrial complex of Australia’s Great-And-Powerful-Friend, 3) to pursue intimidation and/or invasion of other countries, while maintaining the ‘tradition’ of militarism as a source of male dominance if not of machismo, an expression of nationalism; 4) a limited function as coastguard.
Militarism and nationalism are like twins joined at the side. They live and thrive on rhetoric with frequent recourse to the Crown, the (dysfunctional) Royal Family, the (foreign) flag, and the totally melancholic, often morbid, tribute to the dead which takes place ‘that one day of the year’ , 25 April – Anzac Day. That is the day – as Dave Warner once said – when ‘we march our march and we drink our beer’. It is on that day that everyone who is said to have died for Australia is ‘honoured’ – by marching and getting high on beer.
Anyone who knows even a little history would remember that marching has always been regarded by dictatorial regimes as a needed substitute for thought. Large consumption of beer helps to blur fact from myth. Thus the landing at Gelibolu, which is the name of the place Australians, New Zealanders and English invaded in 1915 with absolutely disastrous consequences, has become a ‘sacred day’ in ‘secular’ Australia. And thus the confusion between history, myth, reminiscing and fabulae raves up, with the risk of serious consequences if one were to attempt to re-establish the truth on the occasion. After that, everything is permitted, in the name of laconicism and that grand, all embracing, all soothing resource which is ‘mateship’. This, of course, is regarded as an exclusive Australian quality. No other returning soldiers, whether volunteers or conscripted, in other countries are allowed to possess it.
Gelibolu was an ill lost battle from which no good came; it never ‘tested a young country’s mettle’ and did not ‘show what game young men can do.’ It gave Turkey a nation founding hero, Ataturk, and Australia almost a century of bloodstained hypocrisy. And there seems to be no end to it.
Questions are never asked, of the simplest kind such as: why warring against Maoris in New Zealand in 1845 ? and what on earth were ‘colonial’ Australians doing in Khartoum in 1885, or against Boers in South Africa, or ‘federated’ Australians in Russia in the 1920s ?
Treasonable would be to ask: why should our youth continue to be cannon fodder for the financial advantage of weapon-manufacturers, offending countries and people they have never visited, defending on someone else’s land our power élite, their miners, banksters, money-makers, pimps, and establishment we hardly ever use to our own advantage ? Asking that would be, and so is, taught from cradle to grave to be un-patriotic, un-Australian.
Rampant sexism was early identified as one of the characteristics of a Fascist regime. Modern authoritarian regimes may pretend to be outwardly egalitarian, and anyway it is ‘popular’ to appear nothing but egalitarian.
The reality is quite different. ‘Traditional’ gender roles remain, albeit covertly, quite rigid. Women remain unequal at all level of life. There is unequal economic treatment, despite the fact that for over forty years the ‘right’ to equal treatment has been preached by every aspiring politician.
There is social inequality. It is implied in the machismo which still pervades certain occupations, even in such limited fields as life-saving formations. It is fuelled by the media, seventy per cent foreign-controlled, and profusely devoted to the representation of women as objects of sexual, even if only visual, satisfaction. Coincidentally, publicity of all kind exploits and emphasises a woman’s beauty as a lure for selling everything: from furniture to vacuum-cleaners, not to mention cosmetics, of course.
Such inequality ‘slides’ not so gently in areas as the military, where women may be excluded from the very beginning – example: ‘cadet’ training at school, and – if admitted – may continue under the unfair, discriminatory, and often abusive treatment to which women are subjected in the Defence Forces. There is the periodical investigation of sexual harassment of women in the Australian Navy. The latest foreign adventure, in Afghanistan, was ‘justified’, at least initially by the ‘mission to liberate women’. Later, the mission was explained as that of training part of the Afghan Army – and a woman Prime Minister said so in the Australian Parliament in November 2011. By the end of April 2011 she had found a way of hardening her uncompromising position on North Korea’s nuclear programme, at a time when diplomats said that the isolated regime was reaching out to talk, and despite North Korea’s attempted overtures to American and European diplomats about restarting those talks. What was it ? Zeal ? Bloody-mindedness ? Stupidity ? Servility ?
On 24 March 2011 all media were abuzz over the then latest scandal: allegations of Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan having posted ‘racist’ remarks and videos on a social network site. Because the word ‘racist’ has become as abused as others in the new-language, one should begin by clarifying that the soldiers had referred to then Prime Minister Julia Gillard as a ‘fucking ranga’. Now, ranga is a local corruption of the word Orangutan, a red-haired animal, well-known for its fiery temper and pale skin – carrying the implication that the female of the species is good in bed, combining its natural aggression with its lack of appreciation for its looks. In lavatory language, it refers specifically to a redhead female, who presumably has red pubic hair. People of light complexion and with red hair are likely to sunburn easily. Discrimination against people with red hair and pale skin stems from English name-calling of Celts.
Some videos recorded the soldiers as referring to Afghanis as ‘rag-heads’, ‘dune coons’, niggers’, ‘sand niggaz’ – a gift from the Great-And-Powerful-Friend: it is the plural of nigga, a word which describes ‘ignorant-African-Americans’ – and ‘smelly locals’.
The former Prime Minister, and for a while Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd was also not spared some lurid comments.
By the evening of 25 March 2011 the television stations hosted a procession of personalities: the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, the Air Marshall Chief of the Defence, Angus Houston appeared, and all with the customary air of contrition mixed with embarrassment to explain how they had apologised, and all to display a sense of surprise. Alas, people old enough remember that the deplored terms are on par with those used more than forty years ago by Australians, particularly during the Vietnam invasion, with reference to the local: ‘coons’ and ‘gooks’, as well as ‘chinks’ – broadly for people with an Asian appearance, ‘niggers’ – for people with darker skin – including American Blacks, ‘Lebo’ – with an assumed Lebanese background, et cetera.
If the ‘mission’ in Afghanistan was that of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ – as it was in Vietnam – all one can say is: it failed in Vietnam. Was it going to be different in Afghanistan ?
The most significant Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force was presented by the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Ms. Elizabeth Broderick, with a speech on 22 August 2012.
The Review was directed both to the Australian Defence Force Academy, A.D.F.A., and in the broader, to the Australian Defence Force. The Review had come about as part of the response to the Skype incident at A.D.F.A. in 2011.
Early in 2011 a young woman, barely 18, was standing before the commander of the prestigious Australian Defence Force Academy. She was in trouble for having had sexual intercourse with an army cadet who had thought no better than broadcast the event by Skype to half a dozen fellow cadets sitting in a nearby room. Distraught, the young woman went to a commercial channel and told the story – in anticipated self-defence.
The Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith and the Chief of Defence Force, Air Marshall Angus Houston went on television and radio to express their puritanical indignation – “abhorrent” but “isolated” said the Chief, to welcome an investigation, to threaten vindication as if the item was news. Perhaps what was news is that the victim this time went outside the system. There had been episodes of improper behaviour and investigation of predatory sexual practices, drunkenness and indiscipline in the Navy, for years and years.
Radio and television had a field week, with much ado and salacious ‘revelations’ – porno really. Seriously, a former cadet at A.D.F.A., now a prominent barrister, wrote a piece to describe the physical, sexual and psychological abuse to which he had been subjected twenty five years ago. He did so, needless to say, under condition of anonymity. In his view, after all the investigations, “a culture of abuse … has not changed in 20 years.” Is it now ?
The Report on the first phase of the Review, which dealt with an examination of A.D.F.A., was tabled in Parliament on 3 November 2011.
Tabled in federal Parliament on 22 August 2012 was the Report on the second phase of the Review, dealing with the treatment of women across the entire A.D.F. – across Navy, Army and Air Force.
The Review was broad ranging and comprehensive. It was not an historical examination of the A.D.F. over the last few decades. Nor was it merely a desktop analysis of policies and processes or other written material. What the Review did was examine the then current ‘culture’ of the A.D.F. and the impact which it had on women.
In doing so, the members of the Review Panel were determined to speak to as many A.D.F. personnel as possible, as well as to others with military experience.
In consulting as widely as possible, they visited 36 military bases in Australia and 6 in deployed environments, including two forward operating bases outside the wire in Afghanistan, and they spoke to over 2,000 people in bases across Australia, Timor Leste, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.
In summary, they spoke with personnel from almost every rank and occupation, as well as Reservists and people who had discharged from the military.
Importantly, they also spoke to members individually and confidentially. The stories these members told – many positive, but some deeply personal and distressing – many told for the first time – shaped much of the Review’s thinking and approach.
It was important that the Chiefs of each Service also heard these stories. The Sex Commissioner facilitated one on one meetings for these members with the Chiefs.
Apart from this qualitative research, the Panel developed two surveys to inform the findings. The members surveyed over 6,000 A.D.F. personnel.
For the first time, data exist which compares the prevalence of sexual harassment in the A.D.F. to other Australian workplaces.
The Review also examined the experience of overseas militaries struggling with similar challenges.
The Review Panel specifically wanted answer to the following questions: How inclusive is the A.D.F. of women ?; How are women perceived in the A.D.F. ?; Is the A.D.F. recruiting sufficient numbers of women ? Do they have the same opportunity as men to rise through the ranks ? ; Does the current A.D.F. culture support a member’s ability to balance career and family ?; and, finally, does sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual abuse exist ?
And here are six facts as they related to the A.D.F.:
Fact 1: Numbers in the 17 – 24 age group – the A.D.F.’s traditional recruiting pool – had flat lined, with increased competition for this talent from other sectors, particularly resources.
Fact 2: The A.D.F. had only achieved a 1 per cent increase in the recruitment of women over the previous 10 years, and 2 per cent over the previous 20.
Fact 3: 80 per cent of the A.D.F. were men who speak English at home. Yet, males who speak English at home represent less than 40 per cent of the general Australian population. This meant that the A.D.F. had not capitalised on demographic shifts in the Australian population and remained ‘frozen’ at its 1990 demographic.
Fact 4: Many people left for reasons which were within the control of the A.D.F., including lack of flexible work arrangements. Given that defence talent is developed from the ground up, when someone leaves after ten years, it is not possible to do what most civilian organisations do and laterally recruit to fill that position. The average cost of losing a member was estimated at $ 580,000 to $ 680,000, whilst the cost of recruiting a new member had tripled.
Fact 5: Modern warfare requires new and different abilities, such as technological skill, rather than simply manual or physical strength.
Fact 6: Sexual harassment and abuse existed at the time in the A.D.F. – with the obvious consequences: lives ruined, teams divided, damaged operational effectiveness.
These facts provided a compelling case for change.
In the Report the Panel described the issues, summarised its findings and made twenty one recommendations in a number of key areas, and under five main headings: combining a military career with family; women’s participation, recruitment and retention; diversity of leadership; targets and differential treatment; and exclusion and sexual assault.
Changes had been marginal.
Towards the end of November 2013 twelve Australian Defence Force members were being investigated over the sexual abuse of female cadets in the 1990s, as the A.D.F. Vice Chief Mark Binskin had confirmed.
The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, which had been established as part of the Australian Government’s response to the D.L.A. Piper Review into allegation of sexual and other forms of abuse in Defence, had completed its assessment of the so-called A.D.F.A. 24 – which involved allegations from 19 complainants about rape at the Defence Force Academy.
Meanwhile, the Taskforce, led by retired Judge Len Roberts-Smith, was investigating more than 2,400 allegations of abuse.
Air Marshal Binskin said none of the 12 officers was ranked higher than a major and some had left the A.D.F.
“Defence is now reviewing the Taskforce advice and assessing options available in relation to each of the cases of alleged abuse.” said Air Marshal Binskin. And he added: “All options available will be considered and those cases in which the alleged perpetrator is still providing active duty will be considered in priority.”
He indicated, however, that criminal charges were unlikely at the stage of the investigations.
“Defence understands only six complainants related to the A.D.F.A. 24 cases contacted the Taskforce and none of these individuals have agreed to their matter being referred to the police.” he said. “Accordingly Defence understands none of the A.D.F.A. 24 cases the Taskforce has assessed has been referred to civilian police by the taskforce.”
In June 2012 then Defence Minister Stephen Smith had told Parliament that abuse was more widespread than previously thought. He highlighted A.D.F.A. and the Navy’s H.M.A.S. Leeuwin training base in Fremantle as two institutions where there had been a number of abuse complaints. He asked the Taskforce to prioritise the cases involving 24 allegations from 19 complainants about abuse in the 1990s.
The A.D.F.A. 24 had been first identified in the Grey Review in 1998.
The Taskforce was considering whether a royal commission was needed into the allegations of abuse at A.D.F.A and H.M.A.S. Leeuwin; it was looking at complaints made to it and complaints raised in other reviews such as the DLA Piper review, and would have continued to investigate complaints for a further twelve months.
On 9 November 2013 the news was circulated that the Army had dismissed one of the men at the centre of the A.D.F.A. Skype scandal.
The cadet was responsible for secretly filming himself having sex with a female cadet and the vision had been broadcast via Skype to several of their colleagues in 2011.
In October 2013 he had been sentenced to two 12-month good behaviour bonds by the A.C.T. Supreme Court and had been cleared to resume his studies at A.D.F.A. But early in November the Chief of Army David Morrison defended Defence’s handling of the case after the victim, known as ‘Kate’, had questioned why the cadet had been allowed to continue his military career.
In response, Defence had released a statement saying the cadet found guilty had been told in mid-September that it intended to dismiss and, after giving him an opportunity to respond, his services were terminated as of 8 November 2013. Defence had formed the view that the conduct of the cadet in question was inconsistent with the Army’s values and the standards expected of a member. Another cadet involved in the scandal, was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour bond and had subsequently left the military.
The female cadet at the centre of the scandal said that it resulted in her being bullied out of the military and her dream job. In an exclusive interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 programme early in November 2013 ‘Kate’ said that she had been determined to pursue a military career even after she went public about her ordeal. However, she said that she had been harassed repeatedly at different Defence bases around the country.
“[Some] boys in the room across from me thought it was fun to terrorise me and call me the Skype slut continually every time I left my room.” she said. The best she could obtain out of this ordeal was a discharge from the military on medical and psychological grounds.
She still intended to take legal action against Defence Force. Her hope was that the action would change the ‘culture’ within the Force.
Violence against women remains one of the major social problems in Australia.
As Jennifer Ellem noted, “[the] rise of domestic violence … in Australia over the past decade is staggering especially when [one] consider[s] the fact that the most common cause of death or injury for women under the age of 45 is domestic violence. [In 2015] alone 79 women were killed by their partners and so far [in February 2016] 4 women have been killed for the same reason. Yet funding for this atrocity is set at $ 25 million a year up until 2017 where it will be reassessed with the view to reduction as for some strange reason they believe they will be able to reduce domestic violence by providing less support.” (J. Ellem, ‘The war on feminism and the normalisation of misogyny in Australia’, 3 February 2016, accessible at theaimn.com/the-war–on-feminism-and-the-normalisation-of-misogyny…)
White Ribbon is the country’s only national – and male-led – campaign to end men’s violence against women. The campaign works through primary prevention initiatives involving awareness raising and education, and programmes with youth, schools, workplaces and across the broader community. Globally, White Ribbon is the world’s largest movement to end men’s violence against women. Originating in Canada in 1991, White Ribbon is now active in more than 60 countries.
In 2003 White Ribbon was brought to Australia through the United Nations Development Fund for Women – UNIFEM, now UN Women.
White Ribbon Australia observes the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women, also known as ‘White Ribbon Day’, annually on 25 November. ‘White Ribbon Day’ signals the start of the 16 Days of Activism to Stop Violence against Women, which ends on ‘Human Rights Day’ – 10 December.
However the campaign runs all year and is evident across the community through, for example, advertising and marketing campaigns such as Uncover Secrets, social media, community events and ‘White Ribbon Night’ in July.
Domestic violence is a widespread though often hidden problem across Australia. It occurs in all parts of society, regardless of geographic location, socio-economic status, age, cultural and ethnic background, or religious belief, and its often devastating effects — psychological, social and economic, short-term and long-term – rebound on families, children, and the community as a whole.
The words ‘domestic violence’ are most commonly applied to violence by a man to his wife, female sexual partner or ex-partner. However, ‘domestic violence’ is used also to refer to violence between same-sex partners, among family members – including siblings and parent-child violence either way, and by women against male partners. Domestic violence – sometimes called ‘family violence’ – can take many different forms including intimidation, coercion or isolation, emotional, physical, sexual, financial and spiritual abuse.
Australian police and court crime data indicate that women constitute a significant proportion of reported victims of intimate partner violence, while men make up a significant proportion of reported abusers. These data tend to focus on physical and sexual violence. Australian population survey data similarly show that women are more likely than men to be victims of physical, sexual and other forms of violence by a partner.
Domestic violence is generally understood as gendered violence, and is an abuse of power within a relationship – heterosexual or homosexual – or after separation. In the large majority of cases the offender is male and the victim is female.
More than two decades of international research definitively shows that infants, children and adolescents experience serious negative psychological, emotional, social and developmental impacts to their well-being from the traumatic ongoing experiences of domestic violence.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities prefer the term ‘family violence’, in which case ‘family’ covers a diverse range of ties of mutual obligation and support, and perpetrators and victims of family violence can include, for example, aunts, uncles, cousins and children of previous relationships. (‘White Ribbon – Australia’s Campaign to Prevent Men’s …’, accessible at www.whiteribbon.org.au)
The Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety Limited -ANROWS, in collaboration with Our Watch – formerly the Foundation to Prevent Violence against Women and their Children, has developed infographics summarising key statistics on women’s experiences of domestic and family violence and sexual assault.
The information is drawn largely from the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey. It shows that 1 in 3 women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15, while 1 in 5 have experienced sexual violence. The perpetrators of violence against women and violence against men are overwhelmingly men.
Research from the 2012 Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey and Australian Institute of Criminology shows that both men and women in Australia experience substantial levels of violence.
Domestic and sexual violence is overwhelmingly committed by men against women.
As at mid-2014 the following were the key statistics on violence against women and men (since the age of 15):
1 in 5 Australian women had experienced sexual violence.
1 in 6 Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner.
1 in 4 Australian women had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
1 in 3 Australian women had experienced physical violence.
1 in 22 Australian men had experienced sexual violence.
1 in 19 Australian men had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner.
1 in 7 Australian men had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.
1 in 2 Australian men had experienced physical violence.
It is more likely for a person to experience violence from a male rather than a female perpetrator.
Over 3 times as many people experienced violence from a male. EN
The A.B.S. Personal Safety Survey shows that both men and women in Australia experience substantial levels of violence. Australian women are most likely to experience physical and sexual violence in their home, at the hands of a male current or ex-partner.
36 per cent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence from someone they knew.
15 per cent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence from an ex-partner – the most likely type of known perpetrator for a female victim.
62 per cent of the women had experienced physical assault by a male perpetrator most recently in their home.
Australian women are most likely to experience physical and sexual violence in their home, at the hands of a male current or ex-partner. Of women who had experienced violence from an ex-partner:
73 per cent had experienced more than one incident of violence.
61 per cent had children in their care when the violence occurred, including 48 per cent who stated the children had seen and heard the violence.
58 per cent had never contacted the police.
24 per cent had never sought advice or support.
15 per cent of Australian women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a person they know than a stranger. Young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault.
Of all Australian women, 15 per cent had been sexually assaulted by a person they knew, since the age of 15.
3.8 per cent had been sexually assaulted by a stranger.
Of all Australian women aged 18 to 24, 23,584 reported they had experienced sexual assault in the 12 months prior to the survey. Twice as many women in this 18 to 24 age bracket experienced sexual assault, compared to all women. (‘Violence against women: key statistics – ANROWS’, accessible at anrows.org.au/…/Violence–Against–Australian–Women-Key-Statistics)
Presently, Australian police are dealing with 5,000 domestic and family violence matters a week. That is one every two minutes. It means that every day Australian police would deal with 434 domestic violence matters, on average: 264,028 per year, and an increase of 7 per cent from 2015.
The figures point to an increase in victims letting police know about violence, rather than a real-world increase in violence, according to Ms. Mayet Costello, the acting chief executive of ANROWS.
The Australian Government has been working towards providing better data about domestic violence but it is estimated that the process of setting up national data collection and reporting will not be complete until 2022.
So far the data available on police intervention are the following:
|Date range||Number||12-month change|
(C. Blumer, ‘Police handle 5,000 domestic violence matters a week, up 7 per cent’, accessible at www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-22/domestic-violence-data/7342520)
During the last decade of the twentieth century and the first of the present, allegations of child sexual abuse in Australia, particularly by officers of the Roman Catholic Church, but also in a number of other confessional and non-confessional institutions – mainly but not exclusively private schools. Some of the allegations relate to incidents which had occurred during the 1950s, others in more recent times. Some allegations, when prosecuted successfully, led to a number of convictions. But such trials and convictions were few, lengthy and costly. In most cases the perpetrators could rely on ‘protection’ offered by their superiors – many of them in most cases equally guilty. Calls for a Royal Commission had began in the late 1990s.
On 12 November 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that she would be recommending to the Governor-General the setting up of a Royal Commission. On 19 November 2012 federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Acting Minister for Families Brendan O’Connor released a consultation paper seeking input into the Commission’s scope of the terms of reference, how the Commonwealth and the States and Territories would work together, the number of Commissioners and suggested areas of expertise, the proposed timetable and reporting requirements.
Archbishop Hart, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, stated that he welcomed and promised co-operation with a Royal Commission broadly to investigate child sexual abuse in institutions across Australia. George Pell, Cardinal-Archbishop of Sydney, stated that he hoped the Royal Commission will stop a “smear campaign” against the Catholic Church. During a press conference held on 13 November 2012, Cardinal Pell voiced his support for the Royal Commission and welcomed the opportunity to help victims, to clear the air and to separate fact from fiction.
