“This is not about free speech, it’s not about the ability to protest, these people are completely against our way of life,” former Queensland drug squad and sex offenders cop, now Home Affairs Supremo and family childcare business partner, self-made millionaire, MP Peter Dutton tells Channel Nine Friday.
“For many of them they don’t even believe in democracy, … the disharmony they seek to sow within society is unacceptable,” says our super minister who, only recently, was keen to dog-whistle racists by falsely claiming that African crime gangs make it unsafe to go out on the streets in Melbourne.
A fretful nation is overjoyed that Il Dutto has spotted another enemy within. In a nifty intercept, former Hillsong Elder, Scott Morrison, now our PM for extractive industries, snatches the ball and punts it.
How good is our media? By Friday night, every newspaper in the land carries the banner “radical activism threatens mining”. It’s a spectacular, mass propaganda drop which highlights how smoothly a Prime Minister’s staff of fifty can swing into gear should Dutton or any other MP steal the limelight.
“High velocity bollocks” is Katharine Murphy’s view of Morrison’s alert on ABC Insiders. A tad unfair. ScoMo has to create a diversion from Thursday’s Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety interim report of scandal that has taken place during the Coalition’s six years in government.
It’s a shocker. Health Minister Hunt bobs up also on Insiders to pat the government on the back for ordering the Royal Commission but skips the $2 billion cut by the Coalition since it came to power.
“… the aged care system fails to meet the needs of its older, vulnerable, citizens. It does not deliver uniformly safe and quality care, is unkind and uncaring towards older people and, in too many instances, it neglects them,” report commissioners Richard Tracey and Lynelle Briggs in a media release.
Images of Morrison are everywhere. Speechifying. Threatening protesters at a Brisbane mining lobbyists’ free lunch. And anyone daring to impose a secondary boycott. “Wedgislation” rasps Murpharoo.
All it would take, mumbles former News Corp hack, now Brisbane free-lance, Dennis Atkins, deftly sidestepping the ScoMo police state elephant in the room, is to change the bit in the law where unions’ secondary boycotts are outlawed and extend that … section … mumble … something DD.
The bit in the law? Generally, in Australia strikes are unlawful, in breach of international law which holds that the right to strike is recognised as a fundamental human right, as the ILO has been reminding Coalition and Labor governments for the last thirty years. But the PM’s team plays a blinder in giving him a time and a place and a text Friday, to normalise the outlawing of secondary boycotts.
“If it’s not OK to have secondary boycotts being run by unions … it’s not OK for environmental, well, they’re anarchist groups … to be able to disrupt people’s jobs, their livelihoods, to harass people as we saw down in Melbourne,” Morrison blusters, glossing over the highly contentious anti-union law.
Naturally there is no detail from such a big picture thinker. And scare tactics work best without specifics. But Morrison needs to explain what he means. How can he possibly legislate against freedom of choice, one of the set-pieces of Liberal rhetoric? Aren’t we free to choose which firms we patronise?
Also skipped is the real disruption that accrues now that our largely de-unionised workforce has so little real bargaining power over wages that spending drops and helps tip Australia into economic recession. But you’ve got to hand it to the PM’s staff. They’ve had wage cut-backs, too. 13 per cent since Malcolm Turnbull was double-double-crossed by Morrison and his right-hand evangelical Stuart Robert and crew.
At an average salary of just over $200,000, the PM’s minders work wonders on a shoe-string budget. And a skeletal staff. All up, the Morrison government must battle on with a mere 457 ministerial advisers.
(Theresa May’s UK government employed 99 ministerial advisers in December last year, including 2 who earned the maximum salary of £140,000 pounds.)
But it’s all about team work. Our press flacks fall in behind the Coalition’s muppet-show and the mining and banking lobby which pulls their strings. Morrison threatens “a radical crack down” on protesters.
