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History Lessons for a new Government

BY  on SEPTEMBER 29, 2013 • ( 34 )

Image courtesy of brisbanetimes.com.auImage courtesy of brisbanetimes.com.au

History Lessons for a new Government: a guest post by Ben Brown.

While I have always taken an interest in politics, I have never been motivated to be active. I’m not a member of any political party. I’ve never turned out to protest or campaigned to push a particular belief one way or another. But there has been one thought that has been running round and round in my mind during the first three weeks of the Abbott led, Liberal – National coalition government. It’s taken me a while to pinpoint it, because it traces back to my modern history lessons in my school days over 20 years ago.

It starts with a quote I remember from Edmund Burke. Originating somewhere around 200 years ago it is quite a sexist quote, so I will change the word ‘man’ to ‘people’ to modernise it. But with that one word change, this statement is still completely relevant to the 21st century.  “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.” It is that idea that has continually gone through my mind as I watch and hear this new government’s rhetoric and action and it is that idea that has motivated me to write this essay. That is, it is that idea which has motivated me, for the first time, do something. I can no longer idly sit by and let evil triumph.

A bit of an overreaction I hear you say? Well the problem is, evil works by continually shifting the lines of social acceptance. And if you connect the dots, you can see that the primary aim of this current government’s agenda is to shift that line. It started with the government ministry and can be seen in a number of ways. Firstly, after campaigning with an entourage of female family members, with the direct intent of giving the impression that Abbott and his government is in tune with a 21st century belief of equality of the genders, it promptly released a government ministry of 19 members, entailing only one woman. Worst still, the role of Minister for the status of women was downgraded to a non-cabinet position in the outer ministry. And then we hear that this ministry position is to be taken up by none other than Mr Abbott. What better way to ensure that the status of women is silenced than to take it out of the hands of women and control it yourself.

That’s a very cynical way of looking at it I hear you protest. Abbott is taking this on himself because he know how important it is, and by taking it on himself he will ensure it is given the full weight of the prime ministership to advocate for it. Unfortunately, as I start to connect the dots, I see little reason to believe this would be the case. Rather, I see mounting evidence of an agenda repression, rather than advocacy. And that brings me to the second piece of evidence you can see from the ministry. That is, evident by what was left out, (besides the presence of women, and the prominence of the role of the ministry for the status of women). We also now see no youth ministry and no early childhood ministry, two other social factors that are entwined with the status of women. Similarly, we see no disability minister and no aged care minister. Both of which encompass important roles in society that are predominantly taken by women, and now not deemed important enough to have their own government portfolio.

But it is not only the role of women that is being systematically silenced by this government. On economics we now have no work place relations minister, no financial services minister and no tourism minister. But what really scares me is the way that this government has made clear that the role of science is to be devalued. By abolishing both the science ministry and the climate change ministry they have effectively sent the message that, one the one hand they do not believe in climate change, and on the other hand they mean to suppress any communication (at least at this stage, government communication) that talks up climate change or suggests inadequacies in their so called direct action. And to back this up, within two weeks of being in government they disbanded the climate commission, the very organisation that has been put in place to help interpret and disseminate scientific evidence on climate change. Not to mention the purging of government department heads who believe in climate change. I wonder how they will address the IPCC’s findings that we are just 30 years away from climate calamity? As Abbott stated pre-election, Direct Action policy will be capped at $3.2 billion regardless of whether it enables Australia to meet the hitherto-bipartisan target of a 5% reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions by 2020.

But the restriction of information is not limited to women, science or the environment. No, along with the cuts to the above mentioned ministries came the addition of a new ministry. Scott Morrison is now the minister for ‘border protection’. And what has this new government done in its efforts of ‘border protection’? It hasn’t been to stop the flow of boats, but rather, to stop the information flow about boats. That is right, by militarising the efforts to stop boats carrying asylum seekers under a three star general, this government has effectively take us to war with people who are already fleeing war. And at the same time, cut the Australian people out of the information flow about these people. So now we the Australian people are told, ‘trust us, we have your interest in hand, but we are not going to tell you what we are doing or what is going in in our efforts to keep your best interest in hand’. Which brings me back to another one of those lessons I learnt way back in high school modern history classes. That is, “the first casualty when war comes is truth”. *

Forgive my cynicism but I can only see this as another dot to be joined in a government act of systematically suppressing information. This morning I woke to the news that as many as 50 people are feared dead after a boat loaded with asylum seekers sank off the south coast of west Java.  This is a humanitarian disaster that we have the right to be informed about right? Surely our government should be keeping us up to date on this? However, the ABC’s political reporter in Canberra, Andrew Green, said the news of the drowning and of a second attempt to return asylum seekers to Indonesia had been met with a “deafening silence” from the Australian Government and participating agencies. What I have learned is that in the past 48 hours there have been at least 2 boats intercepted, with the passengers being ‘returned at sea’ and another boat that has sunk in Indonesian waters.  But the government won’t give us any information on these boats because they are sticking to their policy of not commenting on operational details under operation sovereign boarders.  But wasn’t part of that policy also a policy of turning back the boats?  So this boat that sunk. Was it ‘turned back’? As the operation has been militarised, and the information suppressed we may never know. What I do know is that the original call to stop the boats was to save the lives of those who were attempting to come by boat. Not to declare war on them.

But still, the restriction of information goes further than this. After Christopher Pyne let the cat out of the bag about the Abbott government plans to drastically overhaul the higher education system, including axing the compulsory fee collected by universities to support student services, Abbott’s response was to clamp down on his ministers in the way they are permitted to interact with the press. This covers all national media interviews on television, radio and print. This includes any ABC local radio or ABC television interviews, the Sunday programs, Sky News, and metropolitan print media longer-format interviews, etc.

And now the Coalition Government is looking into ways to prevent us from partaking in boycotts. This is direct attack on citizen’s free speech, an integral point that is fundamental to the existence of a free society. The free market includes the right to spend money according to your values, and the Government appears to be trying to impose their own morality — or amorality — on Australian citizens. So in effect they are telling us that they want to take away our right NOT to buy a product. What exactly do they propose to do if we do participate in a boycott? Will we be silenced like they are silence the current wave of asylum seekers? And to what extent will they go to find out if you have participated? Will they monitor your Facebook pages and twitter feeds? Going on the fact that they have declared war on those fleeing it, it’s not a large step to take. Once that line has been shifted, it’s very easy to shift it a little further . . . and further.

It is this shifting line that compelled me to speak up. Because I know that if we do not learn from our history then we will be condemned to relive it.  And I won’t be able to live with myself if one day in Australian there will be even a small resemblance of truth to the application of Martin Niemöller poem describing another such society that allowed that line to continue to shift:

First they came for the communist’s,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialist’s,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionist’s,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,

and there was no one left to speak for me.

* Hiram W Johnson, senator for California, to the US Senate in 1917

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