On 11 January 2013 Governor-General Quentin Bryce issued Commonwealth Letters Patent appointing six Commissioners and designating the commission’s terms of reference. The Commissioners were directed “…to inquire into institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse and related matters …”
Each State was also requested to issue Letters Patent, or their equivalent Instruments of Appointment, which allow the six Commissioners to conduct an inquiry into institutional responses to child sexual abuse under their respective laws. The States proceeded. Both the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are officially administered under the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Commonwealth Letters Patent covered their jurisdiction.
Also on 11 January 2013 Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the setting up of the Royal Commission and the appointment of six commissioners with The Honourable Justice Peter McClellan AM, a Supreme Court of New South Wales judge, a former chair of the Sydney Water Inquiry, and a former assistant commissioner at Independent Commission Against Corruption as its head. The other commissioners were to be: Mr. Bob Atkinson AO APM, a former Police Commissioner of Queensland who oversaw police reforms following the Fitzgerald Inquiry; The Honourable Justice Jennifer Coate, an appointee to the Family Court of Australia, a judge of the County Court of Victoria, and a former president of Children’s Court of Victoria; Mr. Robert Fitzgerald AM, a Commissioner on the Productivity Commission, convenor to the Indigenous Disadvantage Working Group, and a former commissioner on the NSW Community and Disability Services; Dr. Helen Milroy, a consultant psychiatrist with the Western Australia Department of Health specialising in child and adolescent psychiatry, and director of the Western Australian Centre for Aboriginal Medical and Dental Health; and Mr. Andrew Murray, a former Senator from Western Australia and advocate on issues surrounding institutionalised children.
The setting up of the Royal Commission was supported by the then Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott and by the Greens, as were the terms of reference and the choice of commissioners.
Hearings were and are still being conducted in every capital city and a number of regional centres across Australia.
The federal government requested an initial report from the Commission not later than 30 June 2014 as well as a recommendation for the date for the final report not later than 31 December 2015. But the work of the Commission required an extension, and on 13 November 2014 Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove amended the Letters Patent extending the date for submission of the final report to “not later than 15 December 2017.”
An interim report was released on 30 June 2014 and included “the personal stories of 150 people who shared their experience of abuse by coming to a private session or providing a written account.” At that time there were still around 3,000 more sessions on a waiting list to be heard. In June 2015 the Royal Commission released a report, prepared by the Parenting Research Centre, which assessed the extent to which 288 recommendations from 67 previous, relevant inquiries have been implemented. Following the conclusion of each public hearing, case study reports were released on findings and recommendations for each of the abovementioned cases.
Still, a male-dominated parliamentary system – at all levels, whether federal or state – is reluctant effectively to recognise the right of women to decide on matters which relate exclusively to their own body; an anti-abortion attitude, solid under all circumstances, is maintained by parliamentarians of the major parties. Simultaneously, a subtle homophobic attitude pervades the view of those parties. Of course, it is not declared, because that may have serious electoral consequences. Both behaviours, anti-abortion and homophobia, are grounded on the ‘traditional values’ of a society which proclaims itself founded on Judeo-Christian principles and, at the same time, wishes to be seen as ‘secular’. That is a maladroit attempt at having things both-ways – and damned the inconsistencies. Only those who know nothing of the essential Philistinism which pervades Australian society would find that glaring example of cognitive dissonance easy to believe in – and respect.
There is educational inequality: education of women is second best in a system which already is not at the internationally competitive top universally respected, and is blocked in the opportunities that real education could open.
A Fascist regime is essentially ‘virile’: domestically it sells beer, abroad it fights wars; its institutions lie – often with impunity as they take advantage of fear, credulity and superstition of the populace.
Media ownership laws in Australia have remained unchanged for over a decade, although debate on the desirability of reform has continued – desultorily and inconclusively. This debate has been fuelled by the impact of new media technologies, a number of inquiries proposing regulatory changes, and the self-interest of those media organisations which report the controversy. Australian Governments have long indicated that the rules are anachronistic, but hardly any meaningful change has been proposed.
The declared purpose of any desired legislation is to encourage diversity in the ownership of the most influential forms of the commercial media: the daily press and free-to-air television and radio. That is the theory, the practice is something else. The intended, major effect of the laws is to prevent the common ownership of newspapers, television and radio broadcasting licences which serve the same region. The justification for the rules is that the effective functioning of a democracy requires a diverse ownership of the daily mass media to ensure that public life be reported in a fair and open manner.
The legal position is complex. Under placitum 51(v) of the Australian Constitution legislative control of broadcasting is contained in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Generic controls relating to commercial activity are covered by the provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974 and the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975, both as amended, and both badly administered. They are supported by the Commonwealth’s powers regarding trade and corporations under sections 51(i) and 51(xx) of the Constitution.
Australia mass media are concentrated into the hands of a very small number of proprietors. For example, 11 of the 12 major newspapers in Australia are owned by former News Limited, once a subsidiary of News Corporation Inc., which was a foreign entity controlled by Rupert Murdoch and his family.
On 28 June 2012 Mr. Rupert Murdoch announced that, after concerns from shareholders in response to its recent phone hacking scandals and “to unlock even greater long-term shareholder value”, News Corporation’s assets would be split into two publicly traded companies, one oriented towards media, and the other towards publishing. The split formally took place on 28 June 2013; where the present News Corp. was renamed 21st Century Fox and consists primarily of media outlets, while a new News Corp was formed to take on the publishing and Australian broadcasting assets.
News Corporation’s major holdings at the time of the split were News Limited – a group of newspaper publishers in Australia, News International – a newspaper publisher in the United Kingdom, the properties of which include The Times, The Sun, and the now-defunct News of the World – the subject of the phone hacking scandal which led to its closure in July 2011, Dow Jones & Company – an American publisher of financial news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, the book publisher HarperCollins, and the Fox Entertainment Group, owners of the 20th Century Fox film studio and the Fox Broadcasting Company – one of the United States’ major television networks.
The New News Corp, trading as News Corp, is an American multinational mass media company, formed as a spin-off of the former News Corporation focusing on newspapers and publishing. The company consists primarily of the former News Corp.’s newspaper and book publishing assets; including: Dow Jones & Company, a New York City-based financial publisher, and owners of the Wall Street Journal; News UK, a British newspaper publisher; New York Post, a daily newspaper in New York City first acquired by Rupert Murdoch in 1976; HarperCollins, a major book publisher; News America Marketing, a distributor of advertising and coupon promotions, and last but not least, News Corp Australia, an Australian newspaper and magazine publisher, which also holds Fox Sports Australia and a stake in pay-TV provider Foxtel and classifieds company REA Group.
News Corp Australia – formerly News Limited – is one of Australia’s largest media companies, employing more than 8,000 staff nationwide and approximately 3,000 journalists. The publicly listed company’s interests span newspaper and magazine publishing, Internet, subscription television, market research, DVD and film distribution, and film and television production trading assets.
News Corp Australia owns approximately 142 daily, Sunday, weekly, bi-weekly and tri-weekly newspapers, of which three are free commuter titles and 102 are suburban publications – including 16 in which News Corp Australia has a 50 per cent interest. News Corp Australia publishes a nationally distributed newspaper in Australia, a metropolitan newspaper in each of the Australian cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth – Sundays only, Hobart and Darwin and groups of suburban newspapers in the suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. The company publishes a further thirty magazine titles across Australia. According to the Finkelstein Review of Media and Media Regulation, in 2011 News Corp Australia – then News Limited – accounted for 23 per cent of the newspaper titles in Australia.
With interests in digital media, the company’s sites include news.com.au, Business Spectator and Eureka Report, Kidspot.com.au, taste.com.au and homelife.com.au. The company has 50 per cent stakes in CareerOne.com.au and carsguide.com.au, a share in REA Group which operates www.realestate.com.au, as well as websites for most newspaper and magazine titles. The company’s other Australian assets include all of Fox Sports Australia, 50 per cent ownership of subscription television provider Foxtel and shares in the Brisbane Broncos NRL team.
Until the formation of News Corporation in 1979, News Limited was the principal holding company for the business interests of Rupert Murdoch and his family. Since then, News Limited had been wholly owned by News Corporation. In 2004 News Corporation announced its intention to reincorporate to the United States. On 3 November News Corp Limited ceased trading on the Australian Stock Exchange; and on 8 November News Corporation began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. On 28 June 2013 News Corporation was split into two separate companies. Murdoch’s newspaper interests became News Corp, which was the new parent company of News Limited. News Limited was renamed News Corp Australia following the listing of the new News Corp on 1 July 2013.
News Corp Australia’s holdings include Queensland Press Ltd., jointly owned by Cruden Investments – Murdoch’s own company – and News Corporation. Other News Corp Australia media interests are A.A.P. Information Services – jointly controlled with Fairfax, a 25 per cent stake in Foxtel – pay TV, and News Interactive – an online service.
It was thought until a few years ago that, in terms of its share of circulation, News Limited had: 68 per cent of the capital city and national newspaper market, 77 per cent of the Sunday newspaper market, 62 per cent of the suburban newspaper market, and 18 per cent of the regional newspaper market.
During the electoral campaign leading to the 2013 election, then briefly Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that “Mr. Murdoch is entitled to his own view… he owns 70 per cent of the newspapers in this country.” This statement is factually incorrect. As already noted, according to the Finkelstein Review of Media and Media Regulation, in 2011 News Corp Australia – then News Limited – accounted for 23 per cent of the newspaper titles in Australia. In a rebuttal of Mr. Rudd’s claim, a person from The Australian observed that News Corp Australia accounts for 33 per cent of the newspaper titles which have sales audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
But Mr. Rudd’s claim had more validity if one would focus on newspaper circulation. Many of the newspapers listed are highly localised and have small circulations.
News Corp Australia titles account for 59 per cent of the sales of all daily newspapers, with sales of 17.3 million papers a week, making it Australia’s most influential newspaper publisher by a considerable margin.
Among capital city and national daily newspapers, which are by far the most influential in setting the news agenda, News Corp Australia’s titles accounted for 65 per cent of circulation in 2011. Fairfax Media, the next biggest publisher, controlled just 25 per cent. Those figures may have shifted slightly since then, but there is no doubt that News Corp Australia is Australia’s most dominant player – it owns 14 of the 21 metropolitan daily and Sunday newspapers.
An International Media Concentration Research Project, led by Professor Eli Noam of Columbia University, found that Australian newspaper circulation was the most concentrated of 26 countries surveyed, and among the most concentrated in the democratic world.
Two newspaper owners – News and Fairfax – accounted for 86 per cent of newspaper sales in Australia in 2011, as compared to 54 per cent for the top two newspaper owners in the United Kingdom and a lowly 14 per cent for the top two in the United States.
Whether that translates into political influence over governments and the electoral process is beyond question. But it is important to note that this concentration of newspaper circulation is present at a time when the overall number of newspaper sales is declining. Newspaper sales per 100 Australians were 9.7 in 2011, as compared to 21.9 in 1987 and 13.0 in 2000.
The major reason for this decline is the migration of news consumption to the Internet, where news.com.au and other News Corp sites face stronger competition from ninemsn, Yahoo!7, Fairfax Media, the A.B.C., and other sites such as The Conversation, Crikey, On Line Opinion and Guardian Australia. The extent to which some of these sites either gather original material, or have the influence of the News mastheads, is certainly debatable, but the online news environment is far more diverse than that for print newspapers.
Most of the other newspapers are controlled by Fairfax Media Limited, which is one of the largest media companies in Australia and New Zealand, with investment in newspaper, magazines, radio and internet. There is a sizeable foreign participation.
Fairfax has a portfolio of leading online products, including the digital news brands SMH.com.au in Australia and Stuff.co.nz in New Zealand. The group also has leading online marketplaces including Domain.com.au for real estate and Drive.com.au for motors.
The Fairfax divisions in Australia cover: Australia Media, which includes national brands The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review and metropolitan titles The Age in Melbourne and The Canberra Times; Life Media and Events, which is a major events business and owner of Australian lifestyle brands including ‘Goodfood’; ‘Executive Style’; ‘Essential Kids’; ‘Essential Baby’ and ‘Traveller’. This also includes Fairfax’s joint venture ‘Drive’, an online motors portal; Domain Group: a digital real estate business containing Domain.com.au, online property portal, APM Pricefinder, a property data business and MyDesktop, a SaaS platform for the real estate sector; Digital Ventures which encompasses digital publisher Allure Media, and partnerships with Huffington Post for HuffPost Australia and Nine Entertainment Co. for Stan, the video streaming service.
In 2012 mining billionaire Gina Rinehart – the wealthiest person in Australia, became Fairfax’s biggest shareholder, purchasing a 14 per cent stake in the company. Rinehart also sought a position on the Fairfax board. By June 2012 Rinehart had increased her stake in Fairfax Media to 18.67 per cent, and was believed to be seeking three board seats and involvement in editorial decisions. There were reports that Rinehart sought to increase her total share to 19.99 per cent, the maximum allowed before a takeover offer must be made. But provisions in Fairfax Media’s insurance policy denied cover for directors owning more than 15 per cent, so Rinehart had to sell down to 14.99 per cent. Rinehart was denied a place on the board because she would not agree to Fairfax’s charter of independence, and sold her stake in 2015.
On 18 June 2012, as part of evolving to a sustainable model for its news media business, Fairfax Media announced it would cut 1,900 staff and begin to erect digital pay-walls around its two main metropolitan news brands, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. It also announced it was shifting to ‘compact’ or tabloid-sized editions of the broadsheet newspapers from March 2013, and that its two printing facilities at Chullora and Tullamarine would close. The changes, prompted by shrinking advertising revenue, were expected to generate AU$ 235 million in annual savings over three years.
In 2012 Fairfax Media acquired Netus Pty Ltd, a technology investment company which owned 85 per cent of Allure Media, and purchased the remaining 15 per cent from minority shareholders. Allure Media own a range of websites, including the Australian licenses for Business Insider, Lifehacker, Gizmodo, and Kotaku.
In 2014 Fairfax entered into a joint venture partnership with Nine Entertainment Co, called Stream Co, the creators behind Australia’s newest subscription video on demand service, ‘Stan.com.au’.
In December 2014 Fairfax merged with Macquarie Radio Network. Under the deal, Fairfax gained a 55 per cent share in Macquarie. A party may hold only two radio licences in each market, so some stations including 2CH and the Macquarie Regional Radio network were sold. In turn, 96FM Perth was sold to Australian Radio Network. The merger was completed in March 2015.
In 2015 Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post Media Group launched HuffPost.com.au, an Australian edition of The Huffington Post. HuffPost Australia is The Huffington Post’s 15th site in the brand’s expanding global presence.
In December 2015 automotive digital business 112 and Fairfax’s ‘Drive.com.au’ announced the formation of a 50:50 joint venture in the online motor sector. Fairfax will license the Drive brand and ‘Drive.com.au’ URL to 112, which currently owns and operates ‘themotorreport.com.au’, a unique independent online car-buyer resource.
During the past five years the life of Fairfax Media has been rather rocky.
In March 2016 many staff from its newspaper divisions went on a 4 day strike over planned job cuts of 120 editorial staff from The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. All printed and digital editions continued during the action but The Age web site was down on 25th and 26th March adding to a 2 week outage earlier in March.
Circulation has considerably reduced during the past five years. In 2011 Fairfax newspapers had the following circulation shares: 21 per cent of the capital city and national newspaper market, 22 per cent of the Sunday newspaper market, 17 per cent of the suburban newspaper market, and 16 per cent of the regional newspaper market. Other Fairfax interests are A.A.P. Information Services – jointly controlled with News Corp Australia., and the Fairfax Interactive Network – an online service.
Much of the everyday main stream news is drawn from the Australian Associated Press. Rural and regional media are dominated by Rural Press Ltd. which is held by Fairfax Media. Daily Mail and General Trust operates the D.M.G. Radio Australia commercial radio networks in metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. The company currently own more than 60 radio stations across New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.
In practical terms, Murdoch – who incidentally is an American citizen – controls the Australian media: News Corp dominates regional and suburban newspaper publishing industry. In addition News Corp controls Fox News – popularly known as Faux News.
The Australian people have fewer different voices upon which to make their decisions than almost any other people in the so-called free world. Murdoch does not mind and, with indifference worthy of a sultan, is quite happy that some Australians feel like living in a Murdochracy. There is, however, a suffocating supply of sport services. And ‘that’ matters: some bread and many circuses.
For years some journalists have complained about Murdoch’s autocratic and unprincipled style of demanding that his newspapers publish distorted accounts of the news to suit him. True or not that that may be, particularly in that it is hard to provide proof of the assertion, it is not hard to conclude that, in the presence of a proprietor who controls seventy per cent of the press, democracy is bound to suffer. Even if positive proof were readily available, there is no court before which such evidence can be adduced or which could decide on the issue. The Australian people are not interested.
The media and the ‘entertainment’ industry important tasks are the coercion and indoctrination of the population from early childhood. Most successive governments of both available hues are timorous of doing anything to guarantee freedom of the press and information for fear of losing Murdoch’s support come election time. If all else fails, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats are put to work.
Some constraint to such power might have been tried by introducing regulations which forbid holding more than two media outlets – whether print, radio or television – in a single area. The latest timorous experiment was tried in 2007; it failed and nothing has been done since.
The Howard Government ‘discovered’ in the Internet a new source of diversity, and a pretext for doing nothing. The reasoning is fallacious, and demonstrably so: Internet may be an alternative source of information, but is not accessible to everyone and cannot be regarded as a competitive force against the oligopolistic power of corporations such as News Corp.
Almost by way of definition, concentration of the power of information in a few hands is the antinomy of democracy.
The profession of journalism has been so discredited by owners such as Murdoch in Australia, or Berlusconi in Italy, and other mono/oligopolists elsewhere, that work at a newspaper now is – by and large – no more than an ultimate exercise in public relations. Very often the printed press reports nothing more than what is concocted by public relations corporations.
Some Australian political representatives may occasionally complain about the tyranny of the 24 hour news-cycle, but most of them have adjusted to the ‘new reality’ and almost all of them have made it a dutiful part of their anointment to go in pilgrimage to New York and dine or sup with Murdoch. Rudd did it, and Gillard followed the ritual in March 2011. Abbott is ‘family’. Upon their return they settle down at the place designed by ‘The System’, and the ‘spin’ begins in earnest.
Objectivity does not exist in corporate media, and ‘free speech’ is free if the ruling élite likes it. While the rhetoric of ‘free media’ is prevalent in most ‘western’ countries, a culture of censorship – if not self-censorship – is widespread even by the most ‘independent’ and ‘alternative’ media outlets.
Good journalism, a very honourable profession in different times, is very demanding. It calls for dedication, wide and continuing education, effort, time and money. Except for money, holding the other elements is not necessary and could provide an unemployment card for many aspiring journalists. The last thing a Fascist regime would want is the type of journalism which has the dignity of an old profession, cares about the facts, is capable of distinguish them from propaganda, and talks the truth to power.
According to Reporters Without Borders, in 2016 Australia was in twenty-fifth position – down from nineteenth in 2010 – on a list of countries ranked by Press Freedom, well behind the first six: Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Costa Rica, quite behind Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Jamaica, Austria, Slovakia, Belgium, Estonia, Luxembourg, Germany, Namibia, Canada, Iceland, Uruguay, Czech Republic, Surinam, Portugal and Latvia – and thirteen steps above the United Kingdom, and sixteen above the United States. The ranking is somewhat affected by the limited diversity in media ownership. The problem has even created a show in itself – Media Watch on the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which is one of two government administered commercial channels, the other being Special Broadcasting Service. (2016 World Press Freedom Index – leaders paranoid about …, accessible at https://rsf.org/en/news/2016-world-press-freedom-index-leaders)
Most of the movement in the World Press Freedom Index unveiled by Reporters Without Borders is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.
The 2016 World Press Freedom Index reflects the intensity of the attacks on journalistic freedom and independence by governments, ideologies and private-sector interests during the previous year.
Published annually by Reporters Without Borders since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states. Because it is now so well known, its influence over the media, governments and international organisations is growing. The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom which measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a questionnaire in 20 languages which is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.
The Index is not an indicator of the quality of the journalism in each country, nor does it rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking.
Seen as a benchmark throughout the world, the Index ranks 180 countries according to the freedom enjoyed by journalists. It also includes indicators of the level of media freedom violations in each region. These show that Europe – with 19.8 points, still has the freest media, followed distantly by Africa – 36.9 points, which for the first time overtook the Americas – 37.1 points, a region where violence against journalists is on the rise. Asia – 43.8 points and Eastern Europe/Central Asia – 48.4 points follow, while North Africa/Middle East – 50.8 is still the region where journalists are most subjected to constraints of every kind.
Three north European countries head the rankings. They are Finland – ranked 1st, the position it has held since 2010, Netherlands – 2nd, up 2 places, and Norway – 3rd, down 1 place. The countries which rose most in the Index include Tunisia – 96th, up 30, thanks to a decline in violence and legal proceedings, and Ukraine – 107th, up 22, where the conflict in the east of the country abated.
The countries which fell farthest include Poland – 47th, down 29, where the ultra-conservative government seized control of the public media, and – much farther down – Tajikistan, which plunged 34 places to 150th as a result of the regime’s growing authoritarianism. The Sultanate of Brunei – 155th, down 34, suffered a similar fall because gradual introduction of the Sharia and threats of blasphemy charges have fuelled self-censorship. Burundi – 156th, down 11, fell because of the violence against journalists resulting from President Pierre Nkurunziza’s contested re-election for a third term. The same “infernal trio” are in the last three positions: Turkmenistan – 178th, North Korea – 179th and Eritrea – 180th.“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately-owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests.
Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.”
The latest Report noted, under the heading: Refugees off limits, that Australia has good public media but print media ownership is heavily concentrated. Two media groups – News Corporation (owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch) and Fairfax Media – are responsible for 85 per cent of newspaper sales. Overall, the media enjoy a great deal of freedom although protection of journalists’ sources varies from state to state. Coverage of Australia’s refugee detention centres on Manus Island – off Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Ocean island of Nauru is nonetheless restricted. New laws in 2014 and 2015 provide for prison sentences for whistleblowers who disclose information about conditions in the refugee centres or operations by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
Here are the data of press freedom ranking in 2016
|Global score||Diff. score 2015||Diff. Position 2015|
|Ranking||Country||Abuse score||Underlying situation score||Global score||Diff. score 2015||Diff. Position 2015|
National security, a concept which travels together with that of terrorism – and anti-terrorism, is as old as history, is not subject to definition, but has almost always been used by those in power. It has become a matter of expanding interest and mushrooming legislation which are directly proportional to the decrease of basic resources.
It is now placed well beyond doubt that the assault on the Greater Middle East has been motivated by an increasing search for oil. A planned 1,800 kilometre pipeline from Turkmenistan to a seaport to be built on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast had been on the drawing board years before the outrage of 11 September 2001. That outrage was simply the pretext for armed intervention. Australia followed the leader without questioning, as it becomes a vassal state. Needless to say there have been serious ‘blowback’ consequences – broadly speaking a further reduction of the already limited civil liberties in Australia.
That does not seem to be a matter of great concern to the even better than average Australian, who is told – and would mindlessly repeat – that there are sufficient guarantees in the common law, and if one has ‘done nothing wrong, one should have nothing to worry’. This poses a serious contest between knowledge and ignorance, in which who and what ‘wins’ does not really matter, because a power élite – and not necessarily represented by governments – has concluded that it is so: there is ‘the law’ to protect civil liberties, and there is a multitude of defences in the numerous anti-terrorism laws enacted since 2001, and supplementing the already draconian provisions of laws such as the Crimes Act 1914.
Federal legislation relating to terrorism as at 11 September 2001 was already available in 32 acts of Parliament. In addition there are in the criminal law of Australia provisions relating to the crime of sedition. Effectively dormant for nearly half a century, these provisions were returned to public notice in 2005.
New provisions were added. They are, principally:
– short term detention for named individuals: without evidence, and without criminal involvement. The detainee may be interrogated by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – A.S.I.O. Disclosing that an individual has been so detained or interrogated is, in almost all circumstances, a crime.
– control orders, potential for almost unlimited restrictions on named individuals: freedom of movement; freedom of association – including one’s lawyer; banning the performing of named actions and owning named items – including actions and things necessary to earn a living; unlimited requirements to be, or not to be, at specified places at any or all times of the day and week; wearing a tracking device; and including encouragement to submit to ‘re-education’. These restrictions may be inflicted for a period of one year before review.
– significant restrictions on the right of any person to express certain opinions: including criticism, or ‘urging disaffection’, of the sovereign, the constitution, the government, the law, or ‘different groups’. Exemptions may exist where the target of criticism is agreed to be ‘in error’. Exemptions appear to exist where the claim is that a feature of a group of people is in some way offensive to the mainstream of society; onus of proof of goodwill is on the defendant – there is no presumption of innocence.
It becomes a crime, punishable by life imprisonment, recklessly to provide funds to a potential terrorist. Funds include money and equivalents and also assets. It is not necessary that the culprit know the receiver to be a terrorist, only that s/he is reckless about the possibility. It is not even necessary that the receiver be a terrorist, only that the first person be reckless about the possibility that s/he might be.
Police can request information from any source about any named person: any information about the person’s residence, telephone calls, travel, financial transactions amongst other information. Professional privilege does not apply. It may be an offence to disclose that relative documents have been obtained.
A legislative provision for ‘hoax offences’ will create a more serious charge for people who cause chaos for the public and emergency services by dreaming up devastating terrorist-inspired hoaxes.
New anti-terror legislation was introduced in three stages:
In July 2014 the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 was introduced and it was passed by Parliament on 25 September 2014. It became the National Security Legislation Amendment Act, No. 108, 2014 and entered into force on 2 October 2014, an Act to amend the law relating to national security and intelligence services, and for related purposes.
Legislation submitted by Attorney-General George Brandis on 16 July 2014 would have made the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation untouchable. Among the many measures designed to protect it is total ban on disclosing information about “special intelligence operations” on penalty of imprisonment.
The national interest is invoked more and more at the expense of the public interest. The bill submitted by Attorney-General Brandis was the omen of a serious blow to freedom of information and stood in contradiction to international treaties that Australia has signed.
The draft, entitled “National Security Legislation Amendment Bill”, provided for a new offence, liable to five years’ imprisonment, for anyone who discloses information without authorisation about “special intelligence operations”. The sentence could be increased to ten years if the information “endangers the health or safety of any person or prejudices the effective conduct of a special intelligence operation.”
Human rights violations can thus easily be covered up by the A.S.I.O., especially since the classification of an operation as “special intelligence” would require only the consent of the security director-general or his deputy.
The bill was also intended to strengthen the surveillance powers of the agency.
“This bill is dangerously imprecise and does not take account of the public interest in any shape or form, and as such it is a threat to freedom of information and a violation of international standards.” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-pacific desk. “Whistleblowers should not be subject to threats of this kind when they are carrying out the important task of disseminating news and information on behalf of their fellow citizens. We call on the attorney-general to scrap this bill, which is far too restrictive to be amended appropriately.”
Clause 35P, entitled “Unauthorised disclosure of Information” was aimed any “person [who] commits an offence if (a) the person discloses information; and (b) the information relates to a special intelligence operation. Penalty: Imprisonment for five years.”
Art.19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Australia is a signatory, allows national security as legitimate grounds for restricting freedom of information but on the other hand General Comment 34 by the U.N. Human Rights Committee on Art. 19 says these restrictions must be closely regulated, exceptional, specific and justified.
The law would make the link between national security and special intelligence operations a matter of routine. It remains up to the government to demonstrate to the courts on each occasion that such operations are essential from a security standpoint and the dissemination of information about them could affect national security.
The purpose of the Act appears to be to avoid the emergence of an Australian Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who published transcripts of wiretaps by the National Security Agency. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation published some of the documents leaked by Snowden showing that the Australian intelligence service had tapped the phones on Indonesian leaders including that of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Their publication caused a diplomatic row between the two countries and strong criticism by the government of the whistleblower and the news organisations which published the information.
Prime Minister Abbott was highly critical of A.B.C. “The station – noted Reporters Without Borders – is a frequent target of abuse by the prime minister. In January  [Abbott] took issue with an A.B.C. report that a group of asylum seekers had been abused by the Australian Navy, saying: “News that endangers the security of our country frankly shouldn’t be fit to print.” (‘Whistleblowers could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment in …’, 22 July 2014, accessible at en.rsf.org/australia-whistleblowers-could-face-up-to-10-22-07-2014.)
In September 2014 the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill was introduced; it was passed on 29 October 2014. and assented to on 3 November 2014. As part of this Act the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 was repealed.
In October 2014 the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 was introduced to amend the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979, and then referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The Senate passed the bill as the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 on 26 March 2015. Assent was received on 13 April 2015.
The Abbott Government invented a ‘national security crisis’ in order to allow draconian spying legislation through parliament. One should worry on how a large proportion of Australians has rolled over and accepted this particular demonising of yet another ‘some groups’ of ‘strangers in their midst’.
The reality is that such legislation is aimed squarely at everybody. It became inevitable that, fairly soon, anybody who opposes such legislation publicly would be branded as un-Australian – not a member of Team Australia. It would pay Australians all well to re-read Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, because the warnings contained therein apply acutely to the Australia of today. Brandis is not an enlightened man. (‘Australian Fascism: we are not there yet – but the signs are becoming increasingly obvious’, 7 October 2014, an article on Fascism Australia via Facebook)
In the wake of the 2 October 2015 shooting death of a civilian police employee, the New South Wales government requested legal changes to allow control orders on people aged 14 and over. Attorney-General George Brandis agreed to the changes. The N.S.W. Council for Civil Liberties criticised the proposal, the Council’s president Stephen Blanks strongly objecting that: “The proposed laws are undoubtedly going to be in breach of human rights standards.”
In November 2015 it was disclosed that New South Wales police were being retrained to “… shoot terrorists on sight rather than try to contain them and negotiate. …”
As at 24 March 2016 there were twenty organisations designated and banned, by a court or a government department, for active involvement in terrorism. All but one of those organisations are Islamic. Identification of terrorist organisations may result from a prosecution for a terrorist offence, or from a listing determined by the Attorney-General of Australia.
Australia as a country has no direct interest in Central Asia Gas Pipeline, Ltd., CentGas or its successors. Prime Minister Gillard confirmed as early as March 2011 that Australia’s ‘mission’ in Afghanistan would have been that of training the troops which will guard the pipeline as it passes through in the province of Uruzgan. The training was then to be completed in one-two years. The ‘mission’ was likely to continue indefinitely, its purpose to be redefined as necessary. No one seems to have thought that such training is designed to have cousins kill cousins, as soon as the ‘liberators’ will have departed, if ever – and the futility of it all.
Australia has suffered several acts of terrorism, mainly overseas, the siege of a coffee shop in Sydney on 15-16 December 2014 having been more a hostage crisis caused by a publicity-seeking mad man. The connection between al-Qaeda and such overseas acts has never been established with certainty. As a result, some egregious outrages have been committed in the name of ‘national security’ and in the pursuit of anti-terrorism legislation.
Any government would be embarrassed just on hearing the name of Dr. Haneef – but not the Australian.
Dr. Muhamed Haneef was a thirty-two year old Indian doctor who was wrongly accused of aiding terrorists, and left Australia upon cancellation of his visa amid great political controversy. Haneef was arrested early in July 2007 at Brisbane Airport on suspicion of terror-related activities. He is the second cousin once removed of Kafeel Ahmed and Sabeel Ahmed, the operatives in the 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack. Haneef’s ensuing detention became the longest-without-charge in recent Australian history, and caused great controversy in Australia and India. Public outcry over the incident was further increased when the Australian Government denied Haneef the presumption of innocence. In December 2010, Haneef returned to Australia to seek damages for loss of income, interruption of his professional work, and emotional distress. He was awarded compensation from the Australian government. The amount of compensation awarded was not disclosed, but was described by reliable sources as “substantial”. At the end of December 2010 the Gillard Government issued a ‘quiet apology’. The Abbott led Liberal-National Opposition, responsible for that gross violation of civil liberties while in government, displayed an aggressive refusal to apologise.
There have been other cases, not as glamorous, of victimisation of persons in Australia – and not all so visibly foreign.
Around lofty proclaimed intentions on ‘national security’ there has developed a veritable industry. In February 2013 IIR’s National Security Australia Conference convened in Melbourne for its Eleventh Anniversary. This is how the event was advertised: “Now in its 11th year National Security Australia is the nation’s leading National Security Forum. It provides a highly dynamic opportunity to market your products and services in front of the most senior Australian and international security experts. This year, the event boasts a larger exhibition area and the commercial opportunity available for organisations is exceptional. Your presence is a critical move toward positioning yourself as a key player in the industry.” The Conference was organised by IIR Conferences, which offers high quality business information for the Australian and New Zealand market. The Thirteenth National Security Annual Summit – new name, Conference not being sufficient ! – was held on 11-12 May this year. The designated theme was: Safeguarding Australia 2016: Protecting The Homefront. And the keynote speaker was The Hon. Peter Dutton MP. Mr. Dutton was appointed by Prime Minister Abbott as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection in December 2014, having served as Minister for Health and Minister for Sport from September 2013 after the election of the Coalition Government. In Opposition he served as Shadow Minister for Finance, Competition Policy and Deregulation before being appointed as Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing in 2008. Incompetence all around of a man without knowledge, morals or shame !
Business operators, academics, government representatives, police representatives, and anyone properly ‘screened’ by IIR were able to attend. Presumably, persons regarded as un-patriotic, un-Australian – even treasonous – would not be accepted.
Surveillance, interception of communications – in all forms, ‘profiling’ – particularly of foreign and ‘Muslims’ – even those who are in fact Australian, are the tools to establish ‘loyalty’.
As Hassan noted: “In the current case of WikiLeaks, a number of U.S. Congressmen and journalists have called for the prosecution of Julian Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act for breaching U.S. security. This is not something out of the blue, but has been used in the past to prosecute American citizens. It is reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s prosecution of people – labelled ‘traitors’ – who criticised the Nazi Party or made jokes about the Führer.” Is that the behaviour of a Great-And-Powerful-Friend ? The Australian Government said not a helpful word.
According to civil rights groups and privacy advocates, the growing ‘culture of surveillance’ poses great threat to civil liberties and personal freedom. The aim is to have total control of society by whatever means, and to force people to submit to draconian laws. Furthermore, the obsession with ‘national security’ is also a corporate business which benefits the manufacturers of surveillance cameras, scanners, et cetera, and their lobbyists. ‘National security’ is simply a pretext for no personal security.
On 9 September 2015 Mr. Andrew Damien Wilkie, the Independent Member of the House of Representatives from Denison, Tasmania delivered a 15-minute speech; he warned Parliament that Australia, because of legislation passed – albeit not exclusively – under the Abbott Government, is becoming a police state.
Now, Mr. Wilkie is no ill-informed, timorous character. He holds a Bachelor of Arts, a Graduate Diploma of Management and a Graduate Diploma of Defence Studies. When it comes to national security is knows what he is talking about.
Before being elected, he was in the Army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and an intelligence analyst. In 2003 Wilkie resigned from his position in the Office of National Assessments, over concerns that intelligence was being exaggerated for political purposes in making the case for Australia’s contribution to the 2003 invasion of Iraq under the Howard government. He was the only serving intelligence officer in Australia, the U.K. and U.S. to resign publicly before the invasion. He subsequently wrote a successful account of his experience, Axis of deceit (Melbourne 2004).
He was originally elected in 2010, and re-elected with ampler margin in 2013.
Before an almost empty House, the Member for Denison cited the following ten characteristics which – he believes – determine a pre police state:
- Surveillance of all electronic devices including phone calls SMS Email, SM and metadata would be stored and accessed without warrant from October .
- Media manipulation [of the] A.B.C. and S.B.S. cuts, bullying techniques used by ministers against media.
- Manipulation of the judiciary; example: a Royal Commissioner agrees to go to a party political event.
- Ludicrous level of secrecy especially in regard to irregular immigration or asylum seekers and ‘on water operations’.
- Arrests on suspicion of thinking you may do something in the future.
- People in [Australia] can be incarcerated indefinitely without trial.
- Disregard to international agreements and international laws that Australian Governments including ignoring their own statutes have signed off on – e.g. The Rights of the Child and The Refugee Convention.
- Parliament are forbidden to debate upon important decisions such as the government secretly deciding to declare war on Syria. No debate, no vote by [Australian] representatives.
- Government safeguard mechanisms bullied and disregarded if they get in the governments way – e.g. the mistreatment on the Human Rights Commission [President] recently.
- Security agencies acting beyond their legal power. Border Patrol going beyond legal powers, [yet] no-one lost her/his jobs, no-one was held to account.
(‘Andrew Wilkie warns Parliament that Australia is becoming a police state’, 9 September 2015, accessible at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR2qu1p-xqg)
Unfortunately, Mr. Wilkie has remained vox clamantis in deserto, and the desert, the moral desert is the Parliament, bound by ‘the Westminster System’ as applied in Australia.
Most Australians would regard themselves as tolerant; they would also claim to be eclectic, if they knew what it means. That would sit well with people who see themselves as both secular and living in a ‘Christian country’. This leads, among the general indifference, to the assertion of certain ‘values’ which are shared by government and prevailing religious organisations in order to manipulate public opinion. If a prime minister declares her/himself atheist, the government is likely to meet strong disapproval at an election. The result is loss of votes, and seats in Parliament. That connection is not subject to proof, but there are indicia: Queensland at the 2010 federal election. Therein is the rub.
Tolerance is often mistaken for indifference to what ‘the other’ thinks, feels, says – so long as that happen quietly, privately, and in the general expectation of social irrelevance.
From this point of view, it is difficult to sustain that Australia is Fascist. Fascism was born from anarchoid groups, runaway maximalist socialists, adventurers and broadly speaking people who were opposed to religion – meaning by that the Catholic Church. Soon, however, Fascism found support in the large landowners and latifundists, in the chieftains of industry, the banksters, and in part of the city bourgeoisie. In a short time it transmuted into a ‘respectable’ party which became conscious of the values of property, order and the sanctifying support of the Catholic Church. Within three years most fascists had turned monarchist, and their economic views had shifted towards Corporativism. Much of that, and large concessions allowing interference by the Catholic Church into the affairs of the Italian State, setting up civic discriminations amongst Italians, as well as large payments of money and assumption of financial obligations to the Church, led to the Concordat of 1929. The Duce of Fascism and the Pope of Rome recognised each other’s authoritarian regime.
No such formality has ever been sought in Australia, not even by the Anglicans and the other Protestants who, together, are a majority. Many things are assumed in Australia: after all the head of state is a Battenberg of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha lineage and recently camouflaged as a Windsor, Anglican by definition; Christian denominational schools are financially rewarded on the irrational ‘justification’ that they relieve a burden which otherwise would fall on the States – which have responsibility for ‘education’ – and that subtle piece of blackmail works persuasively to the point that Australians prefer to send their children to denominational, better still, non-government schools. Many ‘aspirational’ families scrap money together to send their children to these schools so that they may make friends with ‘nice people’, who might be useful to them in later life. Many such schools give no better an education than could be had elsewhere, but they do much to accentuate class division – in a so-called ‘classless’ society – and to produce snobs: some of such privileged pupils go around with ‘boaters’, an English headgear popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and in fancy uniforms.
Catholic schools have always taken ‘religious education’ – and there is an oxymoron ! – seriously. Protestant ones often try to emulate, but in practice their boys and girls learn to set more store by ‘good form’ and ‘right thinking’ than by the values of what is assumed to be a ‘Christian country’. Most parents are happy enough in the knowledge that progress in all fields did not involve any falling away from what they regard as Australia’s ‘natural pre-eminence’ in tennis, swimming and other sports. The ‘new’ and ‘newest’ Australians have added to that soccer – and the consumption of good food, which has mostly replaced the time-honoured steak-and-eggs.
For a long time pupils were taught to look to England as their true homeland; now they confusedly look – when they so do – at the home of the ‘free market’, wherever that may be. Of course, it is estimated that the cost of such discrimination is well worth, in that private schools are seen as ‘one slice above the rest’, and secretly regarded by every ‘aspirational’ parent as a step for ‘better connections’ in the future of a child. Society responds to these expectations – literally from the cradle to the grave.
The States renounce to the vaunted secularism, allow religious indoctrination in their schools, later in civic organisations and finally in the Armed Forces. The clergy, overwhelmingly Christian, enter into the life of the pupils distorting their education with notions of gods and creation. About a third of State schools have a chaplain. Chaplaincy services are provided by non denominational companies. As of August 2013[update] there were 2,339 chaplains – 98 per cent Christian – working in Australian secular schools, along with 512 student welfare workers. In August 2010 the ‘Labor’ Government announced that an additional $ 222 million would extend the ‘chaplaincy’ scheme until December 2014, and fund chaplains for 1,000 more schools. There was more money in the 2011 and 2012 budgets.
Australian schools will lose the option of appointing secular social workers under the national school chaplaincy programme, for which the Abbott Government had found an extra $ 245 million in the 2014 budget funding. A case against that prevarication was heard by the High Court of Australia on 10, 11 and 12 May 2011 and on 20 June 2012 the Court ruled that the national school chaplaincy programme is constitutionally invalid to the extent that it exceeds the Commonwealth’s funding powers. But successive Attorneys-General have told reporters in Canberra that the government would continue funding the programme, despite the landmark ruling.
As for equality, there are uniforms. “They are a good thing” Prime Minister Gillard said during a press conference in July 2010. And she went on: “I believe having a school uniform gives people a sense of self, a sense of discipline, a sense of how to present yourself to the world. I also think it undercuts some of those unhealthy things that can happen at schools when there’s a competition for the latest, most fashionable items.”
Official religion accompanies an Australian from the cradle, through the scholastic system, into the Armed Forces and by social convention into the professions, and down to the return of the body of a soldier from the war front. The coffin invariably carries a symbol of religion, which is assumed was in the wish of the soldier and whether s/he in fact liked it or not. Political representatives set aside their profession of faith, attend ceremonies, display a visage of circumstantial solemnity, and whether believers, atheist, agnostic or indifferent reaffirm their gratitude for the Church’s support.
The symbiosis guarantees power to the parties against the people. The majority of the people do not know, have no time for distinctions, and/or are not interested in establishing the real cost of such alliance between Church and State.
Collusion between business and government is as old as Australia.
In 1789, one year after the establishment of the penal colony, a regiment was formed in England and called the New South Wales Corps. The remote destination and the function of policing convicts attracted part-time officers, troops of ill repute and adventurers. The regiment began to arrive in 1790 and completed the military rule of the place. The distribution of ‘other people’s’ land began amongst officers of the Corps. Produce was sold to the government store. There being no local currency, rum was substituted as the medium of trade. The officers in charge arranged the first monopoly and earned for the Corps the moniker ‘The Rum Corps’. The related social consequences continued until the arrival of Governor Macquarie. It was under his regime that the first hospital was erected by a public-private partnership which was funded on the rum trade monopoly. That trade began to decline twenty years later.
