Shaoquett Moselmane, Dan Oakes and Julian Assange: what price justice? What about the media?

Under the guise of a phenomenon called security, currently interpreted as ‘suspect any pro-China sentiment’, or ‘don’t reveal murder by US forces’, sinister theatrics play across Australia. These reveal Shaoquett Moselmane MP as one victim, ABC journalist Dan Oakes another, and in London’s Belmarsh security prison sits Julian Assange.

NSW Labor MP Moselmane’s return to parliament occurred last week after the AFP had repeated that he was not suspected of anything, nor had there ever been any plan to charge him.

In which case, why the June raid on his home, why the derision by media and politicians, why the stress on his family, why the failure of parliamentary colleagues and mainstream journalists to stand up for Shaoquett, to show a sign of courage and a touch of decency?

In the Oakes case, the AFP has taken three years to confirm that the journalist would not be prosecuted for reporting on alleged war crimes carried out by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. With that confirmation came the grovelling claim there was ‘a reasonable chance of securing a conviction against Mr Oakes’. This shifty conduct looks like cover for years of so-called administration of justice in which suspicions were maintained but human and financial costs ignored.

The Moselmane/Oakes/Assange cases are different in detail, but each is mired in trends towards greater police and ASIO powers, greater secrecy and authoritarianism which make it possible for almost any citizen to be pursued, humiliated and the perpetrators not held accountable.

In a sinister drama, let’s identify the players and ask whether they would be prepared to apologize and support claims to pay reparation to the victims.

From the right wing of the stage enter journalists and politicians who jumped at the chance to deride a public figure who had been positive about China’s handling of the Covid outbreak in Wuhan. The cast, led by Ray Hadley of Radio 2GB, lined up for a head kicking of Moselmane. They included shock jock Alan Jones, Sky News anchor Peta Credlin, former politicians Stephen Conroy and Graham Richardson, Sydney Morning Herald journalists Lisa Ventin and Nick McKenzie, plus a representative of the Daily Mail and current politicians Peter Dutton, Walt Secord of the State ALP and Mark Latham of One Nation. Without too much reflection, these characters were enthusiastic singers in a chorus of anti-Chinese sentiment, with Moselmane an easy target.

Between March 31 and April 10, their performance reached fever pitch. Moselmane was the subject of 32 articles and broadcasts in which Hadley’s language plumbed the depths of the shock jock repertoire. In his contribution to a civilized society, Hadley described Moselmane as ‘this jerk’, ‘a train wreck’, ‘a Chinese PR spokesperson ’, ‘a lunatic’, ‘a low filthy bludger’, ‘this low life’, ‘this bastard’, ‘ this cancerous growth’, ‘unworthy traitor’ and ‘a dolt’.

Other head kickers may be feeling ashamed that they echoed Hadley’s behaviour. They will no doubt appear on Sky News or in columns for the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald to concede that they made a terrible error of judgment and in future will be more reflective, more analytical and far more professional.

The next extras to appear on stage are 40 representatives of the AFP complete with sniffer dogs and a well-briefed posse of media to film their work. Fortified by foreign interference legislation, McDonald’s hamburgers and Subway sandwiches, the police are diligent in collecting dust and hair samples from someone they suspected of doing nothing wrong. Nevertheless, they trashed his civil liberties, traumatized his wife and elderly parents and during four months gave the public reason to think that this MP’s suspension from the Labor Party was justified.

Perhaps the police can’t apologize and may only be puppets on strings pulled by a Prime Minister, an Attorney General and a Home Affairs Minister. If so, the string pullers also need to move into the confessional.

The next extras to appear are ghosts, there but not there. They played a part but stayed silent and invisible. They contributed to stigmatizing, but the audience must imagine what they might have said. This is a reference to media, often referred to as ‘the mainstream’, who failed to do their job, who did not write about the significance of civil liberties, whose silence could be interpreted as endorsement of Hadley and Co.

The silence of State ALP colleagues has also been significant and sad, suggesting that courage to stand above the fray should be kept in cold storage for fear of upsetting the head kickers.

Shaoquett returned to the NSW parliament on Thursday October 22nd, made a generous, dignified speech, with no sign of rancor or bitterness. Newspapers, The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald, reported his return but did so negatively, as in referring to the MP’s presence in parliament under the shadow of a continuing investigation.

Here was an opportunity for journalists to display the same qualities as the maligned MP: generosity, dignity, and selflessness. In that way they could have influenced the attitudes of other State members, and the understanding of readers. They might have insisted that human rights are precious. Instead, what is in prospect is only a small departure from the derisory, conformist 2GB line: find a scapegoat, don’t question federal sovereignty or their security personnel. Mainstream media business as usual? Nothing learned?

The Moselmane and Oakes cases prompt concern for another victim of abuse by powerful states, the US, UK, and Australia who have been fascinated with suppressing truths. Fellow journalists, including commentators on the ABC, have failed to advocate freedom for Julian Assange. They have not even been interested in reporting his extradition hearings in London’s Old Bailey let alone protesting the cruelty in his continued imprisonment.

Peter Greste cries crocodile tears about the absence of press freedom in Australia but in proud civil liberties tradition had labelled Assange as not really a journalist. One exposes truths. The other stays silent about a massive injustice.

Where were the mainstream when Hadley was hurling abuse about Moselmane, when  Credlin developed her brand of insults and Peter Dutton was hinting that the State Labor MP was a traitor?

In the last act of these theatrics, amends may be made. In a centre stage, solo performance, Jodi McKay the leader of the State ALP may appear and recall that the NSW Parliamentary Privileges Committee exonerated Moselmane. She may therefore concede that her colleague had never been given any presumption of innocence, hence her apology and statements that Moselmane is welcome back in the parliament and his party suspension will be lifted.

We look forward to that announcement. When it happens, justice could be restored as the bread of parliament and of the people.

The question of substantial reparations for Moselmane and his family may eventually be addressed, but in a search for a touch of justice, it may take three years of thoughtlessness and an eventual decision to do nothing.

The audience in this theatre leaves dumfounded yet has learned that these cases are a warning for all who cherish democracy and civil liberties, let alone the ideals of a common humanity.

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Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney, recipient of the Jerusalem (Akl Quds) Peace Prize and author of the new book “Cruelty or Humanity”, Bristol: Policy Press. A human rights activist, poet, novelist, and Founder Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.

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