The team plan is to demonise those who protest against a government in denial that holy coal mining and coal-burning power stations even cause global warming, air and water pollution. On present trends, let alone with new mines, coal will destroy nature, our health and ultimately extinguish our future. But just as we’ve created illegals out of those who seek asylum, we’ll do it with climate protesters.
Morrison is addicted to the politics of division. And it worked with vegan activists. The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 which outlaws “farm invaders”, passed 12 September.
Labor was wedged into voting for draconian, superfluous legislation. Trespass is covered by state laws. Labor senators Kim Carr and Anthony Chisholm warn farmers, themselves, are at risk from the new law, if opposing fracking. Whistle-blowers and journalists are also at risk of prosecution for inciting trespass.
Reporters who merely publish footage of animal cruelty, or who publish a map of factory farms and slaughterhouses where such cruelty is known to occur, may face a criminal charge for “inciting trespass onto agricultural land” regardless of whether incitement to trespass is intended by the publisher, and regardless of whether the cruelty is legal.
While the brave new ag-gag law has yet to be tested in court, Morrison is playing hyper-partisan politics again with the help of his imaginary arch-fiend “absolutist environmentalism”. Some complain that attacking an “ism” indicates mental laziness. Imprecision. But fear-mongers just love it. And it works.
Protesters are “anarchists, radical activists; extremists”. If a lie is half way round the world before the truth can get its boots on, vilification is even quicker. Once the PM puts the boot in; Morrison’s gutter politics leadership immediately has its own followers; copycats -even in the police.
A Victorian police officer faces disciplinary action for wearing a sticker with the phrase “EAD Hippy” – slang for “eat a dick” – while patrolling this week’s anti-mining protests in Melbourne. Instead of heeding dissent, the federal government joins some states in choosing to dismantle democracy instead.
Protesters have a right to stage community campaigns to voice their concerns, as Kelly O’Shanassy CEO of Australian Conservation Foundation ACF quickly points out. Moreover, demonstrators and protesters come from diverse walks of life and their dissent is expressed in many different ways, she explains.
“People protesting in the streets are not the only ones expressing alarm about climate change – the head of the Defence Force, the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority have all recently raised serious concerns,” Ms O’Shanassy says.
Morrison’s not listening. The PM loves his bully-pulpit. You can tell he gets a buzz out of casting out evil.
Progressives seek to deny the liberties of Australians, he tells The Queensland Resources Council, (QRC), another mining lobby, Friday – giving his spin an extra twist by preaching to the converted. It’s a whopping lie, of course and a masterly piece of projection and deflection. But the QRC is cheering.
“The QRC welcomes new laws passed by the Palaszczuk Government to deter people from using dangerous devices …” runs the lobby’s 25 October media release.
Yet the “dangerous devices” turn out to be unsubstantiated claims that some “lock-on devices” contain dangerous items, such as glass or gas canisters aimed at deterring police. No evidence has yet been provided, beyond a few images of a protest in 2018, a case which was prosecuted under existing law.
“Any laws that may infringe on important rights such as peaceful protest ought to be subject to a detailed and proper parliamentary scrutiny process. We are concerned that this has not occurred…,” says Bridget Burton, Director of Caxton Legal Centre’s Human Rights and Civil Law Practice.
Enter Macca. QRC CEO Ian, “Chainsaw”, Macfarlane, a former federal Minister for Industry. After being sacked from the front bench and when his attempt to defect from the Liberals to The Nationals was blocked, Macfarlane quit politics and signed on to head QRC, for a modest half million dollars a year, in 2016, to help eke out his $150-200K income from the Parliamentary Contributory Super Scheme.
Ian’s terribly worried these days about the need to lock up protesters. Their bullying and reckless endangerment of lives – even their own – must be stopped. Tougher laws are the key. Always.
“It is often the case that fines are small and no convictions are recorded,” he tells Brisbane Times in August. Morrison says he is working on legal measures to outlaw the “indulgent and selfish practices” of protest groups that try to stop major resources projects. As if he can outlaw protest.