Corruption in public life continued. The ‘free-market’ illusion arrived almost two hundred years later, while governments remained actively ‘pro-business’.
An aspiring politician would court suicide by declaring that s/he favours regulation of business in the interest of the community. That would quickly be branded as ‘socialism’. On the contrary a clear statement of being ‘pro-business’ could increase the chance of success. Business operators would appreciate that, though they often appear to be torn between a desire to be left alone – and thus avoid any oversight – and the expectation that, as ‘producers’, they should receive special favours. These come in all shapes, as even recent events concerned with the euphemistically-called Global Financial Crisis demonstrated: subsidised loans – which often benefit small business, direct subsidies for all kinds of corporate exercises, resource privileges, monopolies when necessary, ad hoc legislation and trade protection, and when all other things fail: bailouts – especially for banks, insurance corporations, and car manufactures until recently.
While there may be an appearance of division between two sides of Parliament under the Westminster System, that ‘system’ should realistically be regarded as a bird trying to fly with two right wings. In Australia they are called the Labor Party and the Coalition – made up of the so-called urban ‘Liberals’ and the Agrarian Socialists.
Early in the life of the recently longest period of Labor-in-office, it had become a truism to observe that the Hawke/Keating Government of 1983-96 was ‘managing’ the country in the interests of big business far more effectively – to those business, of course – than those who trumpeted the importance of private enterprise had ever been able to do.
It is those interests which make and break governments, while setting the tone for a corrupt society. Three recent examples will be briefly referred to.
In October 1984, not quite two years after the election of the federal Labor Party government headed by Robert James Lee ‘Bob’ Hawke and the Western Australian state Labor government headed by Brian Burke, the two leaders hosted a lunch for a newly formed fundraiser. Both being essentially from Western Australia, they called the new organisation the John Curtin Foundation, in memory of a third, and this an honest politician from The West and second world war prime minister. The effort was aimed at replenishing Labor’s election war-chests.
Operating through the Western Australia Development Corporation, the founders gathered around themselves some of the wealthiest and most ‘daring’ business operators – many of them already covered with international reputation: Alan Bond, for instance. They represented all fields of activity, from building to high industry to banking to pastoral to horseracing.
Four years later a Royal Commission was appointed “to inquire into and report” whether there had been “corruption, illegal conduct, improper conduct, or bribery” on the part of any person or corporation in the “affairs, investment decisions and business dealings of the Government of Western Australia or its agencies.”
At the cost of $ 30 million, and in a huge seven part Report, the Commission found conduct and practices on the part of certain persons involved in government in the period 1983 to 1989 “such as to place our government system at risk.” … “Some ministers [had] elevated personal or party advantage over their constitutional obligation to act in the public interest.” … “Personal associations and the manner in which electoral contributions were obtained could only create the public perception that favour could be bought, that favour would be done. We have observed that the size of the donations was quite extraordinary. In his approaches the premier was direct to the point at times of being forceful. He nominated the amounts he expected. They were far in excess of amounts previously donated in campaign fund-raising in this state.”
Several of the protagonists, eventually, ended up in gaol – including former Premier Burke, although not on grounds directly related to W.A. Inc.
In 1983 the recently elected Prime Minister Bob Hawke had flown across the continent to Perth on time to congratulate the winners of the America’s Cup at daybreak. It had been arranged with ‘other people’s money’ by Alan Bond, who had been inflated by the media almost to folk hero status for it. In 1987, as Russel Ward put it, Bond’s name was “emblazoned on a huge ovoid captive balloon floating in the polluted air above some Australian cities. Five years later he was made bankrupt and began serving a two-and-a-half-year gaol sentence for fraud.” (R. Ward, Concise history of Australia (Brisbane 1992) 351)
Another example of collusion relates to the Australian Wheat Board. Incorporated in the late 1930s, ‘to regulate the wheat market’ – in truth to establish a government-monopoly on the sale of wheat through a ‘single desk’, it was intended to remedy the excesses of the Great Depression. In July 1999 it was restructured into a private company.
In 2004, after the invasion of Iraq, evidence was circulated that during the conflict the A.W.B. had continued to supply wheat for oil and obtained favour against other competitors with the Saddam Hussein regime by paying large sums of money as ‘transport fee’ – about AU$ 300 million – to a transport company in Jordan, that money being covertly transferred to the personal control of Saddam Hussein. In simple words, it was a bribe in violation of the agreements of the Oil-for-Food programme established fourteen years earlier and ending the year before. The kickbacks also breached the O.E.C.D. Anti-Bribery Convention.
The United Nations investigated the matter. A U.N. 2005 Report confirmed that “little doubt remains that AWB made large numbers of payments to Alia [the fake transport company], and these payments in turn were channelled to the Iraqi regime.”
In response to the U.N. Report, the Australian Government appointed a Royal Commission. The Commission concluded that from mid-1999 A.W.B. had knowingly entered into an arrangement which involved paying kickbacks to the Iraqi Government, in order to retain its business. It cleared Government bureaucrats and ministers from wrongdoing, and recommended criminal prosecutions be begun against former A.W.B. executives. It came to that conclusion after have having heard the Minister for Trade, Mr. Mark Anthony James Vaile AO, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Alexander John Gosse Downer, AC and the Prime Minister, Mr. John Winston Howard, OM, AO all at the time from the ‘conservative’ side of politics, whose departments had issue the necessary paper work. Mountains of cables and papers were produced.
During his first term of office Prime Minister Howard had deliberately ‘enfeebled’ the so-called ‘doctrine of ministerial responsibility’, which is supposed to be central to the Westminster type of responsible government. The new ‘doctrine’ was tortuously expressed as follows: “Where [the ministers] neither knew, nor should have known about matters of departmental administration which come under scrutiny it is not unreasonable to expect that the secretary or some other senior officer will take the responsibility.”
At different times, from many sources, there had been warning of the kickbacks. Application of the Howard’s ‘doctrine of ministerial responsibility’ led to the conclusion that the ministers should be held responsible only if they actually believed the substance of the warnings, should reasonably have believed the substance of the warnings, or should reasonably have investigated the warnings, which in turn would have led to them discovering the veracity of the warnings.
The Labor strategy began in a whirlwind of hyperbole which talked of corruption and government impropriety, and led the media to focus on the existence or otherwise of a ‘smoking gun’, unwittingly making anything less to seem acceptable. Labor Opposition was unable to meet the required standards of proof, and everybody got away scot free. No one from A.W.B. went to gaol. No minister resigned over the scandal. Mr. Vale is currently a non-executive director of a number of public listed corporations: aviation, coal, investments, hotels, superannuation, services and IT, land (listed in Singapore), and education provision in China. Mr. Downer is now His Excellency The Honourable Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and Mr. Howard signed with a prominent speaking agency called the Washington Speakers Bureau, in the illustrious company of Tony Blair, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, and others. He indicated his particular interest in Leadership in the New Century and The Global Economic Future.
There is a third example of the failure of ‘parliamentary democracy’ in the Australian system.
In June 2010 Prime Minister Rudd, who had been commissioned on 3 December 2007, was ousted, through a series of backroom manoeuvres by a cabal of apparatchiks and trade union functionaries of his own party, the Labor Party. Discontent had been brooding within and outside the government for some time, at least from the beginning of 2009. During that year the government had faced the so-called Global Financial Crisis by providing a stimulus to the economy at the tune of AU$ 42 billion. The government would since take credit for ‘saving’ the country from the crisis. In reality if there was a saviour for Australia it was China, which continued to buy – certainly not the United States, where the fraudsters had caused the crisis. Incidentally, in eight years since the G.F.C., which – it is guesstimated – might have cost the world US$ 40 trillion, no Wall Street executives have been gaoled.
Essentially, in Australia, too, the government had acted to support the financial and corporate élite. Not all government initiatives connected with the stimulus were a success. A proposed Emission Trading Scheme had been moribund since December 2009, but had collapsed after the failure of the U.N. Climate Change Conference at Copenhagen and the collapse of the agreement on the E.T.S. with the Opposition due to the replacement of the leader Malcolm Turnbull by a more aggressive Tony Abbott after a harsh campaign led by the Murdoch press. There were also other causes for the decline in popularity of the Rudd/Gillard Government.
By mid-April 2010 the government had decided to shelve the E.T.S. in order to remove provisions for compensation of major corporations from the budget and so assist in returning it to surplus faster than previously planned. Similar considerations suggested the introduction of a Resource Super Profit Tax on the mines “which are owned by all Australians” – the government emphasised, as part of a Future Tax System review. Announced ‘without consultation’ as the miners claimed so unjustly, and with the support of the trade unions, the proposal soon became the target of a ferocious media propaganda by the miners – mainly the three gigantic corporations: BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. BHP Billiton is a global mining and oil and gas company headquartered in Melbourne, Australia and with a major management office in London, United Kingdom. It is the world’s largest mining company measured by revenues and, as of February 2011, the world’s third-largest company measured by market capitalisation. Rio Tinto plc is a transnational corporation registered in London and there with subterranean connection with, and benefits to, The Firm with headquarters at Buckingham Palace. Xstrata is a global diversified mining group based in Zug, Switzerland. To these transnational corporations Australia is but another quarry. The three behemoths were determined to show the government ‘who really owns’ the mines – and much else in Australia. For the purpose, the Minerals Council of Australia announced that it was amassing an AU$ 100 million war-chest to defeat the proposed tax and began an aggressive media propaganda. All told ‘the miners’ spent $ 22.100,000 million + $ 1.9 million to the ‘Coalition’, according to figures released by the Australian Electoral Commission.
The government attempted to react and planned to spend a lot of money in the process. By this time even some Labor members of Caucus were publicly questioning Prime Minister Rudd’s wisdom. In that they were aided by the powerful media – particularly the Murdoch’s outlets.
By early June 2010 opinion polls began to turn out unfavourable to the government. At this point a Right-wing clique of Labor bureaucrats pressed the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms. Julia Gillard – once a ‘campus radical’, to challenge the leadership. At first she appeared reluctant, but on the evening of 23 June she was ‘persuaded’ of her mission and indispensability, met Prime Minister Rudd, failed to persuade him that the government ‘had lost its way’, and then ‘made herself available’. On 24 June a tamed Caucus, fearful of losing office, concocted a unanimity and elected Ms. Gillard uncontested.
Transnational capital had won. What followed was a progressive retreat by the Australian Government, continuously under pressure from the press, ‘public opinion’, and above all the relentless pursuit of mining foreign as well as domestic interests.
The Resource Super Profit Tax was turned into a Mineral Resource Rent Tax, the details of which were left to a committee under a former BHP Billiton chairman. Big business returned to what it does best: making money, with the connivance of the government if possible. The Murdoch press ‘glamourised’ the new Prime Minister as the first woman in that post. The electorate went back to concluding that ‘politicians are all crooks’ and – in the process – to the customary indifference to its own very interest.
Towards the end of 2010 WikiLeaks cables confirmed that the removal of Prime Minister Rudd had been orchestrated by formerly ‘faceless number men’ who had been secretly informing officials at the United States Embassy in Canberra. Australia’s foreign policy under the Gillard ‘Labor’ Government was not at risk of departing from the unquestionably subservient neo-colonial stance it had held for so long under the Howard ‘Liberal’ Government. Australia’s vassalage state was confirmed in a March 2011 address to the American Congress by Prime Minister Gillard. It was a sycophantic performance. It was repeated in November 2011 in Canberra for President Obama’s visit. This is the almost-natural way of ‘downstairs’ people.
As Susan George of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam observed, “The ruling élite have chosen to serve the narrowest possible private minority interests of transnational financial and industrial corporations.” The merger of corporate and government powers in Australia, very much like in America, is no different from the Italian Fascist experience.
During most of the twentieth century unions were the dominant force of Australian industrial life. For most of that time they were the point of convergence of many employees. Between 1914 and 1990 at least two in five workers were members of a union.
At its first meeting on 1 August 1890 the Council of the Australian Labor Federation had written the first plank in its parliamentary platform as “Universal white adult suffrage for all parliamentary and local elections”; and in 1905 the federal parliamentary platform proclaimed the following: “ Objective – (1) The cultivation of an Australian sentiment based upon the maintenance of racial purity, and the development in Australia of an enlightened and self-reliant community. (2) The securing of the full results of their industry to all producers by the collective ownership of monopolies and the extension of the industrial economic functions of the State and Municipality.”
There would be some membership fluctuations, with more members in the 1920s, after the second world war and during the Whitlam years, and there had been considerable contractions during the Great Depression and in the 1960s. At the middle of last century 50 per cent of the workers were unionised; today the figure hovers around 15 per cent. Casual employment, the arrival of the computer, and the opening of jobs to more women have brought about de-unionisation. Strikes have now become extremely rare.
For a long time since its formation, the Labour Movement has, very much like the Labor Party, stressed the importance of some basic values: Australian nationalism, ‘racial purity’, and practical reformist measures, rather than any kind of general, doctrinaire socialist programme for rearranging society.
In preserving ‘law and order’, at first the colonial governments and after federation the state governments collaborated with employers’ organisations, while the press, almost unanimously, denounced those of the employees.
News of the French Revolution arrived in the colony with the Second Fleet in 1790. Most colonies during the 1890s set up some kind of early corporative, legal machinery for compulsorily arbitrating disputes between employers and employees. Labor’s view was by no means solidly enthusiastic; its more realistic view of the state’s role in strike struggles was, rather, that state arbitration might prove another employers’ device for coercing the wage earners.
When union numbers increased during the 1970s, Australians became more likely to tell the pollsters – more often than not under the control of corporatist media – that unions had “too much power.” The evidence was never requested.
But there was another, and more insidious reason for the fall of unionism: the ‘Accord’ which was the product of the corporative effort of the Hawke/Keating Government. Unions declined then, or – rather – they lost their real raison d’être in an enfeebling innovation of capital-labour collaboration: the Third Way. The ‘Accord’ and rapidly moving international conditions brought about four consequences: changes to laws governing unions, greater market competition, structural change and, as a result, structural inequality.
It was no longer possible to feel a sense of real solidarity and equality over such uniting common clichés as ‘equality, solidarity and mateship’. They had come from some mythical presentation by William Guthrie Spence that “Unionism came to the Australian bushman as a religion. … It had in it the feeling of mateship which he understood already, and which always characterised the action of one ‘white man’ to another. Unionism extended the idea, as a man’s character was gauged by whether he stood true to union rules or ‘scabbed’ it on his fellows. … The lowest form of reproach is to call a man a ‘scab’.”
Long before the end of the twentieth century, solidarity had all gone, with Hawke against the air pilots to favour his ‘mate’ ‘Sir’ Peter Abeles in 1989, and Howard organising the ‘scabs’ against the maritime workers to favour his ‘mate’ Corrigan in 1998.
Of the three characterising myths only the last remained: the right to call everybody by her/his first name. That the salary of the boss was a huge multiplier of the meagre salary of the employee – when s/he was engaged in work – still did not matter. What mattered was such pervasive uncouthness.
By this time television had arrived, and very successfully, to expand the myth, dispense vulgarity, and console that “We are all in it, together.”, in the general dumbing-down of what really matters in life.
Before the turn to this century, employers had arranged what could have become the final stroke against unions: the election of the Howard Government. It is not a popular view, but there was something to make Howard ‘one of us’, rather ‘one like us’. He is ordinary, modestly educated, with little ambition to refine the condition of life, a sense of self-satisfaction, uninterested in improving one’s intellectual baggage, self-deprecating, a ‘nationalist’, constitutionally a racist, a monarchist, and profoundly a Philistine.
Howard long period in government had a firm programme on a limited number of points: maintain the ‘alliance’ with the Great-And-Powerful-Friend, defend the national borders – that is keep attempting refugees out, protect the ‘producers’, and subjugate the workers. He was particularly vicious when it came to the most resistant of unions.
Against the building workers he erected the Australian Building and Construction Commission – A.B.C.C., an anti-union tribunal which has for nine consecutive years embarrassed Australia by earning the condemnation of the International Labour Organization.
The U.N. I.L.O.’s Committee of Experts, an eminent body of labour law jurists, repeatedly noted – and in 2012 for the eighth time – that: “the manner in which the ABCC carries out its activities seems to have led to the exclusion of workers in the building and construction industry from the protection that the labour inspection system ought to secure for these workers under the applicable laws, … the Committee urges the Government to ensure that the priorities of the ABCC (or the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate) are effectively reoriented.”
Some unions have bitterly criticised the attitude of the Rudd/Gillard, and then of the Gillard Government. One of them, in particular, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, has made its view known in fourteen broad, well reasoned and argued, propositions which was to bear upon the performance of the Rudd/Gillard Government 2007‐10 and Labor’s performance in the 2010 general election.
Prime Minister Gillard had come from the Socialist Forum and the ‘Left’ of the Labor Party; yet her election was managed by a group of Right-wing operators, many of them very close to reactionary forces. In modern times, distinctions between Right and Left have no longer any meaning. ‘Right’ used to mean – broadly speaking – supporting capitalism and opposing any move to socialism. That much is still true, but ‘Left’ used to mean the opposite, i.e. overcoming capitalism and moving towards socialism. That has not been true of the ‘Left’ of the Labor Party for quite some time – make it forty years..
In addition, Ms. Gillard demonstrated in her role as Workplace Relations Minister that she was able to put aside her ‘Left’ credentials and push the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda with the best of them. Before the 2007 election she was clear about keeping a ‘tough cop on the beat’ of the building and construction industry. She was also intransigent in dealing with public school teachers in their campaign against the publication of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy, NAPLAN – testing results in reading, writing, language conventions (spelling, grammar and punctuation) and numeracy – on the My School website, the league tables which followed and the overall privatising agenda of the government.
Part of the Gillard Government’s agenda became increasingly to inflict the burden of the financial crisis onto the backs of working people: this in large part would have been used to deliver the government’s stated objective of a budget surplus in 2013. This would also have meant a growing offensive against workers and their unions.
Most of the anti-union provisions established under the Howard Government’s WorkChoices were retained under the renamed Fair Work Australia. The purpose-built anti-union A.B.C.C. was still in place. The widening of its powers to include the policing of unions in industries other than construction, and the beefing up of existing anti-union laws, were options on the government’s table. Only the Australian Workers’ Union, the Right-wing manipulators of which delivered Gillard her position, would have been excluded from this offensive.
In 2013 the Fair Work Commission commenced initial inquiries into allegations of improper union financial conduct, and the Opposition Liberal-National Coalition promised a judicial inquiry into the Australian Workers Union affair, which involved allegations of misappropriation of funds by officials of the Australian Workers Union. Craig Thomson, a Federal Labor MP, and Michael Williamson, a former President of the Labor Party, were facing fraud allegations in relation to their financial dealings as officials of the Health Services Union (both men were later convicted of fraud).
In December 2013 the Fairfax press reported that the newly elected Abbott Government would call a Royal Commission into trade union slush funds, “less than a fortnight after a Fairfax Media investigation uncovered millions of dollars in a string of secret union slush funds. The series of Fairfax reports revealed the involvement of the N.S.W. Right’s powerful Transport Workers Union in a $ 500,000 takeover of its own Queensland branch with the backing of the disgraced former H.S.U. leader Michael Williamson. It also reported the possible unlawful misuse of union and parliamentary staff by senior union officials and Labor figures.”
On 10 February 2014 Prime Minister Abbott announced the establishment of the Royal Commission into trade union governance and corruption to inquire into alleged financial irregularities associated with the affairs of trade unions. The Honourable Dyson Heydon, AC QC, a former High Court judge, was nominated as Commissioner. The Australian Workers Union, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Electrical Trades Union, Health Services Union and the Transport Workers Union were named in the terms of reference. The Royal Commission inquired into the activities relating to so-called slush funds and other similar funds and entities established by, or related to, the affairs of these organisations. (Prime Minister Abbott announced the Royal Commission on 10 February 2014 and decided that the Commission be overseen by a sole Royal Commissioner. (‘Prime Minister Tony Abbott announces royal commission to …’, accessible at www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-10/government-announces–royal…)
Letters Patent were issued on 13 March 2014. The Commissioner submitted an Interim Report in December 2014, which found cases of “wilful defiance of the law” and recommended criminal charges against certain unionists. Allegations of illegality against nine unions had been uncovered, with over 50 potential breaches of criminal and civil law identified.
Following an extension, the Commissioner presented his final report to the Governor-General in December 2015, finding “widespread and deep-seated” misconduct by union officials in Australia. More than forty people and organisations were referred to authorities, including police, Directors of Public Prosecutions, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Fair Work Commission, and a recommendation for the establishment of an independent body to investigate union records and finances was made.
As at the end April 2016 only one conviction has been attained, while five other union officials have either had their charges dropped, or were found not guilty.
As Bernard Smith, well known academic and art critic, wrote just after the second world war, “support of rich industrialists, post-war chaos, world depression, rising resentment and radicalism, capitalist crisis were present in Australia as in other countries [after the first world war]. They provided the social basis for an indigenous fascist development in Australia. But, in addition to these local factors, there were overseas influences – the writings of Nietzsche, Spengler and others – who gave a measure of theoretical credence, and the sanction of ‘authorities’ to the local developments, particularly in the realm of art comment. It will be possible to deal only with these attributes of pre-fascist mentality that are in some way connected with art comment and criticism. What are these attributes? … Some of those which are relevant to our purpose here include: the doctrine of racial supremacy, the belief in society as an organism, a hatred of democracy, the fascist praise of rural life, the identification of modern art with Bolshevism and Jewish exploitation. Have these attributes revealed themselves in the ‘culture climate’ of Australia ?”
