ALLAN PATIENCE. Base politics or incredibly clumsy policing?

Police raids on political parties or associated institutions at any time should raise concerns – and the hackles – among democratically minded citizens. The recent raids on AWU offices in Sydney and Melbourne, seemingly in search for “dirt” on Bill Shorten’s time as head of the Union, should be ringing alarm bells. Are the police acting independently, as our weak Prime Minister claims? Is this an attempt to silence one of the country’s most effective political advocacy groups – to wit, GetUp!? Are the federal police seeking to curry favour with an incumbent government by going after the Leader of the Opposition? Is it all of the above? Or is it simply Canberra’s latest bureaucratic SNAFU?  

Whether you agree with it or not, GetUp! is one of the most robust and policy-relevant voices in politics in contemporary Australia. That it gets up the collective nose of the government and its clamorous supporters is hardly surprising. Note Herr Senator Abetz’s staccato fulminating against it at every opportunity afforded him by his New Ltd supervisors.

GetUp! is routinely challenging the passivity and complacency of the electorate; the falangist tendencies festering within the Coalition, the incompetence of the Turnbull government, and the mindless partisanship of the Murdoch media. It provides invaluable alternative information and analysis to what is offered by our mendicant politicians and their media masters. As such GetUp! is one of the most necessary and healthiest tonics presently available for Australia’s faltering democracy.

Earlier this year the Coalition (with the egregious support of Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch) passed legislation to establish a Registered Organisations Commission (ROC) – a bureaucratic watchdog basically designed to put the screws on how Unions raise and spend members’ funds in political campaigns. The AWU is being investigated by the ROC for alleged improprieties in funding of both GetUp! (to the tune of $100,000) and Shorten’s 2007 political campaign (to the tune of $25,000).

The whole shambolic affair suggests either government conniving with the ROC (whose days will certainly be numbered in the event of a Shorten Labor victory at the next election), or clumsy stupidity among the senior levels of the ROC and the AFP. Either way, this is dangerous. Where will it all end? Will the next raid be on academics’ offices because they offer political analyses critical of governments? Are we going to see the CWA being raided because some of its urban branches support a Yes vote in the same-sex marriage postal survey? 

Whoever made the decision to action the raids has demonstrated almost unbelievable heavy-handedness by adopting this way over the top approach, especially at this time. It looks like we have an ambitious but numbskull bureaucrat (or a small number of them) at the top responding to the growing crisis of the Turnbull government as opinion polling goes south and as the decision of the High Court on the eligibility of Barnaby Joyce to sit in parliament looms darkly above it.

The Royal Commission into union corruption, set up by the Abbott government, failed to deliver the expected hobbling of the trade union movement and the nailing of Bill Shorten as a creature of corrupt and violent union officials. Given this failure, whoever is in now charge (if any one is in charge) he, she or they are apparently going after Shorten again, raising doubts about the legality of AWU political donations that were made a decade ago. The whole affair stinks to high heaven.

However, this mad dog strategy is already seriously backfiring on the government. Minister for (Un)Employment Michaelia Cash’s strident parliamentary denials that her office had managed the media’s reporting of the police raids on the AWU have now been revealed as total falsehoods. If the Westminster tradition means anything at all these days, Cash must take full responsibility for the involvement of her staff member in alerting the media to the police raids and resign immediately. Whatever spin she and the Prime Minister try to put on the whole affair is now unbelievable. The affair taken on the appearance of a particularly desperate political witch-hunt.

The Labor Opposition should keep their powder dry over this issue. They would be wise to respond with dignified indifference to the provocations they are receiving from both the ROC and the government. Let them remain aloof from the pettiness and nastiness that is motivating these raids. For it is not impossible that the raids will either be found to be illegal by the Federal Court, or that they will yield about as much as the Royal Commission into so-called union corruption. The ALP should wait patiently for government to dig itself into a hole on the issue and use this ridiculous imbroglio as grounds for abolishing the ROC as soon as it comes to power. Then they should proceed to a Royal Commission into the Finance Industry in Australia with wide ranging terms of reference and plenty of resources to go after the banks and others in the industry.

For we of the voting public this grubby little affair – apparently initiated by the ROC, possibly in cahoots with the government – confirms the cynicism and contempt we rightly feel for all that is going on in the federal parliament and politics generally in this country right now. And we will so look forward to voting against this kind of politics at the next federal election. Bring it on!

Allan Patience is a Principal Fellow in Political Science in the University of Melbourne. 

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5 Responses to ALLAN PATIENCE. Base politics or incredibly clumsy policing?

  1. Brenton says:

    I can’t help but think this has a whiff of utegate about it. Who can forget the photo of Malcolm with his head in hands after being told Godwin had been collard by the plods. I suspect there may have been a similar violent meeting of palm and forehead when told that this cunning plan had come unstuck. “So cunning you could paint it red and call it a bus.”

  2. Scott MacWilliam says:

    There is a more serious matter involved here than whether Minister Cash or PM Turnbull are lying about the so-called leak to the press in advance of the AFP raid on the AWU’s offices. Adam Bandt, unencumbered by loyalty to Bill Shorten or the ALP, has correctly noted that what is at stake is the myth about the AFP’s and ROC’s `independence’ from governments. Obviously since the leak came from one or other politician’s offices, that means one or more politicians knew in advance of the raid by supposedly `apolitical’ AFP and ROC officers. And if the Minister(s) knew, why since supposedly their complicity is not required, or the action even supposed to need their approval?

    I doubt the ALP will want to pursue this more important matter as after all they want the same mythological procedure to apply when in office. Note how Shorten was so quick to praise the AFP officers and pin the blame on the government, not to say that police and other security officers act hand-in-glove with governments and ministers all the time as state repressive apparatuses.
    Electors only get to choose between one set of myth-makers and preservers and another, so don’t expect any changes no matter who wins the next election.

  3. Warwick Davis says:

    Right with you. It is a deplorable, wrongful use of police, to investigate nothing, and only signifies the rush to a fascist state.

  4. Julian says:

    Thank you Allan. Agreed.

    I particularly liked your splendid forensic: “GetUp! is routinely challenging the passivity and complacency of the electorate; the falangist tendencies festering within the Coalition, the incompetence of the Turnbull government, and the mindless partisanship of the Murdoch media.”

    Earlier today my attention was drawn to a piece from “Australia’s most read columnist” Andrew Bolt, who summarized as follows: “This is looking too much like victor’s justice and the Liberals risk paying a terrible price for it when Labor gets back into government.”*

    *Melbourne Herald-Sun, 26 October, 2017. Opinion, page 13.

  5. Bob Mills says:

    I note that GetUp’s response has been to launch a campaign for a federal corruption commission. It will be fascinating to watch how GetUp interacts with the Jackie Lambie network and the cross benchers of the Senate as this one warms up.

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