“Now, we will take our time to get this right. We will do the homework and we’re doing that right now. But we must protect our economy from this great threat,” he thunders. It’s the sacred economy again. Amen. Or did he mean surplus? Meanwhile, the multinational mining companies protesters target bleed us dry in tax evasion. Not to mention what they cost us in subsidies.
Tenderly, our government takes our taxes and spends billions of dollars to help more coal, gas and oil to be extracted and burned. Other favours include tax-based subsidies, direct contributions, concessional loans from public financial institutions, lax environmental laws and approvals for disastrous projects.
Now ScoMo takes time to hiss the villain. Progressivism, a “new-speak type term”, ScoMo claims (of a movement achieving social and political reform in the US, two decades before Orwell published 1984), aims “to get in under the radar, but at its heart would deny the liberties of Australians.”
“Apocalyptic in tone, it brooks no compromise,” Elder Morrison continues, as if he were describing the template for a Hillsong sermon. “It’s all or nothing. Alternative views are not permitted.”
But no “needless anxieties”, please. Think of the children. What we need at times like these is some “context and perspective”. The Australian Way of Life must remain secure in its glass case along with a bust of Langley Frederick Hancock, a piece of coal and a blue ribbon for best country in show at Liberal HQ, protected by the eternal vigilance of Dutton’s AFP, ASIO and the web of eighty-odd federal national security laws governments have spun to catch evil-doers since September 11, 2011.
Nobody seems to know precisely how many laws. Or care. The more the meh-factor.
Our most recent bit of spy fly-paper is the Coalition’s Foreign Influence Registry, part of its visionary Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, which became law last December. In a mass mail-out last month, the Attorney General asks all foreign agents of influence to put their hands up. Way to go.
Who? What? Defining influence can be a tricky business, which is probably how Tony Abbott got caught in the net. In deathless prose, Porter’s department appeals to lobbyists of a “parliamentary and general political nature” but includes those involved in “communications activity” and “disbursement activity”.
Transparent? Sheer genius. Sadly, this little list is in its infancy. And it’s a one way mirror. It does not run to how we influence other nations such as our ASIS agents’ spying on Timor Leste’s cabinet in 2004.
Given the high esteem with which they are held in Timor Leste, you might expect the whistle-blower, Witness K – as the ASIS officer has become known – and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery to feature. These men represent our finest, as former Timor-Leste president José Ramos-Horta writes in August.
“Individuals with a conscience and courage, representing the very best of Australians as I know them – instinctively sympathetic to the underdog, the weak and vulnerable.”
The tribute is a salutary corrective to ScoMo’s rhetoric. The men should be venerated as public heroes.
Yet their secret trials, revealed by Andrew Wilkie under parliamentary privilege, in June 2018 and currently under way in two Canberra courts, the Magistrates Court for Witness K and The Supreme Court for his lawyer Collaery, represents “… the national security state’s assault on Australia’s democratic culture”, writes Clinton Fernandes, University of NSW Professor of International and Political studies.
Both face lengthy prison sentences. An example must be made of whistle-blowers to discourage others. Some suggest that given some unexplained questions in his past careers and the fact the someone knows the answers, Morrison is keen to diminish the likelihood of the whistle being blown on himself. Whatever his personal investment, national security agencies are keen to punish whistle-blowers.
It’s not citizens in Queensland and Melbourne exercising their rights to protest but the state itself which is attacking the rule of law, a corner-stone of our democracy. A police state? To Fernandes, it’s more.
“These prosecutions come at a time of vastly increased powers for police and intelligence agencies, raids on the homes of journalists and news organisations, and the deployment of technologies of mass surveillance. The aim of this power grab must be understood clearly, if it is to be resisted. The national security bureaucracy doesn’t want a police state. It is more ambitious than that. The hope is to return Australian culture to the conformity and political quietude of the 1950s.”
In this context, Porter’s Registry is but one small step but could well escalate into a flight of stairs.