And he went on: “Nationalism in its heightened forms is usually identified with the dominant ‘race’ of the nation. In this way, nationalism tends to transform itself into racism. We may note symptoms of this transposition in the phrase of [art critic] J. S. MacDonald: ‘the racial expression of others will not be ours’, the supremacy of ‘British-blooded stock’, and similar statements. The same writer gives evidence of his belief in the possible development of an Australian racial élite when, in dealing with the art of Arthur Streeton, he writes: ‘If we so choose, we can yet be the elect of the world, the last of the pastoralists, the thoroughbred Aryans in all their nobility’. Such a statement combines the fascist love of rural life, emphasizes the Aryan myth of racial supremacy, and champions racial purity.”
One of the minor attributes of ‘Fascist thought’ was the idealisation of rural life as compared with the life of the city. Such view was fundamental to the philosophy of B. A. Santamaria, Australian political activist and journalist, and one of the most influential political figures in twentieth century Australian history. As already noted, he was a highly divisive figure with strongly held anti-Communist views and medieval Franco-like Catholicism. His corrosive influence lasted much longer than that of figures such as artist Norman Lindsay, who had occasion to lament that “the lower orders have taken to practicing art themselves” and to belittle ‘The Wharf Lumper in Art’.”
Wharf labourers have been blamed for many things, but only Lindsay would blame them for the art form of, for example, Salvador Dalí. Hitler, of course, felt very much as did Lindsay in the matter of modern art. He passed laws against it, called it Jewish, international, foreign, degenerate. He forced modern artists such as Beckmann, Kandinsky, Klee out of their art schools, and drove them from the country. Their works were removed from museum walls and hidden or sold abroad.
The private view of certain ‘races’ in the Australia of the 1930s was very much close to that of the Fascist and Nazi regimes. Coincidentally, the holders of such views shared the same hatred for democracy as displayed by Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Many of these ‘urbane’ racists had quite a lot in common: hatred for Communism, for Bolshevism, and a ‘discreet’ dislike of the Jews – and all of such social evils as purveyors of ‘Modernism’. ‘Urbane’ racists regard the Enlightenment, Payne’s Age of reason, as the beginning of modern depravity.
Fascism brought with itself two elements: irrationalism, which depends on the cult of action for action’s sake, and decisionism, which could be regarded as the theoretical justification for that action’s cult. In fact, Fascism has an irrational element which rejects modern thought because it conflicts with traditional beliefs of the Christian religion. Evolution is seen as modernist and is rejected in favour of Christian creationism.
This debate re-emerges in present-day Australia’s equivocal attitude to the attempt to give equal value in education to evolution and creationism. The federal government is not concerned about it. Conveniently, it washes its hands of it: education is a state matter. Nevertheless, it assists both state and private schools – and these in larger measure – just as in a ‘both-way bet’. It goes with the possible ‘privatisation’ of everything. It also responds to the figure of the ‘action man’ as a doer and not a thinker – the contrary being the prerogative of females.
All this makes for a populist view of reading and studying as antithetical to sport and athleticism. And that view of life, inevitably, flows into a stolid and determined anti-intellectualism.
Anti-intellectualism in Australia is one of the few activities to which the populace is seriously committed. It manifests with a scorning hostility towards and mistrust of intellectuals, and intellectual pursuits, usually expressed as the derision of education, philosophy, literature, art, and science as impractical and contemptible. ‘Intellectual’, ‘impractical’, ‘academic’, and similar words are terms of abuse in Australia. In public discourse, anti-intellectuals usually perceive and publicly present themselves as champions of the common folk – populists against political elitism and academic elitism – proposing that the educated are a social class detached from the everyday concerns of the majority.
As a political adjective, ‘anti-intellectual’ variously describes an ‘education system’ emphasising minimal academic accomplishment, and a government which formulates public policy without the advice of academics and their scholarship. Because ‘anti-intellectual’ can be a pejorative, defining specific cases of anti-intellectualism can be troublesome; one can object to specific facets of intellectualism or the application thereof without being dismissive of intellectual pursuits in general. Moreover, allegations of ‘anti-intellectualism’ can constitute an appeal to authority or an appeal to ridicule which attempts to discredit an opponent rather than specifically addressing her/his arguments.
Anti-intellectualism carries a feeling of ressentissement of, combined with a secret envy for, persons who have obtained a certain degree of formal education and do not relinquish the pleasure of continuing it. It goes with the feeling that the ‘intellectual’ is not ‘one of us’, may be dangerous, and is suspected with having no feeling for the ordinary person. Therefore, an intellectual is by definition arrogant, detached from the common person – not a ‘mate’. Many intellectuals in Australia have foreign background, or education – or both. Often they belong to groups who ‘think otherwise’, are often non-conformist and, therefore, suspected with being atheist, of lose mores, of disapproved sexual behaviour, in the Australian jargon: poofters – who more often than not are Jews. For that ‘reason’ alone, but also because intellectuals encourage discussion, specialise in ‘verbal virtuosity’ rather than leading to tangible, measurable products and services, are ‘secularist’, care about ‘the humanities’, and if given carte blanche would ‘prepare students for life’ but instil in their pupils thoughts and views which are not conducive to ‘making a living’, intellectuals are a ‘race’ apart.
Dictatorial, authoritarian, self-absorbing governments find it convenient to accuse intellectuals of being socially uninvolved – that is of rejecting the one-single-thought view of life, politically-dangerous, unsatisfied with the status quo and received beliefs, hence by definition ‘subversives’.
Some examples will suffice. It was John Thomas Lang – admittedly a Labor ‘apostate’ – who was once heard to admonish a keen young Labor member discovered reading in the Parliamentary Library with the words: “Reading eh ? You’ll soon get over that nonsense, son. No time for it, here.” Ignorance of economic theory in no way distinguished him from many, most other political leaders of the day, state and federal. Time ? 1930s.
Lang would not be alone. In March 1970, in Melbourne – which likes to put itself about as ‘The Athens of the South’ – Sir Henry Bolte, the ‘Liberal’ longest-serving Premier of Victoria, speaking at a Victorian Parliamentary House dinner, prided himself as follows: “The only place I’ve never been in here is the library, not in twenty-odd years.” He had already said of striking teachers seeking to meet him: “I don’t have a doorstep low enough for them to sit on.”
In 1987 Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, the Country Party (Agrarian Socialists) longest-serving Premier of Queensland, delivered himself as follows: “The greatest thing that could happen to the state and the nation is when we can get rid of all the media. Then we could live in peace and tranquillity, and no one would know anything.”
It would be a very short answer to the question: when did Bob Hawke, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard, ever cross the threshold of a theatre, a concert hall, or the sublime Sydney Opera House, for cultural purpose; when was any of them ever noted for attending a lecture, or a book launch which was not strictly to the advancement of their political career ? Has any of them ever read a work of fiction, seen a play, or a subtitled film, or sung in a choir, or debated moral questions since high school ?
In May 2011 Opera Australia staged a performance of Puccini’s La bohème, one of the most romantic, one of the most frequently performed operas internationally. From the publicity one could have thought that Mimì had just left some night-club where modern youth go to jump-up-and-down, and binge away their life – scantily dressed, half dishevelled, ready for anything on the backseat of a car, or wherever the occasion demands. Rodolfo looked no better: some kind of labourer going to the locker-room for a well-deserved shower. Topless prostitutes figured in a promotional image and were introduced in the ‘modernisation’, presumably to portray the atmosphere of the Quartier Latin and of the Café Momus, to give a palpable sense of looseness (we are in Paris, after all !). If this was done to ‘up-date’ the ‘scenario’ so that young people could be attracted, it was a waste of time and money. It completely amounted to traducing Puccini, and Illica, and Giacosa, and the original Murger. Most ‘old Italians’ may not have understood the original words anyway, and may have had a problem with the subtitles. Both groups could hardly have afforded the extortionate prices. Such is, however, the ‘production’ of ‘culture’ in ‘multicultural Australia’.
At mid-2010 the late Bob Ellis, a well-known social commentator, one who had a life-long association with the Labor Party, published a book, a sort of election diary. In it, and at several points, he wrote about Prime Minister Gillard that she is “not well informed”, while Tony Abbott, then Leader of the Opposition, has “good manners”, is “formidable” and possessed of a “first-class mind.”
There was no love lost between Ellis and Abbott. But it is for Gillard, who is “sudden, firm and wrong” in everything she does, that Ellis reserved some of his most acidic barbs. He opened with some rhetorical questions, “Is Julia Gillard a brilliant parliamentary performer …? Or is she a political drongo [in Australia: a slow-witted or stupid person] who should be sacked from the Ministry and deselected ?” He answered his own questions in favour of the ‘political drongo’ option, and then launched into an entertaining, but devastating, resumé of Gillard’s actions throughout her time in parliament. Three pages are devoted to such examination, and they carry the voice of truth.
Then came a veritable broadside: “She’s not well-informed.” he writes. “She hasn’t, I think, read a novel or seen a film with subtitles and I doubt if she has read Encounter or the New Statesman or Vanity Fair or Harper’s or the London Review of Books or The New York Review of Books and therefore she doesn’t have hinterland. She has not much except a kindergarten sandpit response to things: ‘Nyah, nyah you’re just jealous because I’m prime minister and you’re not.’ … It’s perfectly all right for some reason if you are deputy prime minister to do that but when you are prime minister, you have to speak for the nation and I don’t think she has discovered what that is. … One thing is sure – there will be no Gillard era. This is not a 20-year stretch. Civilised people’s hands are already over their faces every time she speaks. That cannot last. She has no power, no influence, no friends, no learning. There’s not much there.”
So was there no way back for her ? Ellis paused for a while and then pronounced: “She needs a Falklands war. She modelled herself a great deal on Thatcher but lacking, alas, the husband or twin children that would have made that kind of act respectable.”
Gillard was part of a Melbourne-based gang Ellis dubbed the “Mouse Pack”, which included [two other ministers]. “They twitch their whiskers and come out in favour of the Afghan war without studying the problem or noting that an army intelligence officer [Independent MP Andrew Wilkie] holds the balance of power.” Ellis said. “This is not so much dumb stuff as stuff that comes from people who have been in the same small room for too long, stroking each other’s fur.”
And then there is the ‘can-do’ mentality. In August 2010, visiting her old school in Adelaide Ms. Gillard said that she would have ‘fast track[ed]’ new teachers. Accountants, engineers, lab-technicians, journalists would do an eight-week course, then learn on the job in classrooms to be full-fledged qualified teachers in two years. As Bjelke-Petersen of Queensland memory used to say: “You do not learn experience from a book.”
“What grieves me most – wrote Ellis in a by no means final tirade – is Gillard’s utter lack of any apparent moral continuity. Smashed marriages, betrayed leaders, ungratefully punished unionists, shamed and amazed schoolteachers and billions wasted on architectural white elephants trail in her wake and she sees no wrong in this record of wilful, senseless vandalism. She thinks it is a good idea to bust things up and requests our congratulations for her serial spontaneous atrocities, laughing at them off merrily as she would spill popcorn.”
Whitlam, a profoundly erudite person and patron of all arts, was universally condemned by the Australian corporate media and the populace-at-large for being caught ‘viewing ruins’ in Athens in December 1974 at the time a cyclone inflicted huge damage on Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. Keating, a self-taught person, was derided for having ‘academic’ ambitions in cultivating Mahler and a passion for old clocks.
Australians have a word for this kind of ‘passive or emasculated’ (males only, please !) highly cultivated person, who is by definition not ‘virile’ as the Fascists wanted to be portrayed. The word is poofter and it goes well beyond a reference to one’s sexual proclivity.
Remember ? “Abbott is unmistakable. Everybody knew Tony Abbott. He was all over [the University of Sydney] campus all the time. [in the seventies] He walked past me quickly but his gang screamed ‘commie’ and ‘poofter’ and the guy behind him grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me against the wall. I was furious. I picked myself up and immediately followed these thugs down the corridor.”
The State lives on fear. Today, it is the fear of ‘terrorists’, which is a manufactured threat, meant to scare people into handing over their rights and dignity to the tricksters in power. “Our twentieth century is the century of fear,” wrote Camus in his article ‘The century of fear’ for Combat, the newspaper which had supported the French Resistance to Nazi occupation during the second world war. Camus said that fear could be regarded as a developed science, and that “its perfected technology threatens the entire world with destruction.” The time ? November 1946. The truth of that statement came to fruition in the last century, but it has taken on new meaning since the 11 September 2001 attacks, especially when one considers the mindless reaction which was engineered and orchestrated by individuals at the highest levels of the United States Government who are interested in making the 21st century just as fearful and war-like as the last. 9/11 was obviously no ordinary event. It created a state of suggestibility in the American people, which is one of the means of indoctrinating ordinary people both religiously and politically. America was not always so ugly as today.
In his State of the Union address, on 6 January 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy: 1. Freedom of speech and expression, 2. Freedom of worship, 3. Freedom from want, and 4. Freedom from fear.
Present day Australia has secured – more or less – the first three. As for the fourth, Alan Renouf, one of Australia’s most experienced diplomats, felt bound to give the title The frightened country to his memoirs of Australian foreign policy. He published the work in 1979 upon his return from Washington where he had been a well respected ambassador. His thesis was that an “unreasoning fearfulness” sits at the heart of Australia’s relations with the world. The country lives in fear of its neighbourhood. That fear has several deep consequences for the way Australia conducts itself.
The ‘White Australia’ policy, built on anger at the Chinese who had come to Australia during the gold rushes of the second half of the 19th century, came to a political head in 1888. Of the 40,721 Chinese who had come to Australia, accounting for a peak of just 3.3 per cent of the national population, 36,049 eventually left. This was Australia’s experience of the so-called Asian hordes. It was a defining moment for the country’s social and political evolution. The Chinese lingered in the collective national consciousness as the alien masses for which Australia has spent the rest of its history anxiously scanning the horizon.
Upon federation Australia incorporated the same ‘values’ of racial superiority and exclusion. The ‘White Australia’ policy was one of the founding principles of the Commonwealth, encouraged by the newly formed Labor Party and expressed in legislation as the first act of the new Federal Parliament in 1901.
In the previous century, after Tasmanian Aborigines started to resist the wholesale invasion of their fertile lands, the largely benign descriptions of ‘the natives’ gave way to derogatory descriptions which likened them to wild animals. Indigenous Australians were to continue to be treated as less than human, mistreated, murdered – and their children taken from the families. The ‘race’ was a ‘problem’ which required a ‘solution’. Does that sound familiar ?
‘Invasion anxiety’ has been one of the most powerful, subliminal forces in Australian life. It has always had racial overtones and is often expressed most forcefully by the same people – and governments – who deny that Indigenous Australians are entitled to recognition as the original owners of this country and recompense for what has been taken from them. It has been revived recently when it has informed the imposition of a brutal detention regime on those people seeking asylum in Australia from the ravages that Australians have brought to their countries: Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular.
Domestic peace was very early a victim of the ‘Queen’s peace’, which led, amongst other causes, to the enactment of harsh penalties for non-conformists and to the conviction of Henry Seekamp for seditious libel over the Eureka Rebellion in 1854; the conviction of 13 trade union leaders of the 1891 Australian shearers’ strike for sedition and conspiracy; and the action against radical Harry Holland, gaoled for two years in 1909 over his advocacy of violent revolution during the Broken Hill miners’ strike.
During the first world war sedition laws were used against those who opposed conscription and war, in particular the Industrial Workers of the World – I.W.W. In 1916 members of the I.W.W. in Perth were charged with sedition including 83 year old Montague Miller, known as the grand old man of the labour movement. Miller was released after serving a few weeks of his sentence but was re-arrested in 1917 in Sydney at the age of 84 and sentenced to six months gaol with hard labour at Long Bay Gaol on the charge of belonging to an unlawful association. The ‘Sydney Twelve’ were all charged and convicted with various offences including sedition.
On 10 December 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nowadays, December 10 is celebrated as International Human Rights Day – but the heart is not there. Australians, insular and educationally limited, see themselves as inhabiting ‘the best country in the world’ – why, the best in the synonymous ‘Southern hemisphere’.
In theory, Australians are unequivocally opposed to human rights abuses. Those who know and care will condemn the governments of other countries where human rights abuses occur while simultaneously living indifferently with human rights abuses occurring in their own backyard. In fact many individuals would be incensed at the suggestion and reject the notion that human rights abuses are routinely occurring in Australia.
For Australians, the expression ‘human rights abuses’ conjures up a range of images including torture in Abu Ghraib, or at Guantánamo, or human trafficking in Asia, or honour killings in Muslim communities, and the detention of political prisoners living under repressive regimes. Australians associate abuses of human rights with corrupt governments, lawless lands and absolute poverty. The people they imagine as victims are rarely white: these people come from other lands, particularly African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries.
In March 1949 Lance Sharkey, then General-Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, was charged that he had uttered the following seditious words: “If Soviet Forces in pursuit of aggressors entered Australia, Australian workers would welcome them. Australian workers would welcome Soviet Forces.”
Australians who could articulate some ‘key facts’ would say, not without some boasting, that in their country all people – Australians and non-Australians alike – are treated equally before the law; that the Australian legal system is based on the concept of the rule of law, and that in all cases defendants are considered to be innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Let it be said immediately: this is not so – and it hardly ever was so. There was always present an urge for “the comfortable to disavow the needy” – as Galbraith would put it – making it easier to imagine that defects of character or culture rather than economic history cause disadvantage.
Now more than ever there is an implicit assumption that a person charged is inevitably guilty. Intellectually corrupt media fuel that prejudice. Due process, legal aid, ‘not guilty’ verdicts and sentences which take account of mitigating circumstances are seen as ‘mollycoddling’ the criminals. In other words, never mind the evidence, just focus on the possibility – the kleptocracy excluded, of course.
The State police may not be much loved, but it is thought of as responsible for keeping peace – which is the Queen’s peace – in the community and bringing before the courts people they believe have broken the law. There is also a national police force – the Australian Federal Police – which investigates offences against federal laws, including drug trafficking, illegal immigration, crimes against national security and crimes against the environment.
To foster understanding about, and protection of, human rights and to address human rights concerns, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission was established in 1986 as an independent statutory organisation reporting to the federal parliament through the Attorney-General. An Australian Crime Commission was established in January 2003 as an independent statutory body to work nationally with federal, state and territory agencies, principally to counter serious and organised crime.
Combating transnational crime and terrorism is also a high priority for Australia, and extradition and mutual assistance are key tools in that fight. International cooperation ensures that criminals cannot evade justice simply by crossing borders. Australia has formal extradition arrangements with more than 120 countries. Such arrangements are part of an extensive range of treaties, which are the formal instruments of international law.
All this conjures up the picture of a law abiding country. Not so.
Increasingly, during the past thirty years at least, the U.N. Human Rights Committee has found on several occasions that Australia has breached the fundamental human rights of people living in Australia, and the Committee has heard for some forty years complaints against Australia. In at least seventeen of those cases the Committee found that Australia violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
While some Australians find it embarrassing or outrageous that a foreign tribunal can sit in judgment of Australia, Australia alone among the so called ‘western democracies’ does not have a Bill of Rights so courts cannot hear complaints about human rights violations.
Some laws have been enacted to protect human rights and the rudimentary Constitution of Australia has been found by the High Court – quite laboriously – to contain certain implied rights. Australia has been criticised – quite bitterly, but in vain – for its past and present treatment of the Indigenous People.
It is not a sufficient explanation that the majority of Australians enjoy some economic prosperity and they and the governments may be blind to the failure of the laws to protect human rights. Every day there are too many examples of people being denied their lawful human rights and, as a result, living disadvantaged lives in unnecessary hardship.
No government in Australia is exempt from the charge of exploiting the community’s fears about crime and almost all levels of government have attempted to exploit such fear of crime for political advantage.
There is plenty of evidence that the large network of Australian civilian and military ‘intelligence’ and security agencies, both domestic and overseas, do not exist to safeguard ordinary people. Their function is to terrorise and intimidate the public, especially political opponents of the ruling establishment. From the gaoling of militants during the first world war to the Petrov affair of the early 1950s and the Hilton Hotel bombing in 1978, those agencies have a long history of dirty tricks and frame-ups directed against left-wing activists, trade unionists and people branded as ‘Marxists’.
From time immemorial confessions have been extracted from prisoners under interrogation. The High Court felt compelled in two cases, Williams v. The Queen (1986) 160 CLR 171 and McKinney v. The Queen (1991) 171 CLR 468, to limit police questioning and require judges to warn juries of the dangers of convicting on the basis of a confession alone. State and federal laws were then passed specifically to authorise police interrogations, subject to video-taping. But studies have since shown that video-taping is no guarantee against the planting of evidence and concoction of false confessions.
Through other means the Australian Federal Police and other federal agencies have been known to abuse human rights: phone-tapping, bugging, computer hacking, tracking and optical devices to monitor and gather information. In October 1997 The (Melbourne) Age newspaper revealed that the Victorian Police Special Branch of the ‘Liberal’ Government of Jeff Kennett had illegally monitored and maintained files on political activists and organisations, and infiltrated political and community groups. The previous Cain Labor Government claimed to have disbanded the Special Branch in 1983, but simply replaced it with the Operation Intelligence Unit. Since renamed the Security Intelligence Group, it continued to carry out political surveillance, including of Islamic associations, radical parties, refugee action groups and animal liberation organisations.
