The things we’re losing

I feel like I must be a paranoid sometimes, an alarmist like Chicken Little declaring that the sky is about to fall in. I don’t think the sky is about to collapse, but I have great disquiet about the direction this country is going in. Again and again I am reminded of the Nazi’s, and other despotic regimes. Yes, it seems an extreme view – after all, for a start, we’re a democracy, and have freedoms that

It’s those freedoms I worry at though as they are gradually eroded by a government in the name of national security, and doing the best by us. These are familiar refrains, and the method familiar also. It’s rare in history that societies lose those cherished freedoms all at once. It’s insidiously piecemeal, almost unnoticeably so. When it’s not done surreptitiously it is accompanied by grandiose statements and pronouncements justifying the inevitable need of the said measures.

This is what we have seen in Australia. Over the last 12-18 months we’ve had bills passed into law that allow, effectively, for government agencies to spy on its own people. The government flagged a proposal whereby a government minister could strip someone of their citizenship without regard to the law (something I forecast leading into Anzac Day). In the face of opposition, and the fact it was unconstitutional, that has now been revised to include due legal process, but it is still a powerful and much too powerful tool for a government minister to wield – there is nothing to stop someone of graffito admonishing the government from being stripped of their citizenship. And just this week the government has joined the censorship party by posting a bill to block internet sites.

These are all crimps on the rights we’ve come to expect as part and parcel of living in a liberal democracy. There’s a trend worldwide for these liberties being clamped down upon, but I suspect it is worse here than in comparable societies. That goes to the character of this government, and Tony Abbott particularly. I think a despot lives inside of him, and certainly there are some of his cronies who would eagerly do the dirty work (none more so than Peter Dutton – not the man, or intellect, you want adjudicating on your status as a citizen).

I’ve written before how free speech has been compromised by a flawed and mostly compliant media, and by the aggressive actions of the government. Multiplicity of views and opinions is frowned upon, and often subjected to vilification. The ABC, a great target of this government, is almost permanently under siege for being an independent voice, and is continually under threat. This week an incident on QandA neatly illustrates the current state of affairs.

A panel show, a member of the audience stood up to ask a question, positing the opinion that it is the actions of this government that are driving Muslims to join ISIS. As it happens the questioner had been once arrested (and released) for subversive activities. There was an outcry at his question, and the next day everyone from the Prime Minister down had his say. Why was someone like that allowed to come onto the show? How could such a question be allowed? Once more the ABC was beaten over their head by this alleged transgression. One minister made a big noise about how he had written to the chairman of the ABC demanding that the show be suspended.

In fact, upon further investigation, the questioner claimed he was against ISIS, and that he was a proud Muslim Australian. He was simply making a point (which is almost certainly true). It’s all a bit silly, but ultimately the point – regardless of his motives – is that as a democratic society we can’t be afraid of dissenting voices. That’s what a democracy is. Whether we agree or not, whether it aligns with government policy or not, is irrelevant. A healthy society needs dissenting voices. In Australia now it’s very clear that the government wants dissenting voices silenced. Watch this space – it’s in the nature of this government to propose measures to make that silence law.

There is much to deplore in the character of this government. It’s a dark, nasty, fear-mongering and hostile to any who don’t support them. Fear is a weapon they beat people over the head with, justifying their actions and brutalising the opposition. Since Abbott took over leadership of the Liberal party we have seen asylum seekers and refugees dehumanised and sent to virtual offshore gulags where they live in horrific conditions, subject to brutality and occasional rape, and at least one murder (which no-one has yet been brought to justice, nearly 15 months later, to our shame – the murderer was likely a guard).

Next were the Muslims in our society, who have been portrayed as potential terrorists, one and all. The aggressive language and bellicose attitude might be good at scaring a naïve electorate, but it divides society and creates prejudice. It’s a dangerous infection the government is happy to let spread because it suits their political agenda. It’s evil. Today there are many more closed minds and racists than there were even just 5 years ago.

This is classic totalitarian strategy. Pick on someone who can’t fight back, demonise them and stir up fear and anger, and use it to justify regressive measures. You don’t have to look too far to find quotes from Goebbels and Goring that candidly explain it. It’s exactly what Abbott has done, but which too few – and no-one with a loud voice – will speak of.

As a proud and patriotic Australian it’s dispiriting. We have become a negative society that feeds off fear and anger. Our better angels are sneered at, but our most aggressive instincts amplified.

I’ve been reading the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, who were men of substance and quality, and active opponents of the Nazi regime in WW2. You would go a long way to find more decent men of integrity. They were both executed ultimately, but died bravely. They knew what they were up against, but never hesitated in their resistance – because it was the right thing. They lived in terrible times, and knew it, but believed in something better. Neither lost belief that their cause would ultimately prevail. They were lit from within. In the worst of times they believed in the best of things.

In ways we have the opposite of that now here in Oz. You have to believe that it will change sometime, though how and when I don’t know, not with the state of our opposition. Even when it does change you have to wonder what we will have lost, never to recover. Am I paranoid? I just fear the trend of things and fear the worst, while hoping for the best still, and wanting to believe it.

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