George Orwell wrote that almost any English person would accept bullying as a synonym for fascism. Political theorists refer to fascism as characterised by secrecy in government, by goals for national regeneration plus promotion of masculinity and derision of democracy.
Australia’s Morrison government is imitating features of fascism and should be reminded of other leaders who had similar intentions.
The Spanish dictator General Franco insisted, ‘We do not believe in government through the voting booth.’ A few years later he was supported by the Italian leader Mussolini who claimed, ‘Democracy is beautiful in theory. In practice it is a fallacy. The truth is men are tired of liberty.’
Since 9/11, and allegedly in defence of Australian citizens’ safety, governments have given enormous powers to police forces and intelligence services charged with facilitating anti terrorist laws by collecting data about individual citizens. Authority figures such as Cabinet Ministers, the heads of police and intelligence are inaccessible to the public, seldom held accountable but are supposed to be trusted.
An erosion of civil liberties occurs in a fascist culture which grows but stays out of sight, regarded by political leaders as necessary, to be accepted as normal. This normalisation is backed by Murdoch influenced media operatives quick to deride dissent about police state tendencies let alone the value of whistleblowers.
In ‘Secrecy’, Brian Toohey documents Australian leaders promoting secrecy, ignorance and fear to introduce new laws that undermine individual liberties. He argues that Australia is less secure than it has ever been and the greatest threat comes from elected government.
Franco and Mussolini like, the extent of Australian anti terrorist legislation is mind boggling.
In the six years after 9/11, the Howard government pushed through a new anti-terrorist statute almost every seven weeks. Constitutional lawyer George Williams reveals that 60 counter terrorism laws have included provision for warrantless searches, the banning of organisations, the secret detention and interrogation of non-suspected citizens by ASIO. Barrister Greg Barns has recorded the ACT Ombudsman’s judgement that between 2015 and 2019, the Australian Federal Police accessed location information about individuals 1700 times but on only nine occasions did they comply with the law.
The authoritarian characteristics of Australia’s legal and political landscape are evident in the abusive treatment of citizens whose liberties have been invaded by police and intelligence services ordered by a revengeful Minister for Home Affairs or Attorney General. NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, lawyer Bernard Collaery, citizen K, military lawyer David McBride and Taxation office whistleblower RIchard Boyle have experienced the bullying, authoritarian, unaccountable conduct of state authorities.
A year ago, in full view of assembled media, 40 police arrived at Shaoquett Moselmane’s home. Complete with sniffer dogs, a hovering helicopter, and intent on collecting dust and hair samples, the policeman in charge was apologetic about his presence, said that the MP was not a suspect yet his officers spent eighteen hours in the raid and left a family bewildered and traumatised.
To compound what looks like licensed thuggery, in Senate Estimates, the chief of the AFP dodged questions as to who informed the media about an event described by a Sydney journalist as ASIO’s most significant investigation for years. An innocent politician and his family were held accountable for nothing yet a police chief can avoid answering questions with the usual evasive response, ‘I’ll take that on notice.’
When Citizen K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery reported the Australian government’s 2004 illegal bugging of Timor Leste offices for the purpose of gaining commercial advantage, they were charged under an Act ( National Security Information) intended to protect intelligence information in the prosecution of terrorists. To conceal the illegalities of government, two citizens have been subject to years of official bullying, and are then subject to a trial in secret. In a democracy, such process beggars belief.
Since 2014, military lawyer David McBride had been warning about the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. His evidence had been ignored until Attorney General Porter decided to lay charges against the whistleblower. Secrecy had to be protected. When told that McBride had displayed courage in the the public interest and should be thanked not prosecuted, Porter blamed court proceedings on the Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions.
Equally significant but less well known is the response to RIchard Boyle’s whistleblowing about the debt recovery tactics of the Australian Taxation Office. For his responsible reporting he’s told , ‘don’t you dare speak about the shortcomings of government institutions.’ The whistleblower messenger becomes the victim. Hit with 66 charges, since reduced to 24, Boyle faces up to 160 years in prison.
It’s not clear who is meant to benefit from such legal chicanery, yet in meetings beyond the public gaze or ken, a fascination with fascism prevails and produces the
prospect of medieval punishment.
In similar vein, but in Washington, US prosecutors concocted charges against Julian Assange so that he could face 175 years in jail. Only in the most macabre, some might say fascist, deliberations could such an outcome be imagined. In apparent sympathy with their US ally and in collusion with a so called justice system in the UK, Australian governments say nothing about the cruelty towards Julian Assange. His treatment matches a current ‘we’ll do what we like’, ‘we’ll do what we can get away with’ political-legal culture.
It may seem outlandish to describe trends in Australian government as fascist, let alone raise the spectre of Franco and Mussolini, but evidence is unavoidable. Dangerous trends should be identified, challenged and stopped.
The dangers can be seen in bi partisan party acceptance of secrecy in government, in sections of the media happy to paint any activity which they choose to label anti-terrorist as a threat to security. Such trends are dangerous because they maintain public ignorance, or encourage a willingness to accept illegal government activity as normal.
George Orwell might want to revise his view that fascism is largely about bullying.