Over the past twenty years at least, a veritable fever of penal ‘reform’ gripped the State governments, usually in the heat of election ‘auctions’ designed to demonstrate that the purveyors of the policies were definitely not ‘soft’ on crime. ‘Labor’ governments were particularly sensitive to being tagged with that label and moved dramatically away from more progressive policies which had previously characterised their approach to criminal justice.
Under attack from the Opposition or radio shock-jocks, ministers may feel there is no option but ‘to talk tough’, reassuring themselves that unless they make compromises to ‘penal populism’, they will lose power and, with it, the chance to make beneficial changes to the system.
The beginning of this era of ‘penal populism’ in Australia appears to have been the 1988 New South Wales election which was marked by a ‘bidding war’ on the introduction of tough new penalties. The result was the so-called ‘truth in sentencing’ legislation which dramatically inflated the prison population. From this point, and with the media pouring high octane fuel on politically malleable fears, a cycle of increasingly punitive policing and punishment took hold. By the 1990s the promise of tougher sanctions to protect people from crime had become an obligatory element in every suite of policies presented to the voters at state elections. ‘Law-and-order’ has risen inexorably from being judged a relatively low-order problem to one of the top three or four needing political attention.
In the lead up to the 1998 election, Prime Minister Howard raised the ‘law-and-order’ issue – which is usually the province of the states – calling for harsher punishments and even accusing judges of being ‘soft’ on crime. New South Wales’ then Premier Bob Carr adopted a punitive rhetoric previously associated with conservative figures, saying, amongst other things, that “hoodlum patrols would reclaim the streets for our citizens and make them safe again.” Drug traffickers, he later promised, would “die in gaol.”
Western Australia was the first State to introduce a form of the now notorious mandatory sentencing initially popularised in the United States. And soon the others followed, in a mechanistic growing disdain for rehabilitation and intolerance.
Sloganeering as a substitute for thought, and logic, and human solidarity, and ‘a programme’, became the norm. Entire classes of Australians were abused and humiliated – called “dole bludgers” – those forced to rely on unemployment compensation, “welfare cheaters”. The governments – all of them, including the Rudd and Gillard Governments – seemed intent on pushing a punitive agenda rather than adopting one with the goal of providing improved opportunities for those in receipt of financial assistance. The accent is on punishing rather than encouraging; frightening rather than encouraging. The slogan ‘work for the dole’ is still supposed to turn passive recipients of unemployment benefits into active job seekers – or else. The recipients of benefits are amongst the most disadvantaged in every sense – including in access to the media. Indeed, they are more likely to be humiliated than assisted. When everything else fails they could be referred to as ‘job snobs’, who do not want to work. At mid-April 2011 the ‘Labor’ Prime Minister told the jobless to “pull their weight.” Sounds familiar ? One would have to wait until 2012 for Joe Hockey to deliver ‘The end of the age of entitlement’ – in London, of course. Is this not the same Hockey, Abbott’s Treasurer, who, accusing the Greens of hypocrisy over the proposed change to fuel excise, declared: “The poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases.” ? (‘Interview at ABC Local Radio, Brisbane | The Hon Joe Hockey’, 13 August 2014, accessible at jbh.ministers.treasury.gov.au/transcript/075–2014). Joe Hockey would become Turnbull’s gift as Ambassador of Australia to Washington.
Such way of speaking, of course, appeals to the ‘contented classes’ who would never doubt that their highly paid, occasionally, extravagantly paid, emoluments are by definition well deserved, as against the low paid jobs of the working poor, who are a fraud of the first order on the community.
There are, it seems, no active union organisers – only “union thugs”. In 1998, during a protracted waterfront dispute, the Australian stevedoring workers were accused of costing the economy billions of dollars a year and to be denying others jobs. They were held responsible for “damaging Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier of goods.” The Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr. Peter Keaston Reith constantly asserted that the Union was “holding the country to ransom, used bully boy tactics, had undue influence on work practices, and had a ‘stop-at-nothing approach’.” The Howard Government, proceeding on that assumption – no doubt carefully tested in publicly funded opinion polling, knew very well that, simply to mention the word ‘wharfies’ to some Australians would cause them to run in fear. Minister Reith thought nothing of importing balaclava-clad scabs fully trained in Dubai and assisted by assault dogs to be unleashed against the waterfront workers.
There are “illegals” – assigned to a class of non-persons. If somebody disagrees and organise that disagreement s/he is assigned the label which is meant to silence her/him or discredit her/his views. Media hired pens or mouths profitably join in to propagate insults, denigrating dissenters as “bleeding hearts” or members of the “chattering classes”, or of the “Aboriginal industry”.
After the aggression on Afghanistan and Iraq, when asylum seekers began to arrive by whatever means, they were officially branded as “illegals”. This is presently the language of the average Australian – thanks to irresponsible shock-jocks and rabid ‘journalists’.
A climate of political fear, inaugurated by Menzies and perfected by Howard was not abandoned – only reworded as ‘border protection’ – by the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments. And then came Abbott ! Thus victims came to be blamed for their own conditions. From that to religious bigotry the step became almost ‘natural’. Not only that – the perpetrators of that infamy turned themselves into defenders of Muslim women in Afghanistan !
In the meantime, in Australia, Muslim migrants from India or intending-migrant-university-full-fee-paying students in particular, have experienced frequent antagonism, regular racial slurs, and violence, all of which has resulted in great distress to them and a financial crisis for the ‘education industry’.
With recurring frequency, members of the Muslim community are being told ‘to shape up’ or ‘clear out’ and to ensure the teaching of ‘Australian values’ in their schools or risk losing their funding.
Nor were Australian subjects immune from such attitude. Such uncouthness is not only directed to ‘different’, ‘illegal’ – generally unwanted – persons. There are countless stories, too, of the intimidation of public servants in the Commonwealth Government.
The politicisation of the once-public service has become so pervasive that ‘public servants’ zealously anticipate government directives and protect ministers from reasonable scrutiny – and all for fear of what is ‘different’.
Ministerial responsibility is regarded as a quaint, ancient relic of more naive times.
Ms. Cornelia Rau is a case in point: she is a German citizen and Australian permanent resident who was unlawfully detained for a period of ten months in 2004 and 2005 as part of the Australian Government’s mandatory detention programme. Suffering from schizophrenia, she disappeared from a Manly Hospital in March 2004, and, in February 2005, it was revealed that she had been unlawfully detained at Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre, a prison, and later at Baxter Detention Centre, after being classified as a suspected illegal immigrant or non-citizen by the Immigration Department when, under a crisis, she refused to reveal her true identity. Her detention became the subject of a government inquiry which was later expanded to investigate over 200 other cases of suspected unlawful detention by the Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Ms. Rau is currently living in Adelaide.
Ms. Vivian Alvarez Solon, an Australian, suffering mental and physical health problems, was unlawfully removed to the Philippines, where she was born, by the same Department in July 2001. In May 2005 it became public knowledge that she had been deported, although the Department knew of the initial mistake in 2003, but failed to act. After the ordeal, Ms. Solon was able to return to Australia in November 2005.
In each case an overwhelmingly damning report was delivered to Parliament.
In both cases the ‘responsible’ ministers refused to accept any responsibility at all on the grounds that they did not know anything about the incidents investigated in the reports. Prime Minister Howard had deliberately ‘abused’ the wording and effect of the doctrine of ministerial responsibility which was that “for every act or neglect of his Department a minister must answer.” Middle level public servants would suffer for what was obviously the consequence of a relentless government campaign to demonise and expel ‘unlawful non-citizens’.
After the outrages on 11 September 2001 in the United States, the Howard Government was quick in proposing legislation to justify further police-state powers. And from then on – and after the October 2002 Bali bombing, the March 2004 Madrid train bombing, the July 2005 London subway bombing and countless others – there has been an escalation of measures restricting civil liberties. The Howard Government had been ratcheting up the so-called ‘war on terror’, hoping to foment fresh fears and insecurities to divert from its mounting political problems. The ‘national security’ minister, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, submitted to Parliament bill after bill for acts which further violated human rights. On 8 February 2016 Mr. Ruddock announced that he would not contest the next federal election and was retiring from politics. On the same day, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Ruddock would be appointed Australia’s first special envoy for human rights.
At mid-2003, and with the support of the Labor Party, the Howard Government succeeded in pressing the Australian Parliament to approve an unprecedented piece of legislation giving the government’s political police the sort of arbitrary power normally associated with Fascist regimes or military juntas.
In Opposition, and in eleven years in government, Howard was a deft handler of the Australian populace. He knew their fears and phobias and he was masterful in playing on them, deploying them, managing them, manoeuvring them. He did two things. He prodded their fears, and then he offered them reassurance. He inflamed and then soothed, supplied the anxiety and also the temporary solution. He lasted that long because he was the ‘real’ Australian.
There was hardly anything new in this technique. During the long sixteen years of previous ‘anti-Labor’ regime, Menzies’ years 1949 to 1966, the language of fear had been adopted and perfected. Menzies had found ‘spiritual value’ in the Nazi regime and exalted it on his return from Germany in November 1938. The language is familiar. There were ‘those who belong’ and ‘the different’: the Communist, the Jews, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, the mentally deficient – ‘the others’, in other words. After a fairly long period of Hawke/Keating corporatist ‘Accord’ – to pacify the workers, Howard could resume the attack on ‘different’ Australians, and find skilled collaborators.
A leading Stock Exchange gambler, one of the major supporters of the New Right agenda and the mining industry’s campaign against land rights for Black Australians, found a way of grounding on divine authority – Christian, of course – that industry’s demands that it be allowed to mine on land claimed by Indigenous People as sacred. Even more bizarrely, he warned that if land rights were granted that would constitute a sanction of “infanticide, cannibalism and cruel initiation rites.” It would be a “step to the world of paganism, superstition, fear and darkness.” He had no restraint in plumbing the depths of such dark, racist fears. Howard said not a word – just sat on the side, comfortable and relaxed.
In the nineties, during the native title debates, Australians complacently heard that the original inhabitants of the continent should be treated as outsiders who threatened to appropriate “our” lands, invade “our” suburbs and “take what does not belong to them.” Some State premiers campaigned – successfully ! – on such outrageous rubbish. On that ‘platform’, at the end of that decade a comprehensively illiterate candidate obtained more than one million votes and was able to enter the Senate.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation now has had for almost twenty years the power to detain and question people without charge or trial. A.S.I.O. and Federal Police officers can raid anyone’s home or office, at any hour of the day or night, and forcibly take one away, strip-search her/him, interrogate and hold her/him incommunicado, for all practical purposes indefinitely.
The initial empowering Act and the many which followed represent a fundamental assault on basic human rights. They give the security and intelligence agencies unfettered arbitrary and repressive power, marking a dramatic step towards the implementation of authoritarian rule. A person has no right to know why s/he is being picked up for interrogation. If s/he resists, force, including lethal force, may be used. If s/he refuses to answer any question or hand over any material that A.S.I.O. alleges s/he possesses, s/he faces five year’s gaol. A detainee, including teenagers as young as 16, is unable to contact her/his families, friends, political associates or the media. In effect, one can be kidnapped by the secret police without anyone’s knowledge. If one knows the name of a lawyer, s/he may contact her/him for legal advice, but only if A.S.I.O. does not object to the lawyer. Initial detention can last for up to seven days, including three eight-hour blocks of questioning over three days, but the Attorney-General can easily approve further seven-day periods. To justify serial extensions, A.S.I.O. and the government simply need to claim that ‘additional or materially different’ information has come to light.
Almost simultaneously, all States, which were once all governed by ‘Labor’, responded by enacting complementary legislation, handing over the State’s anti-terrorism powers to the Howard Government, and with the enthusiastic support of the ‘Liberal’ Party, of course. Mirroring acts enabled the police to obtain warrants to enter any premises, by force or impersonation if necessary, to search and seize anything without the knowledge of any occupier or owner. The New South Wales Government led the way, so to say. In Victoria, the second most populous State, the government had legislation enacted which gives the State police the power – for the first time – secretly to enter, search and ‘bug’ homes, as well as forcibly to enter and search premises. In Queensland, the ‘Labor’ Premier was moved to giving ‘serious consideration’ to 50 Crime and Misconduct Commission recommendations, which included allowing police to conduct covert searches without warrants.
More illiberal provisions followed at the end of 2003, when the Federal Government was able – with the concurrence of Labor – to have legislation passed which effectively forbade all public protest against, or even reporting of, the use of the new detention and interrogation powers of A.S.I.O. It is now a crime, punishable by up to five year’s gaol, publicly to mention any operation involving A.S.I.O.’s unprecedented powers to detain and interrogate people without charge, simply on the allegation that one may have information relating to terrorism.
The very fact that someone has been detained cannot be discussed publicly for up to 28 days, until after the detention warrant expires. No other information about the detention can be disclosed for two years. Moreover, even if A.S.I.O. itself breaks the law, for example by detaining someone for more than seven days without obtaining a new warrant, any journalist who reports the case could be imprisoned.
In effect, these measures outlaw political campaigns against arbitrary or illegal detentions.
A lawyer’s activity is also curtailed: the law prohibits a detainee or her/his lawyer from alerting the family, the media or anyone else that s/he has been detained.
As a result of more than two decades of unrelenting ‘law-and-order’ campaigns, Australians are far too ready to gaol people rather than seeking other forms of sentencing. Too many politicians have been seduced into a kind of ‘penal arms race’, and into implementing costly and ineffective policies. They have embraced penal populism, enacting policies which are based primarily on their anticipated popularity rather than their effectiveness.
Some eminent lawyers, and even the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, condemned the Howard Government’s Anti-Terrorism legislation as a violation of international human rights law, but Prime Minister Howard and the Australian State ‘Labor’ premiers stood together in favour of the repressive measures.
Centuries of political and social struggles have attempted to stop barbaric methods being employed by the State. Demands for strict limits on the powers of the formerly monarchical and absolutist state were at the centre of the great ‘bourgeois’ revolutions even in England in the seventeenth century, and in France and the United States in the eighteenth century. The struggle against such methods formed the basis of the liberal doctrines, based on the rights of the individual, associated with the rise of the bourgeoisie. But Australia has had no revolution – bourgeois or otherwise – and still has no Bill of Rights.
According to a rather recent Amnesty International survey, the techniques currently employed by various governments include “beating, whipping, burning, rape, suspension upside down, submersion into water almost to the point of suffocation, and electric torture with shocks of high voltage on various parts of the body, very often on the genitals.” But those things happen elsewhere, ‘over there’. Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantánamo are ‘deplorable necessities’, and anyway beyond Australia’s control. Notions of complicity with a Great-And-Powerful-Friend are too esoteric for ignorant Philistines.
If the police transports a Black Australian for many hundreds of kilometres, on a hot day, in a van in which the temperature was estimated at 50 degrees Celsius, without windows, air and air conditioner, without ever stopping for the prisoner to relieve himself, without food or water, there is a mixture of disbelief, disapproval – suddenly set aside with a ‘dirty nigger’ comment … and a promise by the State to investigate. It happened less than ten years ago – no one heard about it since.
There is more: to the above list of violent torture practices prepared by Amnesty International, the organisation was forced to add “psychological devices, including threats, deceit, humiliation, insults, sleep deprivation, blindfolding, isolation, mock executions, witnessing torture of others (including one’s own family), being forced to torture or kill others, and the withholding of medication or personal items.” It should be emphasised: even sleep deprivation, because the Attorney-General of the Howard Government – yes, Mr. Philip Ruddock expressed the view that that is not a form of torture ! And damned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, both of which were ratified by Australia ! Was the Attorney-General influenced by a well-known Harvard law professor’s call – after 9/11 – for United States judges to issue ‘torture warrants’ ?
Whatever the reason, that Attorney-General’s view might have encouraged two Australian academic lawyers openly to advocate torture in a paper published in 2005.
When governments become accustomed to abuse of power through the use of fear and amidst the populace’s indifference; there is no limit to what they may do. In June 2008 the ‘Labor’ Premier of New South Wales had no difficulty in introducing sweeping police powers further to suppress civil liberties during the month-long Catholic World Youth Day events in Sydney, culminating with a massive address by Pope Benedict XVI. By executive order and regulation, which established more than 600 ‘controlled areas’ throughout Sydney, Police were empowered in control areas to search members of the public, their vehicles and personal belonging and to arrest and fine those whose actions may be deemed offensive to Catholic pilgrims. The ‘controlled areas’ included some 500 Catholic and State schools, tertiary institutions – including the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales, public transport hubs, parks – including the Botanic Gardens and a major park, and cultural venues – including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the State Theatre and the Sydney Opera House, a racecourse and sporting venues.
Preventive detention and ‘control orders’ are the tools of fear-inducing State power.
One such ‘control order’ was imposed for the first time in 2006 on an unfortunate Melbournian. A recent convert to Islam, he was on a visit to Afghanistan in March 2001, six months before the 11 September attacks. A person of modest means in more ways than one, including financial, after the United States invasion he decided to accept cash from an al-Qaeda-linked individual to return to Australia. Caught by Pakistani Police and held prisoner for five months from January 2003, Pakistani, American and Australian intelligence and police officials tortured him in Pakistan, using all available physical and mental abuses.
Finally released without charge, he was delivered to the Australian Federal Police.
From mid-2003 he lived in Melbourne with his wife and children, under close surveillance by police and A.S.I.O. which suddenly arrested him in late 2004 – the charge: terrorist activity; and subjected to a ‘control order’, after 18 months, just as the Howard Government was preparing a further round of ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation, including provisions for closed trials, secret witnesses and media restrictions. His ordeal would end when, after six years of persecution, in October 2008, a Victorian Supreme Court jury acquitted him of all charges.
Presumption of guilt pervades certain aspects of criminal law in Australia and is unashamedly used by governments.
The case of former Solomon Islands’ Attorney-General Julian Moti, a Fiji-born Australian subject, is the most recent illustration of such bias.
Australia carries out a neo-colonial Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands – the official name: RA.M.S.I. Julian Moti was suspected with harbouring doubt about the ‘civilising function’ of R.A.M.S.I.
Between 1997 and 1999 allegations that Moti had sexually abused a 13-year-old girl were first levelled against him in Vanuatu. The charges, however, were thrown out of court, with the magistrate describing the attempted prosecution as “unjust and oppressive” due to the absence of evidence and glaring inconsistencies and contradictions in the alleged victim’s statements. Local prosecutors did not appeal the decision and the issue was closed – until late 2004. Then the Australian High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands, dredged up the allegations as a means of preventing Moti from being appointed to the position of Solomons’ Attorney-General. The subsequent Australian Federal Police investigation served as the means for removing Moti from the Solomon Islands and the destruction of his legal career throughout the South Pacific. The Howard Government’s unrelenting pursuit of Moti formed part of its provocative ‘regime change’ campaign in 2006-07 against the Solomons’ government of Manasseh Sogavare, waged to sustain R.A.M.S.I.
Moti was unlawfully removed from the Solomons on 27 December 2007, by being taken from his home, bundled onto an airplane, flown to Brisbane where he was immediately arrested at the airport by waiting A.F.P. officers. The so called ‘deportation’ proceedings went ahead in violation of a local magistrate’s court ruling specifically prohibiting Moti’s ‘deportation’. Moreover, that amounted to a violation of the Solomon’s Deportation Act, which provides for a seven-day appeal period. All this occurred following the revocation of his position as Attorney-General by a pro-Australian Government, which was installed after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare became victim of a protracted ‘regime change’ campaign. Such removal of Moti was nothing more than a ‘disguised extradition’ and not a deportation as the prosecution claimed before the Queensland Supreme Court, where Moti was standing trial – again – this time under the Australian child sex tourism laws. That such charge had been dismissed in Vanuatu a decade before counted for naught. As it turned out the A.F.P. and the Director of Public Prosecutions violated Moti’s basic legal rights by withholding vital documents. His right to liberty was breached, his civil rights were breached, the rule of law was breached, he was illegally seized and taken to Australia, before he could lodge an appeal against the ‘deportation’, and the Australia Government was a knowing party to all of that.
Moti lost the case. He appealed and lost again.
At mid-April 2011 the High Court of Australia was called upon to consider whether the government turned a blind eye to the illegal rendition of Moti in 2007. The Court had granted special leave to hear the case and would also examine whether the payment of near AU$ 150,000 to the alleged victim and her family brought the administration of justice into disrepute. In fact, in February 2008 – under the new Rudd/Gillard ‘Labor’ Government – the Australian police began paying monthly sums of AU$ 1,290 to the alleged victim’s brother, AU$ 480 to her father, and AU$ 2,475 to her mother. These payments were made while the family continued to live as usually in Vanuatu, where the minimum monthly wage was just AU$ 240. According to a November 2010 article in the Melbourne Age, “payments to the complainant and her family had reached at least AU$ 300,000 – double what was revealed in court in 2009.”
From the defence, the Court heard that “Australian authorities assisted [Moti’s] unlawful rendition to Australia”, by handing his new passport to Solomon Islands police, arranging his arrest in Brisbane and paying accommodation for the Solomon Islanders who escorted him.” The defence also said that “[the A.F.P. agent] knew the deportation was unlawful.” The Court was also told that the “Australian ‘witness assistance’ payments to the alleged victim may have been an abuse of process.” Further, the defence submitted that “The right-thinking person would correctly perceive a link between the political genesis of the prosecution, the means by which [Moti] was brought to the jurisdiction, and the extraordinary payments being made to keep the prosecution on foot.”
The Australian Government’s plan suffered a contretemps towards the end of March 2011 when the father of the victim confessed on his death-bed that his daughter had ulterior motives when she first accused Moti in 1997-98. And the motive ? The 13- year-old girl, according to the father, had levelled the rape allegations against Moti to try to prevent the family, who are all Tahitian nationals, from being deported from Vanuatu for violating visa conditions. The father accused the Australian Federal Police of threatening his family – “if we did not cooperate it would go against us.” As a result, “fear was in the house.” Nevertheless the A.F.P. offered inducements. He apologised to Julian Moti and his family, with whom he had been friends, declaring that neither he nor his wife would continue to cooperate with the attempted prosecution of Moti.
