There is something deeply and disturbingly ironic about Tony Abbott meeting Egypt’s military dictator Abdel el-Sisi and asking the blood-soaked general to release journalist Peter Greste from his seven-year gaol sentence.
Greste was convicted of spreading “false” news that harmed Egypt’s national interest in a sham trial that resembled a Monty Python script rather than the heights of judicial intelligence.
The meeting between Abbott and el-Sisi took place at the United Nations general assembly in New York where both men gave impassioned, but totally wrong-headed, speeches about the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Leave out the grotesque parody of their meeting and what are we left with?
Two leaders who claim that it has become necessary to reduce freedoms in order to keep their citizens free.
In Egypt, el-Sisi is terrorizing the population with arbitrary detentions, the arrest of activists and death sentences handed out 600 at a time to alleged members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherood. Journalists and TV presenters are among those persecuted and gaoled for speaking out against el-Sisi’s coup and the farcical recent elections.
In Australia, Tony Abbott leads a government that is also slowly destroying our freedoms and political democracy so hard won over generations.
In a speech to Federal Parliament attempting to justify the anti-Muslim hysteria dog-whistled into being by a spurious “threat” of terrorism, Abbott laid out his anti-democratic agenda, couched in the faux-Churchillian tones of his political hero, John Howard:
“Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others.”
Who are the “some” and who are the “others” in this Orwellian doublespeak?
Well, that is becoming clearer as the days pass and Abbott’s anti-freedom agenda becomes clearer.
The first category of the “some” and the ones in most danger are members of Australia’s Muslim community. Their freedoms are less precious to this nasty rightwing government than the freedoms of the rich and powerful one percent – practically the only section of Australian society that still has any faith in Abbott and his failed crew of entitled leaners.
There will be “more” restrictions on adherents of Islam – passports being revoked, their Middle Eastern homelands being put off-limits, expansion of the “no-fly” lists, spying on their mosques and bookshops, raids on their homes in the middle of the night, but with the national security media tipped off and waiting to video men with beard and women in the niqab, looking dangerous in handcuffs, with faces blurred surrounded by uniforms, guns and vicious dogs.
But, like the creep of Nazi terror, that first swept up the gypsies and the Roma; then took the Jews, homosexuals and communists to the gas chambers in 1930s Germany, the net is widening and the “some” is expanding as Abbott takes us ever closer to another war in Iraq.
Under the Big Brother-esque and ominously monikered National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (no. 1) of 2014 new categories of offence have been created and the “some” enlarged to cover journalists, whistleblowers and anyone who exposes secret anti-terror operations to public scrutiny.
The penalty for anyone guilty of exposing a shadowy “special intelligence operation” is 10 years in gaol – that’s longer than the seven year sentence imposed on Peter Greste by Egypt’s military dictators.
Worse still, the exact nature of a “special” police operation is not specified. It could be anything that the government, ASIO and the federal police want to keep away from the public’s gaze.
Nobody should be surprised by Abbott’s grab for secret powers and the government’s push to hide its war against Australia’s Muslims behind a veil of secrecy. This is the same government that has allowed Scott Morrison to consistently refuse to disclose information about its murderous war against asylum-seekers using the disgusting excuse that it will not comment on “on water” and “operational” matters.
This is the same government that is pursuing a war on Australian workers via its bosses-first budget that cuts funding for social services, health and education while letting the big polluters and the mining industry off the hook.
This is the same government that lied its way into office promising no cuts to the ABC or the SBS, but that is subjecting our public broadcasters death by a thousand slow cuts.
This is the same government that is attempting to destroy workers’ rights by cutting off the trade union movement at the knees through a thoroughly politicized Royal Commission that allows the crimes of the bosses to go unpunished.
This is the same government that spent millions of dollars on a bogus inquiry into the home insulation scheme, but refuses to prosecute bosses who kill workers every day.
This is the same government that is spending billions on a new “war on terror” at home and abroad while crying “budget emergency”.
It is the same government that has used draconian powers of “preventative” detention for the first time to hold people who haven’t been charged with any crime.
It is the same government that tormented 18-year-old Numan Haidar with surveillance and by revoking his passport and eventually killing him. And let’s not forget the vilification and defamation heaped on this young man after his death.
Now this government wants to silence whistleblowers and threaten journalists who dare to challenge its power with 10 years in gaol.
The Abbott government is the most serious threat to Australian democracy since Kerr’s coup against Gough Whitlam in 1975.
The journalists’ union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, has condemned Abbott’s security measures arguing that they criminalise the day-to-day work of journalists and restricts the flow of information about vital national security issues.
The union is right about this, but unfortunately, it seems that it will do nothing except express its outrage.
A serious fightback against this legislation would require the MEAA to agitate for action among its members – perhaps starting with a boycott of all government media announcements until this law is repealed.
I won’t be holding my breath that this will happen. At best the criticism from senior journalists has been mild. Despite the thundering headline on his News.com.au column (“Our free press is under siege”), all that Laurie Oakes could muster as a challenge to Abbott was the following lame paragraph:
“The Government should be pushed to frame anti-terrorism laws in a way that minimises the infringement on press freedom.”
Yeah, thanks Laurie, when will you climb down off your comfortable perch and join is in a protest march to protect your “hard won” freedom to pontificate from on high?
On the “Left” side of the media, the Guardian’s deputy political editor, Katherine Murphy, also raised her voice in quiet complaint. In the end, Murphy’s response is as muted as Oakes’. It’s all about “asking” the government to be more accountable.
That’s not going to cut it.
This is an unreasonable government that believes it can act with impunity against anyone who challenges its authority. And with a tame press – what I call the National Security Media, unwilling to really fight back – the real protest will be up to us.