Evil times

Pick up the newspaper most days and there’s something there for the liberal minded reader to cringe at. We live in a time of extreme measures, of sharply defined shades of black and white. Much of this is driven by political expediency, particularly here in Australia, where politics has degenerated under the present government to a cynical degree.

How cynical has become clear in the last few days. The newspapers lately are more than usually full of revelations of the behind the scenes manipulations of some of the big ticket news stories. There’s the children overboard saga for example, and about how John Howard contrived to turn the misfortune of those poor refugees on the Tampa into political advantage. This is typical of him, and no surprise to me – I’ve had him marked for years as a rank political opportunist, where the lives of others and general principle are the currency to be traded to advantage, and no more.

I am wary of John Howard – I may despise him but must respect his hard nosed savvy and his survival instinct – in a nuclear war it will be the bugs and him that will survive (which is strangely apt). Those survival instincts, however, have led him astray lately. He seems to have lost much of the feel for public sentiment and opinion that has served him so well in the past. I am reluctant to write him off, but right now he is looking down the wrong end of the political barrel – and he knows it. It is this knowledge that is making him act in desperate ways, but without his customary judgement. Under pressure he reverts back to old ways, to old methods that worked once – but no longer. The political landscape has shifted a degree or two to the left, and the scare-mongering that once worked so splendidly now appears to be exactly what it is – cynical, nasty and a perversion of justice.

I am talking of Dr Haneef. When I first heard of his arrest I thought nothing of it. As his interrogation continued beyond the normal period I was willing to believe that it was necessary. In times of terror you must be to some degree ruthless. Slowly though one began to smell a rat. That was confirmed when the government, using extraordinary powers, reacted to his release on bail by revoking his immigration status, allowing them to lock-him up again. Justice is at the heart of our democracy. At the heart of justice is the court. If the democratically appointed guardian of justice rules that bail be granted then rightfully we should accept that as justice in action. It is only totalitarian states who then react by throwing the poor bugger behind bars anyway – which is what happened here. By no measure was justice seen to be done.

Now there must be serious questions about the motivation behind all this. Was Howard trying to conjure up the mythical spectre of a terrorist in our midst? By his actions was he hoping – like Tampa – to show the strong leadership that brought him the votes on that occasion?

Then it was revealed that some of the evidence used against Dr Haneef in the bail hearing was false. The case againt him seemed flimsier every moment. When it was mooted he would be deported back to India the question had to be asked: if he is guilty then why not prove it? If he is innocent then why deport him? Fishier and fishier.

I don’t know, Dr Haneef may be guilty of all manner of crimes. We need to be diligent in pursuit of the truth. In these times we cannot afford to leave a stone unturned – but there must be line drawn. It is that line that defines the difference between the democratic and the despotic. From where I sit it feels as if Dr Haneef is being fitted up, the sacrificial lamb on the altar of John Howard’s political career. If this can be true then I am ashamed. This is not the Australia I grew up in.

It would be lame if it were not so serious, for what we are talking about in this latest instance is the misuse of power and a corruption of our democratic values. It comes as no surprise to me that Howard would stoop so low – nothing comes before his political ambition – but it is shocking to think that our political principle has degenerated to such a point that we can no longer feel surprise. We have come to expect, and to some degree accept, that this is the way of things. In part we have become as cynical as our masters. It is what has always angered me most about Howard. He has done terrible things, but worst is how he has cynically warped society to suit his aims. I think the pendulum is beginning to swing back now, but for a time I think we lost some of those values that made us special as a society, and all because of the landscape he created. I’ve always been proud to be an Aussie, but for a time I was less proud than before. This was not the country I believed in, and is yet to return to that ideal that I hold dear in my patriotic heart.

Howard will burn one day. It pleases me to think that he will be ultimately discredited, and the truth about him revealed. In the meantime he has to be gone, and we have to return some way towards what is true about us – if it is still true. I hope we have not gone too far down the path Howard has led us.

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