At the end of such revealing confession, the girl’s father said: “We have all been battered by all this. … The people who have pressed the button to start all this [were to blame].” And he pointed the finger towards the Australian Government at the time.
On 15 December 2009 Justice Debbie Mullins of the Queensland Supreme Court ruled that there had been an abuse of process and stayed the indictment against Moti. She held that “questions about the integrity of the administration of the Australian justice system [arise] when witnesses who live in a foreign country, expected to be fully supported by the Australian Government until they gave evidence at the trial in Australia.”
On 7 December 2011 the High Court of Australia ordered a stay of charges, ruling that Australian officials’ participation in Moti’s extradition from the Solomons had been unlawful under Solomon Islands law. Summarising its ruling, the court said: “Further prosecution of the charges would be an abuse of process because of the role that Australian officials in Mr Moti being deported to Australia.” This was a permanent stay of prosecution putting an end to all court proceedings against Moti. Mr. Manasseh Sogavare stated, in response to the ruling: “I am so pleased. This matter has hung like a dark cloud over me and my government. This decision has vindicated me.” On 12 June 2012 Mr. Moti announced that he would have sued the government.
Mr. Moti regained his Fijian citizenship in 2012. He was admitted as a legal practitioner in Fiji in June 2013. In September 2013 he was appointed Professor of Law at the University of Fiji.
Moti’s tribulations had begun under the Howard Government; they would continue under the Rudd/Gillard Government. Names might have changed, Australia’s ruthless neo-colonial interventions through the Southwest Pacific continue.
Yet, there is much fracas about ‘multiculturalism’ – a wonderful goal gone sour because people of scarce appreciation for culture can hardly be serious about multi-culture. In the hand of skilful manipulators multiculturalism risks becoming a form of populist cretinism manoeuvred by Government Philistinism for electoral purposes. Most every thinking person realises it. In reality, one should pay attention to some ‘necessary associations’ between ‘Middle Eastern thugs’, organised crime’, and drug trafficking.’
Members of what Galbraith called ‘the contented class’, John Howard’s ‘comfortable and relaxed’ kleptocracy, would not ‘inside trade’, of course, nor ‘consume’ other than for purpose of entertainment ! Ça va sans dire !
Cronyism and corruption have lived so long amongst humans that it is fair to say they preceded The Bible, where many precedents are recorded.
This is not to say that in Australia cronyism and corruption are all around. Transparency International provides every year a ‘corruption perception index’. The Index generally defines corruption as “the misuse of public power for private benefit.”
The C.P.I. currently ranks 168 countries “on a scale from 100 m- very clean, to 0 – highly corrupt.”
It is sad to see that, in the latest Index which is for 2015, Australia figures thirteen in a decreasing scale, after Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Canada, Germany, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.
Opportunity for cronyism and corruption in Australia is greater when the Coalition parties are in power – if for no other reason than at least at the federal level they have been in government for some seventy years since Federation.
Sometimes excessive publicity is given to episodes of squalor by the media, which are by and large in the hands of Grand Corruptors. Thus much evidence was given to the case of a couple of ‘lifters’ involved in an episode of bullying at a coastal night club – he a powerful state minister and she a federal representative. So, would ‘Labor’ people content themselves with something less than cronyism – nepotism, perhaps ? Then there is the case of a state minister who made the beau jeste of resigning her position to tend to her son, soon thereafter to return to parliament as deputy premier – no less, and always with her shoulders well guarded by the husband, a powerful federal minister. But these are modest, if glaring examples of cronyism.
Of course, a populace so conditioned by intellectually corrupt media would be expected to wonder what qualifications ‘union hacks’ hold. No question is ever asked about corporate honchoes, perhaps because having money, or a flexible conscience – and preferably both, is regarded as a sufficient title. Nothing news about that; the Medici proceeded on the motto: “Money to get power, power to protect money”. Only notice the final result !
The ‘Liberals’, in particular, have always had more opportunities, not only for the length of their holding power but also because they come from a social milieu which flourishes in ‘private enterprise’ and can afford to enlist the best-paid ‘turf-accountants’ to minimise their taxes, or retain the ablest – or if not the best connected – lawyers, who in turn speak the language most welcome by a classist judicial system. And all that takes place under the patronage of the monarchy which, naturally, personifies cronyism and is the source of corruption – not exclusively of the financial kind. ‘Labor’ – whatever that has come to mean nowadays – must content itself of the crumbs. Anyway, nobody could – without blushing – accuse ‘Labor’ of running a meritocracy.
Then there are cases rendered less obvious to the naked eye by the application of the Axminster System – which is the classical, subtropical corruption of the Westminster type, and good for a carpet – under which matters ‘too delicate’ can be swept. Example: early in 2009 the Victorian Transport Minister, Ms. Lynne Janice Kosky ‘locked away’ all the documents of the disputed construction of Melbourne’s $ 700 million Southern Cross Station. Transparency and accountability were postponed – until 2058. The decision was hardly unusual. It has become standard practice for Australian governments – at all levels – to ‘spare’ the public the ‘boring’, detailed information which would allow any assessment to be made of large infrastructure contracts.
Nowhere is the trend more pronounced than with respect to so-called public-private partnerships, projects in which private parties take responsibility for financing, constructing and operating public-use infrastructure, in exchange for the right to receive user fees and charges. And here another value, so dear to the Westminster System, comes into play: ‘tradition’. It should be remembered that one of the very first public buildings in the colony of New South Wales, the Sydney Hospital, was erected by an extremely corrupt PPP.
While concession arrangements for toll roads and other infrastructure assets have existed since time immemorial, they were ‘rediscovered’ and renamed PPPs in the late 1980s and have since become a primary means of financing mega-projects, with applications ranging from tunnels and desalination plants to hospitals and prisons. The change in branding from concessions to PPPs is hardly innocent. A concession by a government to a private party of the right to undertake and charge for a monopoly asset has a clear negative connotation: taxpayers are giving up something which would otherwise rightly be theirs. Who, on the other hand, could object to a partnership, with all the sense of shared obligation that word implies ? As with nation building, here words are being used not to assist understanding but to mislead. Eternal Orwell ! For whether the contracts are indeed a partnership, and one which delivers net benefits to the community, is a question of fact, not of form. The crucial issues are whether the projects are worth doing and whether the concession contract provides the project outcomes at least cost to the community.
Regardless of the final result, and its real utility, everyone’s a winner. The firms undertaking the projects cash the rents. Governments gain more ribbon-cutting opportunities, vocal support from PPP firms, lucrative jobs for their ‘mates’ and welcome donations to campaign coffers. Only taxpayers and users suffer, but then again, ignorance is bliss. Little wonder that PPPs have proved increasingly popular with incompetent state governments and were being vigorously promoted by the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments. Full disclosure of all PPP contracts, and of the cost-benefit analyses underpinning PPP projects, is indispensable if these costs are to be averted. And no suggestion is proffered here of illegitimate personal gain by public persons. It is just the ‘new way’ of doing things.
On the other hand, political corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. Forms of corruption vary, but include bribery, extortion, cronyism – to some extent, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. While corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and human trafficking, it is not restricted to these activities.
In some cases, government officials have broad or poorly defined powers, which make it difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal actions. Worldwide, in 2014 the cost of corruption involved more than more than US$ 2.6 trillion, with corruption increasing the cost of doing business up to 10 per cent globally, according to the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, respectively.
When a government confers a benefit onto some companies and not others it is playing favourites. Sometimes it is called ‘picking winners’. Sometimes it is called ‘targeted assistance’. The result is the same. But the opportunities for influence, peddling and calling in favours, take off when a government starts being selective. There is no problem with individuals or companies trying to influence government. This is what representative government is all about. Every voter who casts a ballot is trying to influence government – and sometimes a voter benefits, albeit indirectly, from particular policies. It is quite different when a broad policy applies equally to people of like circumstances – a tax cut for those on certain income or childcare assistance for those with children in like circumstances. But it becomes a problem when the practice is narrowed down to particular companies in particular industries – where special benefits go to people who seek special access to obtain them. Special influence looking for special benefits is a recipe for cronyism.
Outside public funding, there are no guaranteed sources of financial support for political parties apart from the union movement’s donations to Labor. Business support is contested. Some businesses support both sides of politics. Some support neither. Many skew their support to the party which happens to be in government – after all, the decisions which affect their business are made by the government not opposition.
The late Chalmers Johnson, reviewing a book by the already mentioned Emeritus Professor Sheldon S. Wolin, who for well over two generations taught the history of political philosophy from Plato to the present to Berkeley and Princeton graduate students, made some observations of a general character which – mutatis mutandis – apply to Australia, too. “Our political system of checks and balances – wrote Wolin – has been virtually destroyed by rampant cronyism and corruption in Washington, D.C., and by a two-term president who goes around crowing “I am the decider,” a concept fundamentally hostile to our constitutional system. We have allowed our elections, the one nonnegotiable institution in a democracy, to be debased and hijacked … ”
As already amply noted, Wolin’s new book Democracy incorporated: managed democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States – including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, National-Catholic Spain and Soviet Russia. The hour is very late and the possibility that the American people might pay attention to what is wrong and take the difficult steps to avoid a national Götterdämmerung are remote, but Wolin’s is the best analysis of why even the presidential election of 2008 probably would have done nothing to mitigate America’s fate.
Wolin’s work is fully accessible and includes particular attention to the advanced levels of social democracy attained during the New Deal and the contemporary mythology that the United States, beginning during the second world war, wields unprecedented world power.
Wolin introduces three new concepts to help analyse what Americans have lost as a nation. His master idea is “inverted totalitarianism,” which is reinforced by two subordinate notions which accompany and promote it – “managed democracy” and “Superpower,” the latter always capitalised and used without a direct article. Until the reader becomes familiar with this particular literary tic, the term Superpower can be confusing. The author uses it as if it were an independent agent, comparable to Superman or Spiderman, and one which is inherently incompatible with constitutional government and democracy.
Many analysts would conclude that Wolin has made a close to airtight case that the American Republic’s days are numbered, but Wolin himself does not agree. Towards the end of his study he produces a wish list of things which should be done to ward off the disaster of inverted totalitarianism: “rolling back the empire, rolling back the practices of managed democracy; returning to the idea and practices of international cooperation rather than the dogmas of globalization and preemptive strikes; restoring and strengthening environmental protections; reinvigorating populist politics; undoing the damage to our system of individual rights; restoring the institutions of an independent judiciary, separation of powers, and checks and balances; reinstating the integrity of the independent regulatory agencies and of scientific advisory processes; reviving representative systems responsive to popular needs for health care, education, guaranteed pensions, and an honorable minimum wage; restoring governmental regulatory authority over the economy; and rolling back the distortions of a tax code that toadies to the wealthy and corporate power.”
Unfortunately, this is more a guide to what has gone wrong than a statement of how to remedy it, particularly since Wolin believes that the American political system is “shot through with corruption and awash in contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors.”
Corruption as a way of operating has become so common – if not accepted – in Australia that it is possible to access a service on the subject from the Internet.
For the last ten days of April 2016, the set having been chosen pour chance while researching this topic, the World News Report, published daily by the EIN Newsdesk of the IPD Group. Inc., based in Washington, D.C. supplied the following entries on Australia Corruption News:
On 21 April 2016:
Apr 20, 2016
Apr 20, 2016
Apr 20, 2016
Apr 20, 2016
On 22 April 2016:
On 23 April 2016:
Apr 22, 2016
Apr 22, 2016
Apr 22, 2016
Apr 22, 2016
On 24 April 2016:
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 22, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
On 25 April 2016:
Apr 24, 2016
Apr 24, 2016
Apr 22, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
On 26 April 2016:
Apr 25, 2016
Apr 25, 2016
Apr 25, 2016
Apr 25, 2016
Apr 24, 2016
Apr 22, 2016
On 27 April 2016:
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
On 28 April 2016:
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
On 29 April 2016:
Apr 27, 2016
Apr 27, 2016
Apr 27, 2016
Apr 27, 2016
Apr 27, 2016
On 30 April 2016:
Apr 29, 2016
Apr 29, 2016
Apr 28, 2016
Apr 29, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
Apr 28, 2016
Apr 28, 2016
Apr 28, 2016
Apr 28, 2016
Not a single word has been omitted, or added – for transparency as well as effect !
One could not miss the very first item on the 21 April 2016 list, which deals with: Civil trial set for AWB bribes.
The Iraqi wheat-for-weapons scandal was set to reignite headlines again in 2016 with former Australian Wheat Board – A.W.B. chair Trevor Flugge due to face court in a lengthy civil trial examining his central involvement in the bribes controversy. A.W.B.’s former group general manager trading Peter Geary was also listed to have his case heard during the same court proceedings.
The two former A.W.B. executives are facing a civil trial for allegedly inflating wheat supply contracts and making secret payments to the Saddam Hussein regime. (‘AWB made secret payments worth US$ 220m to Saddam’s Iraq …’,12 October 2015, accessible at www.theguardian.com › World › Australia › Iraq)
The mid-2000s scandal involving Prime Minister Howard, Foreign Minister Downer, and Trade Minister Vaile does not seem ‘to go away’.
It was thought at mid-2009 that the reason why Australia had slipped down the international anti-corruption rankings was because of the A.W.B. Oil-for-Food scandal.
Transparency International keeps on lamenting that many governments simply are not putting enough effort into curbing bribes. Some years ago the organisation evaluated the efforts member countries were making to uphold the O.E.C.D.’s Anti-Bribery Convention. Australia did come out in the bottom category, criticised for carrying out little or no practical enforcement against bribery offenses by national businesses operating overseas. That was a category shared by 21 O.E.C.D. countries, as diverse as Turkey, Brazil and Canada. Only four countries were in the top tier, cited for active enforcement, with eleven in the middle with moderate enforcement. In such a climate there was a risk that, unless enforcement both improved and became more uniform across countries, the Anti-Bribery Convention could become irrelevant. A convention like this cannot afford to fail, otherwise it becomes one of those international conventions which are more valuable on paper than in practice.
Especially over the decades prior to the Convention, multinational corporations have helped bribery and corruption become a much worse problem especially in developing countries. As the multinational corporations, especially American and European, went abroad to countries which were vulnerable, the scale of the bribes increased – greedy officials would demand more from foreign investors.
This was particularly a problem in the resources sector, and distorted several national economies.
The Transparency International reports look at how many foreign investment corruption cases have gone to court, year by year – and how many had resulted in convictions. While not specifically including bribes, Australia’s biggest overseas corruption case for 2009 was the Iraq Oil-for-Food scandal and the Australian Wheat Board. Six cases were at the time in the civil courts, but none had yet resulted in convictions – and the recommendations from the Royal Commission into the affair had not been followed up. The lack of results had placed Australia in the bottom group. Countries like the United States and Germany, which have both prosecuted several cases, served as a clear contrast in the top category.
Clearly the A.W.B. scandal would not go away, no matter what the Howard Government would do. It was the prevailing opinion that, apart from that scandal, the government itself was incompetent, dishonest and corrupt. It has been proven so in relation to its accountability and other processes following the discovery of restricted and secret intelligence reports and communications between various Australian embassies, trade officials, the United Nations, Australian public servants and the Australian Prime Minister, the then Minister for Trade, who was also Deputy Prime Minister, and the Foreign Minister and their Departments in relation to the A.W.B. scandal.
New evidence and supporting material had come to light during an independent investigation into claims that Members of Parliament were holding ‘dirt files’. The ‘dirt files’ claims were proven but in the process of the investigation, and a substantial amount of material related to the A.W.B. scandal as well as documents related to other issues were discovered. The A.W.B. material was held by various Australian agencies and had not been brought to the attention of the Royal Commission looking into the bribes provided to the former Iraqi regime through a straw company in Jordan.
The material showed that, in fact, senior Government ministers were told on a number of occasions that the A.W.B. was providing bribes to Saddam Hussein and his regime, contrary to the provisions of the United Nations Oil-for-Food programme. Copies of confidential and secret diplomatic cables, memoranda, e-mails and other material were found showing that both the then Minister for Trade as well as the Foreign Minister, had received numerous detailed intelligence and other briefings very early on into the scandal. They did nothing. The Foreign Minister noted in one secret memorandum to the Australian Embassy in Jordan that: “No-one will ever find out anyway”. The then Minister for Trade was also advised on a number of occasions as to what was going on. Prime Minister Howard was also briefed on the matter by the various agencies including the Office of National Assessment – O.N.A., as well as the Australia’s international spy agency – A.S.I.S.
The same Howard Government which had kept silent over what it knew of the Oil-for-Food scandal set out ‘to detect, investigate and prevent corrupt conduct’ through the newly formed Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity – A.C.L.E.I., with an Office of the Integrity Commissioner.
The Commission was established by an Act of Parliament in 2006, and placed under the responsibility of the Home Affairs and Justice Minister. The Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity’s role is to detect, investigate and prevent corruption in the Australian Border Force, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Federal Police (including ACT Policing), Australian Transaction Reporting and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), CrimTrac Agency, prescribed aspects of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and the former National Crime Authority. Other agencies with a law enforcement function may also be added by regulation. A.C.L.E.I’s primary role is to investigate law enforcement-related corruption issues, giving priority to serious and systemic corruption. The Integrity Commissioner must consider the nature and scope of corruption revealed by investigations, and report annually on any patterns and trends in corruption in Australian Government law enforcement and other Government agencies which have law enforcement functions. Accordingly, A.C.L.E.I collects intelligence about corruption in support of the Integrity Commissioner’s functions. A.C.L.E.I. also aims to understand corruption and prevent it. When, as a consequence of performing her/his functions, the Integrity Commissioner identifies laws of the Commonwealth or administrative practices of government agencies which might contribute to corrupt practices or prevent their early detection, s/he may make recommendations for these laws or practices to be changed. Any person, including members of the public and law enforcement officers, can give information to the Integrity Commissioner. Information can be given in confidence or provided anonymously.
Well Juvenal could ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodies ? – “Who will guard the guards themselves ?”
After all, who would know about a little bit of corruption work, promoted by ‘benevolent’ organisations such as the one rendered public by the Victoria Ombudsman in March 2011. And the innocent name ? – The Brotherhood. The ‘brothers’ meet for lunch, to hear a guest speaker and then to engage in a bit of ‘networking’.
What the Ombudsman discovered about The Brotherhood confirmed the widely held conviction that its activities undermine the community’s confidence in public institutions.
Invitees from a list of up to 350 influential people had been attending the lunches every six weeks since the first one was held in 2003. The guests are all men, and the Chatham House Rule applies, i.e. “What is said in the room stays in the room.”
The host has been from the beginning the founder, a former policeman between 1988 and 1999, who had come to the attention of the Police Internal Investigations Department for, among other transgressions, assaulting a member of the public, and fined $ 200. He came to head two private companies. The founder started the lunches with the statement: “We are all members of The Brotherhood and we must assist each other.”
A whistleblower told the Ombudsman that “[the founder’s] motivation for the formation and maintenance of this group is to, amongst other things, provide an environment to facilitate unlawful information trading including confidential police information and other confidential information from government departments. This is in addition to gaining commercial benefits and inside information regarding contracts for tender.”
On the invitation list were two ‘Liberal’ State MPs, many current and former police officers including one with alleged links to an organised crime figure. A former Australian Wheat Board executive involved in the Oil-for-Food scandal was on it, too. So was the manager of a licensed table top dancing venue frequented by Victoria Police officers.
Some of the public servants attending maintained databases of sensitive information. It seems that a regular attendee, a senior Victorian Police officer, disclosed the identity of a prosecution witness in a high profile murder trial, contrary to a Supreme Court suppression order. One member used his position at the Traffic Camera Office to annul over $ 2,000 worth of speeding fines accumulated by the founder and persons of his companies. The ‘operator’ denied any wrongdoing but the case was recommended to police for investigation.
The example of The Brotherhood is not unique. The Ombudsman’s report cited the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption’s investigations into the ‘Information Exchange Club’ in 1992. This could be added to the mountain of damning reports and inquiries including Royal Commissions into various state Police forces over the decades. Nothing ever seems to happen. ‘Revolving door’ appointments involving positions on boards for retiring, previously highly placed politicians have become routine.
Of course, the preceding are just some examples of unlawful behaviour. The most notorious scandals of the last decade include: Trio Capital; the Commonwealth Bank financial planning scandal; CommInsure; the ANZ insider trading scandal; the bank bill swap rates fixing scandal, which now involves three of the big four banks; Storm Financial; Opes Prime; the Financial planning scandals at Westpac, NAB and Macquarie Private Wealth; the LM Investments; Bribery allegations against ASX boss Elmer Kunke Kupper; the “managed investment schemes” (MIS) fiasco (Timbercorp, Great Southern); the Insider trading between an ABS bureaucrat and a NAB banker; and the Reserve Bank Securency scandal.
Perceptions of corruption in the Australian government and public sector increased in 2015 for the fourth year running, surging six points since 2012 in an annual index by Transparency International.
The result put Australia in thirteenth place globally for perceived openness, the country’s equal lowest ranking in the 20-year history of the report.
The annual index, which ranks 168 countries on a scale of 0 – highly corrupt to 100 – very clean, is compiled from 12 surveys of transparency experts and business people.