In the last decade, 81 per cent of political donations from the mining industry have been to the Coalition; 71 per cent to the Liberal Party. The Grattan Institute reveals that mining has the most lobbying contacts with government. Many of these are foreign-owned firms. Surely these should appear on the registry?
Nowhere does the registry list other influential foreign companies who run local branches to great tax advantage. These include household names: Uber, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, McDonalds, Ikea and Aldi. Perhaps they need more than four weeks to gauge their influence. If it can be done at all.
Multinational parent companies do not register their Australian operations as branch operations. Consequently they do not comply with ASIC’s disclosure and reporting obligations. In fact, we generously give them a tax deduction when they send royalty payments to arms of their own company overseas.
Are we Thinking Big enough? Perhaps, given the meagre 194 entries, so far, there is room for our own agents of influence abroad to declare themselves. Scott Morrison would doubtless be keen to explain what he did to get the flick from his job as head of NZ Tourism and Sport in 2000.
It would help greatly with our close trading neighbour – where Think Big was a state intervention strategy – and it would clear up a mystery or two. The Saturday Paper’s Karen Middleton reports that a Kiwi Controller and Auditor-General audit found that ScoMo hi-jacked the NZ Tourism Review.
It is early evidence of ScoMo’s gift for taking charge and his top-dog inter-personal skills. Not for him the namby-pamby consensus type or a democratic style. “Absolute arsehole” is former MP Michael Kennan verdict. Kennan served as Justice Minister when Scott Morrison was Immigration Minister.
His comment is recorded by Niki Savva in Plots and Prayers as having been made to colleagues at lunch at Garum Restaurant in Perth in April 2018 just before Morrison deposed Malcolm Turnbull.
“Porter joined in, saying he did not think Morrison was a team player. Cormann said he had seen Morrison up close now, and, in his opinion, Dutton was better,” Savva writes.
Similar charges would be made by the Australian National Audit Office, (ANAO) nine years’ later when it looked into his management of Tourism Australia. ANAO found “non-consultation, making unilateral decisions, not observing due process and restricting board access to information.”
But Morrison gets off Scott-free. Not so one of his illustrious predecessors. All hot and bothered this week, Tony Abbott, The Australian’s Prime Minister-in-exile is asked to sign The Registry…
Abbott is incensed by Christian -(but a Jedi on his census) Porter’s department’s recent demand that the budgie-smuggler register as “an agent of foreign influence”, just the day before CPAC, in Sydney, last August. The department of the Attorney-General is not one to rush matters. But it has improved.
Porter’s predecessor, George Brandis dithered for two years and three months over prosecuting Bernard Collaery and Witness K. Then he got posted to London as our High Commissioner. Porter, on the other hand, took the decision to prosecute only six months after coming to office. But Abbott’s underwhelmed.
The Incredible Sulk is happy to ear-bash fellow reactionaries at non-events such as CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, an oxymoron on steroids. Tipped to be the next Director of the weapons industry sponsored National War Memorial in Canberra, he’s clearly still a VIP.
But foreign influence? The former Riverview boy refuses the request, labels it “absurd” and in a direct dig at the Jedi claims “senior officials of the commonwealth have better things to do with their time”.
Scott Morrison’s pledge to crack down on climate protestors is in part a deflection, a ruse to encourage climate change deniers by implying that there’s nothing wrong with building more coal-fired power station; it’s the “extremist, radical activists” who are out of line. And it’s a way of wedging Labor. Yet it would be wrong to see it merely as an act of bellicose posturing from a wannabe populist strong man.
Morrison’s past record suggests more than a hint of an authoritarian, if not autocratic, personality beneath the evasions, the secrecy and the cultivated, folksy veneer of the sport-loving, cap-wearing , beer-drinking suburban dad as populist leader.
Given the proliferation of national security laws which have hugely strengthened the power of the state, since 2011, moreover, we must challenge Morrison’s latest rhetorical assault on democracy and rebuff all attempts at division. Our future as a civil society; our freedom depends upon it.