Australia’s 2015 score was 79, down from 80 last year. Denmark came in first with 91, followed by Finland (90), New Zealand (88) and the Netherlands (87). North Korea and Somalia ranked last with eight points each.
|Score||Change in score from previous year||Score||Change in score from previous year||Score||Change in score from previous year||Score|
Brazil suffered the biggest fall, dropping five index points amid a bribery and money-laundering scandal engulfing its state-owned oil company, Petrobras, that has drawn in some of the country’s most senior politicians.
Libya, Spain and Turkey were singled out with Australia as “big decliners”, with Greece, Senegal and the United Kingdom praised for their progress.
The chair of Transparency International Australia, Anthony Wheatley QC, said that Australia’s score was “the result of inaction from successive governments who have failed to address weaknesses in Australia’s laws and legal processes.”
Foreign bribery scandals such as those involving the Australian Wheat Board and Securency had damaged Australia’s reputation and legislation introduced into parliament in December  was “long overdue.” he said.
Transparency International also called for a federal anti-corruption agency with similar powers to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption; a nationally consistent and tighter political donations disclosure regime; and safeguards against dirty money from overseas bleeding into the Australian finance or real estate industries.
Muscular anti-foreign bribery laws and political donations reform were required to help arrest the slide. Wheatley said addressing weaknesses in government would also raise the bar for the private sector.
The links between public institutions and big business interests – both mainstream and underworld – are becoming well known to the public, but one would be an optimist for thinking that anger at the seemingly endless stream of scandals is growing. It is pressure from the community which leads to the inquiries. It is in response to this same outrage that instrumentalities like the state-based Independent Commissions Against Corruption were established.
The demand on big business to abide by their State ‘rule of law’ is certainly justified; and the fight to bring business ‘operators’ to heel must continue. But so long as governments rule on behalf of corporations and the real power in society belongs to an oligarchy the battle will never be successful.
Strictly speaking, and barring some rare, isolated cases, there is no electoral fraud in Australia if by that one means ‘illegal interference with an election process’. None of the defining instances of ‘electoral fraud’ is present in Australia – not intimidation, vote buying, misinformation, misleading or confusing ballot papers, ballot stuffing, mis-recording of votes, misuse of proxy votes or destruction or wrongful invalidation of ballots. It is ‘the electoral process’ itself which is fraudulent.
Nevertheless, to the extent that the term is sometimes used to describe acts which although legal are considered to be morally unacceptable, outside the spirit of electoral laws or in violation of the principles of democracy, there is fraud.
Show elections, in which only one candidate can win, could sometimes be considered to be electoral fraud although they may comply with the law.
In national elections, successful electoral fraud can have the effect of a coup d’état or corruption of democracy. In a narrow election a small amount of fraud may be enough to change the result. If the result is not affected, fraud can still have a damaging effect if not punished, as it can reduce voters’ confidence in democracy or, through the voters’ general indifference to politics and the process, can traduce the very substance of democracy.
Electoral fraud is not limited to political polls and can occur in any election where the potential gain is worth the risk for the cheater/s – in elections for corporate directorships or Labor union officials, student councils, sports judging, and the awarding of merit to books, films, music or television programmes. Harsh penalties aimed at deterring electoral fraud make it likely that individuals who perpetrate fraud do so with the expectation that it either will not be discovered or will be excused.
There has been for long time – in the State of Queensland in particular, but not exclusively – serious ‘Gerrymandering’. This is the practice of political corruption which attempts to establish an electoral advantage for a particular party – in the case the Country Party (Agrarian Socialists), by manipulating geographical boundaries to set up partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts. It takes its name from Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor who tried it for the first time 200 years ago.
During the 2010 Australian federal election there was an attempt at disenfranchising a large number of electors who had not enrolled in the lists before the election was called. After the ousting of Prime Minister Rudd, to justify the manoeuvre, the newly chosen Prime Minister Gillard saw fit to call a snap election, under pressure of media and corporate interests. Australian federal parliaments have three-year terms. The exact timing of national elections is in the hands of the prime minister, and an announcement on 17 July 2010 for a snap poll on 21 August meant that the campaign would last only five weeks and, more importantly, that given that an estimated 1.4 million unregistered voters – a third of them aged 18-24 – had just one day to apply for enrolment, under amendments to the Electoral Act 2006 put forward by the Howard Government, a large number of persons would be unable to vote. The minimum legally permissible time for enrolment and campaigning marked a further sharp erosion of a truly democratic process. On 6 August 2010 GetUp !, a political advocacy group, won its High Court challenge to the constitutional validity of the changes to the Electoral Act 2006. This led to up to 100,000 more Australians being added to the roll for the election.
After much experimentation and change over the past 150 years, Australia has settled for electoral arrangements which are portrayed by federal government of either hue as “accepted by Australia’s people, political parties, and parliamentarians.” This is far from the truth. Nevertheless, the system is used in the federal and many state parliaments of Australia and in municipal, major political party, trade union, church, company boards, voluntary bodies and sports clubs elections !
Practically the Australian electorate has been voting under three types of voting systems: first past the post, preferential voting and proportional representation – with single transferable vote. Voting is compulsory and secret.
First past the post – a plurality system whereby the winner is the candidate with the most number of votes, though not necessarily an absolute majority of votes – was used for the first parliamentary elections held in 1843 for the New South Wales Legislative Council and for most colonial elections during the second half of the nineteenth century. Since then there have been alterations to the various electoral systems in use around the country.
Presently, two variants of preferential voting and two variants of proportional representation are used for all Australian parliamentary elections. Preferential voting is a majority system which attempts to ensure that a candidate secures an absolute majority of votes. Proportional representation systems are designed to allocate parliamentary seats to parties in proportion to their overall vote.
Under ‘full’ preferential voting each candidate must be given a preference by the voter. First, all the number ‘1’ votes are counted for each candidate. If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent – an absolute majority, 50 per cent plus one – of the formal first preference votes, the candidate is immediately elected. If no candidate has an absolute majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded. These votes are then transferred to the other candidates according to the second preferences shown by voters on the ballot papers. If still no candidate has an absolute majority, again the remaining candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and these votes are transferred. This process will continue until one candidate has more than half the total votes cast and is declared elected. Full preferential voting has been used in federal elections since 1918. Under this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference on ballot papers. With ‘optional’ preferential voting the voter may allocate preferences to as few as one candidate. This system can produce similar outcomes to ‘full’ preferential voting but can also produce results where the winning candidate wins with less than half of the votes. It also clearly lessens the importance of preferences in many seats.
Australia has a federal system of government with a national parliament and legislative assemblies and councils – parliaments – in each state and territory, although there is no Legislative Council in Queensland, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory. This leads to a variety of systems, with a variety of frequency of election calls, and an unequal assignment of seats regardless of the population. How that could be satisfactory, and above all democratic, is beyond belief. But self-willed ignorant people could be made to believe anything, if sufficiently and frequently lied to.
A variety of electoral systems is used for these parliaments.
The federal House of Representatives is composed of 150 members, elected in designated electoral divisions for 3 years with the preferential voting system and full allocation of preferences. The Senate is elected for 6 years, with staggered re-election every three, with the proportional representation system, suitably amended.
The Legislative Assembly of New South Wales is composed of 93 members, elected for 4 years with the preferential voting system and optional allocation of preferences. The Legislative Assembly of South Australia is composed of 47 members, Victoria (88), Western Australia (59) and the Northern Territory (25), all elected for 4 years with the preferential voting system and fully allocation of preferences. The Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory is composed of 17 members, elected for 4 years and the House of Assembly of Tasmania is composed of 25 members, elected for 4 years with the proportional representation system of the Hare-Clark model. The Legislative Council of New South Wales is composed of 42 members, elected for 8 years with the proportional representation system. The Legislative Council of South Australia is composed of 22 members, Victoria (40), Western Australia (36) elected for 4 years with the proportional representation system used for the federal Senate. The Legislative Council of Tasmania is composed of 15 members, elected for 6 years with the preferential voting system and the optional (partial) allocation of preferences.
Only a person paid for her/his biased opinion could state that systems such as these do not leave Australians unequal by result, weight of their representation, at the same time in different administration of the state and territories of the country.
The results of the 7 September 2013 federal election for the House of Representatives led to a staggering comparison: the Australian Labor Party, with 4,311,365 votes and 33.38 percentage of the votes obtained 55 seats. The ‘Coalition’ (Liberal Party of Australia, 4,134,865 votes, Liberal National Party of Queensland, 1,152,217 votes, National Party of Australia, 554,268 votes, Country Liberal Party of the Northern Territory, 41,468 votes) with 5,882,818 votes and 45.55 percentage obtained 90 seats. The Australian Greens, with 1,116,918 obtained 1 seat. The Palmer United Party received 709,035 votes and obtained 1 seat; the Katter’s Australian Party received 134,226 votes and obtained 1 seat; there were two Independents with 177,217 votes, and obtained 2 seats; 583,348 for other groups gained no seat.
After distribution of the forced ‘preferences’ the results for the two parties of the system were: the Australian Labor Party, with 6,006,217 of the votes and 46.51 percentage, obtained 55 seats; the ‘Coalition’, with 6,908,710 votes and 53.49 percentage, obtained 90 seats. It deserves repeating: the Australian Greens, with 1,116,918 votes and 8.65 percentage, obtained one seat.
The consequence of this monstrous system after the 2010 elections was the axiomatic proposition that the ‘Labor’ Party cannot win anything close to a majority without the Greens ‘preferences’ and the Greens cannot win any seats without the ‘Liberals’ ‘preferring’ them in odium of ‘Labor’ ! It made for a wobbly collaboration in an unsavoury alliance: the Greens and ‘Labor’ were deadly enemies compelled to work together. A minority government was possible because of the support of the one Green and three of the Independents.
Proportional representation is meant to yield ‘proportional’ election results, whereby parties should win parliamentary seats roughly in proportion to the size of their vote. Ideally, 50 per cent of the votes should win about 50 per cent of the seats. Proportional representation is the clearest way of realising the basic tenet that the proportion of representatives who hold a particular view should be roughly the same as the proportion of the people who hold that view. While some systems which pursue this goal (such as closed party list) can address other proportionality issues (gender, religion, ethnicity), and these advantages are often used to promote such variants, it is not a feature of proportional representation as such to ensure an even split of men vs. women, ethnic or religious representation which resembles the population, or any other goal.
As it is used in practice in politics, the only proportionality being respected is a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections in representative democracy, and the percentage of seats they receive – e.g., in legislative assemblies. Thus a more exact term is party-proportional representation, sometimes used by those who wish to highlight systems which emphasise party choice less, candidate or gender choice more, or who wish not to promote systems (such as closed party-list mixed-member proportional) which overly empower the parties, at the expense of voter choice of exactly which individuals go to the legislature as representatives. In contrast those who subordinate gender, ethnic, religious, regional or candidate choice to party choice – usually party members themselves – often use the term full representation.
Proportional systems almost always use political parties as the measure of representation – thus in practice these systems are party-proportional. For example, a party which receives 15 per cent of the votes under such a system receives 15 per cent the seats for its candidates. Different methods of achieving proportional representation achieve either greater proportionality or a more determinate outcome.
Party-list proportional representation is one approach, in which groupings correspond directly with candidate lists from political parties. The open list form allows the voter to influence the election of individual candidates within a party list. The closed list approach does not. Another variation is the single transferable vote, which does not depend on political parties – and where the ‘measure of grouping’ is entirely left up to the voters. Elections for the Australian Senate use what is referred to as above-the-line voting where candidates for each party are grouped on the ballot, allowing the voter to vote for the group or for a candidate.
The parties each list their candidates according to that party’s determination of priorities. In closed list systems, voters vote for a list, not a candidate. Each party is allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes it receives, using the party-determined ranking order. In an open list, voters may vote, depending on the model, for one person, or for two, or indicate their order of preference within the list.
This system is used in many countries, including Finland – with an open list, Sweden – with an open list, Israel – where the whole country is one closed list constituency, Brazil – with an open list, the Netherlands – with an open list, South Africa – with a closed list, and for elections to the European Parliament in most European Union countries – mostly with an open list.
A mixed election system – such as is presently used in New Zealand – combines a proportional system and a single seat district system, attempting to achieve some of the positive features of each. Mixed systems are often helpful in countries with large populations, since they balance local and national concerns. They are used in nations with diverse geographic, social, cultural and economic issues. Such systems, or variations of them, are also used in Bolivia, Germany, Mexico, and for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
It may be instructive to compare the electoral results in two different countries which are regarded as democratically governed: Finland, which has proportional representation on a party list, and New Zealand, which has a mixed member proportional representation system.
After the Finnish parliamentary election of 19 April 2015 the 200 seats were divided among the nine successful parties as follows:
Centre Party, with 626,218 votes and 21.10 per cent obtained 49 seats.
Finns Party, with 524,054 votes and 17.65 per cent obtained 38 seats.
National Coalition Party, with 540,212 votes and 18.20 per cent obtained 37 seats.
Social Democratic Party, with 490,102 votes and 16.51 per cent obtained 34.
Green League, with 253,102 votes and 8.53 per cent obtained 15 seats.
Left Alliance, with 211,702 votes and 7.13 per cent obtained 12 seats.
Swedish People’s Party of Finland, with 144,802 votes and 4.88 per cent obtained 9 seats.
Christian Democrats, with 105,134 and 3.54 per cent obtained 5 seats.
The Åland representative, with 10,910 votes and 0.37 per cent was elected to a reserved seat.
That is proportionality, and that is democracy.
Finns are no different as human beings from any others. Perhaps their better way of governance may reside on their more modern view and the good fortune of not being chained to stultifying ‘tradition’ such as that of the Westminster System. Independent since 1917, with an original Constitution Act enacted in 1919, recently modified with an Act which came into force on 1 March 2000, and further amended on 1 March 2012, the Finns have declared their country a sovereign republic, in which power is vested in the people, who are represented by the Parliament. Thus begins the very first Chapter of that Constitution. And it goes on: “The constitution shall guarantee the inviolability of human dignity and the freedom and rights of the individual and promote justice in society. Finland participates in international co-operation for the protection of peace and human rights and the development of society.” Chapter 2 is devoted to the protection of “Basic rights and liberties”, listed one by one. In its words one could hear Sibelius, confidently declaring in a letter to his friend Axel Carpelan: “ … I can already make out the mountain that I shall ascend (…) God is opening his doors for a moment, and his orchestra is playing the Fifth Symphony.”
After the New Zealand parliamentary election of 20 September 2014 the 121 seats were divided among the seven successful parties as follows:
National, with 1,131,501 votes and 47.04 per cent, obtained 60 seats.
Labour, with 604,534 votes and 25.13 per cent, obtained 32 seats.
Green, with 257,356 votes and 10.70 per cent, obtained 14 seats.
New Zealand First, with 208,300 votes and 8.66 per cent, obtained 11 seats.
Māori, with 31,850 votes and 1.32 per cent, obtained 2 seats.
Association of Consumers and Taxpayers,
with 16,689 votes and 0.69 per cent, obtained 1 seat.
United Future, with 5,286 votes and 0.22 per cent, obtained 1 seat.
Other parties received 150,104 votes and 6.24 per cent, but obtained no seat.
That may be democracy, representation it is not.
This much is certain: no all purpose definition of Fascism is possible. Mussolini’s was born republican and anti-clerical, hired by land-owners and industrialists, for the repression of workers; soon turned monarchist, and corporatist. Fascism found a good bed to lay down with the Fascist Popes: Pius XI and Pius XII – the latter a Nazi-sympathiser, all comfortable in ritual buffoonery, during 1922-43; it died ‘republican’ and ‘social’ under the wing of the German occupiers, 1943-45. Hitler’s was paid by big business, essentially pagan and anti-Christian, lasted twelve years of planned, unrelenting crime and genocide, 1933-45. Franco’s was National-Catholic, corporatist, luckier than the previous two to the point of becoming acceptable to the ‘western democracies’ – thirty nine years of blessed brutality, 1936-75. There are other examples, of course: Peron’s Argentina, Pinochet’s Chile, and others, too, of more different hue. They all share some common elements: anti-Communism, anti-Bolshevism, anti-Semitism – albeit in various degrees.
Sub-tropical – somewhat Friendly Fascism, if that should be the answer to the original question, presents many features common to other Fascisms – and some. Here they are, perhaps not in any specific order, but listed as constitutive essential elements:
– 1788, English invasion of Gondwana-New Holland-Australia, untouched by the ‘spirit of 1789’, as well as that of 1776; 140 years to 1928 of planned genocide of the original Black population, during decades of institutional racism; unbridled nationalism – only now and only implicitly still proclaiming the cultural superiority of the British system, from classist law to a putrescent monarchy, yet, still capable of censoring the production of a Royals’ spoof by the publicly-supported Australian Broadcasting Corporation;
– a stolid insularity which proclaims Australia = the Southern Hemisphere, with ‘the world’ out there – people oblivious to the political and economic upheaval which is going on beyond its borders;
– a continuous rhetoric of freedom, liberty, democracy, and – much later – human rights, clashing with a reality of preferring authority to liberty, hierarchy to equality, and deference to fraternity;
– a close alliance of the State and the corporate world and its fraudsters;
– the domination by huge foreign business – themselves with a tradition of supporting dictators all over the world;
– the support which must be needed to participate in a transnational business-military complex, as a supplier of senseless growth;
– irrationality – largely due to ‘imported values’ – in an atmosphere of know-nothing-ism in which conformism and formal adherence to the ‘values’ of the Judeo-Christian tradition are ‘safer’, although they may bring home varying degrees of anti-Semitism; but they serve to sustain inequality and authoritarianism, and a sense of resignation which goes with that ‘faith’, superstition, predestination, delusion, and life-gambling;
– a parliamentary system in which television performance by highly paid, studiously ‘beautiful’ actors respects the game of a decaying, morally and intellectually corrupt Westminster System;
– a central cabal to preside over a new coalition of concentrated oligarchic power and, in effect, unconcerned that pillaging over pillaging may cause shortages, pollution, unemployment, inflation and war;
– the growth of militarism as a ‘spirit of life’, early inculcated into subsequent generations through school and family;
– duty, honour and patriotism redefined to defend observation of such business-military-corporate-transnational-bellicose ‘values’;
– a close alliance of the State, the Church and the corporate world and its fraudsters;
– all of the preceding wrapped into a flag with mixes the reference to early tax evaders with the perennial British servitude expressed in the Union Jack’s treble crucifixion – surely, surely the surviving symbols of colonialism;
– an automatic aggressive, subservient, militaristic, ‘foreign policy’, which quietly transferred a state of vassalage from ‘the mother country’ to a Great-And-Powerful-Friend’, always subsuming a position of superior ‘biological determinism’ – better racial superiority vis-à-vis the neighbours;
– a readiness to intervene whenever the ‘leader of the free world’ calls – if need be with a lie as in Vietnam, or to ‘export democracy’ as in Iraq – but realistically to guarantee the availability of petroleum for the ‘free world’;
– a fragmented ‘society’ in which, it may be difficult to tell and persuade an indifferent populace that homelessness, unemployment, a high cost of surviving, and urban congestion, transport, decay, and filth are good for them, although it is not too difficult to have that populace tighten the belt on an austerity programme from which the bottomless wealthy are obviously excluded by the size of their ill-gotten possessions and through recourse to tax minimisation and perks;
– an organisation of the economy to serve international and domestic cartels under the illusion of a ‘market economy’, which amounts to nothing more than a corporativist economy;
– the proclivity of a populace to ‘quick solutions’ which always end up in reduction of government spending for social services, health, fire protection, employment prospects and – for the few who still care – libraries;
– all this of course in strict observance of the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in a multicultural and secular society without any concern that such mindless ‘communion’ may make no-sense, especially to those many given to an inordinate consumption of alcohol, and an increasing use of drugs and always with a structural passion for gambling;
– a militant anti-Communism – now revised as an anti-Muslim attitude – coupled with the fear of an extreme and imminent threat to ‘national security’, which justifies an even more secret police apparatus, practically unlimited by constitutional restrictions or legal requirements – there being no Bill of Rights and a colonial reliance on the common law;
– a duopoly in printed media and an oligopoly in other media totally controlled and curtseyed in fear of retribution by a band of Right-wing talking heads, or pens and noisy minions in the parliaments;
– an ‘education’ system which indoctrinates to incuriosity, imparted by well-dressed propagandists of ‘market values’, wondrous technology, and the virtues of hard time – under the cloak of acceptable ‘respectability’, while words such as ‘academic’ and ‘intellectual’ become an expression of contempt if not of an attribution of lunacy in a new world where language is debased, SMEssed, and increasingly closer to grunts;
– a ‘society’ in which what matters is a sum of trivia + conformity + search-for-quick-enrichment + success and ‘popularity’;
– the reliance on a pill-for-everything and technology for every need in peace as in war;
– an unquestioning confidence that violence can win in the end – preferably with bombs to kill people but to respect ‘real property’, or action from a distance on an automated battlefield;
– an innate disregard for any form of economic and or political planning because that is presented, inculcated, absorbed and regurgitated as ‘Socialism’ at best when not ‘Communism’;
– a national obsession for any sport and pomp and circumstance with the corollary passion for marching as substitute for thought: occasionally ‘slow march’, as the English do, and bag-pipes as the Scots do – but nothing original;
– the totally incredible but widely believed notion that in Australia there are some very rich, some poor – largely because refractory to work, and a large, overwhelming majority of people who are both ‘middle class’ and blessed by a unique form of class-collaboration;
– the rota-like repetition and mindless assertion, out of laziness and indifference, by an uncultured populace of the blessing of a multicultural society – a notion totally devoid of meaning and sense if by that one should accept populist cretinism and Government Philistinism as defining a multi-folkloristic circus.
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.