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Issue #1885      September 11, 2019

Creeping fascism

The inhumane treatment of a Sri Lankan couple who came to Australia seeking asylum and their two Australian-born children is a stark reminder of the brutal and authoritarian trend developing in Australia. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has refused to grant the family visas, they were “illegal” maritime arrivals. Under international law they are not illegal.

He has callously turned his back on the possible persecution they face if deported to Sri Lanka. The fact they are settled, loved and respected in the small Queensland community of Biloela, 600 kilometres north of Brisbane, counts for nothing with Dutton.

Both Dutton and the Immigration Minister David Coleman have the power to exercise discretion and intervene so that Priya and Nadesalingnam and their daughters Dharuniga and Kopiga can remain in Australia. The parents, who fled the civil war, have been in Australia since 2013 and 2012 respectively. With hearts of stone, the ministers refuse, instead seeking to make an example of the family.

This callousness is symptomatic of a trend in Australian politics, where democratic rights are being eroded, bit by bit, as creeping fascism is eroding basic democratic rights.

Erosion of democratic rights

These developments are not confined to the barbaric conditions of arbitrary detention of asylum seekers. They affect every one of us. Since the Howard Coalition government in the early 2000s there have been numerous pieces of legislation, each in its own right an alarming breach of democratic rights.

Howard pushed through 20 pieces of legislation in the name of “anti-terrorism.” His government also hit the trade union movement hard with a battery of laws that ran foul of International Labour Organisation Conventions to which Australia is a signatory and hence legally bound.

Under bourgeois democracy democratic and human rights are not a given, they have to be fought for and won and defended. Universal suffrage, free public education, freedom of speech, laws on sexual harassment, abortion law, equal pay, trade union rights, marriage equality, and so on.

Within the legal system, there is the right to remain silent, innocent until proven guilty, onus of proof on prosecution, judicial independence, trial by jury, separation of powers (government makes laws, arms of state enforce them).

We are reminded of the importance of freedom of the press, by the recent Federal Police raids on the ABC and a News Ltd journalist’s home. The protection of a journalist’s sources is paramount. Likewise, the protection of whistle blowers if governments and other public agencies and corporations are to be kept accountable.

Transparency and accountability are central to any democracy. Secrecy is a cover used by tyrants.

The exercise of democratic rights extends well beyond regular parliamentary and local government elections or even parliament itself. The input into government of various community and advocacy groups and trade unions gives expression to the views of society.

Under capitalism, such basic rights have to be fought for and defended. As indicated above, they cannot be taken for granted.

It is these and other rights that are in the process of being eroded, bit by bit, in particular since the Howard Coalition government took office in 1996.

As for the “opposition”, if the government is doing something, no matter how dangerous or reactionary it might be, and says it is for “national security”, then Labor will hop on board and support it.

Trend emerging

There is a clear trend emerging in the legal, economic and social areas where democratic and human rights are being eroded. These include:

  • free speech
  • freedom of association
  • peaceful protest
  • lack of government transparency and accountability
  • secrecy
  • arbitrary ministerial powers
  • increased surveillance
  • protection of whistleblowers
  • freedom of the press
  • over-riding the role of the judiciary
  • surveillance without warrants
  • arbitrary detention
  • reversal of onus of proof
  • denial of right to remain silent
  • heavier penalties that are not warranted by the offence
  • mandatory jail sentences
  • ignoring recommendations of endless inquiries

Prosperity gospel

There are millions of Australians who are denied basic human and democratic rights, in particular the rights to live in dignity and security with equality and justice. These include Indigenous Australians, people with a disability, low-income families, homeless, youth, aged, unemployed, marginalised and others such as victims of domestic violence.

These disadvantaged and marginalised groups are victims of government policies, deliberately so.

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, there is the obvious, the aim of keeping taxes on the rich and corporations as low as possible. This is facilitated by cuts to social expenditure. They are the economic drivers behind the refusal to increase unemployment benefits and other social security payments or fund infrastructure for Indigenous communities.

But with this government, in particular, there is an underlying philosophy drawn from Christian fundamentalism. Instead of showing compassion and reaching out to assist those in need, the government does the opposite.

Morrison and his Hillsong tribe (Catch the Fires Ministries in the US) preach the prosperity gospel where wealth is interpreted as a sign of God’s favour and poverty also comes from one’s behaviour, and so God’s disapproval.

The absence of wealth means that you have not pleased their God. Howard’s Treasurer, Peter Costello, saw the cutting back of government services is not placing a burden on the poor but making space for charity to move in and for recipients of charity to modify their behaviour and morality in line with that of the Christian Right.

Police state

References to Australia becoming a police state are more common as the legislation becomes more extreme in quashing human and democratic rights. When taken together there is now a huge battery of anti-democratic, repressive legislation waiting to be used. Several Acts have been tested on a few individuals, except for the industrial relations arena where it is full on.

The ruling class is facing a serious economic crisis and the major parties are in crisis with sharp internal divisions and investigations into illegal activities. More and more people are looking for an alternative to the two-party system which is failing them or have lost interest completely.

It is at a time like this that capitalism turns to fascistic solutions, savagely attacking working class organisations. Trade unionism, left and progressive political activists, independent journalism, dissent, non-Christian religious beliefs and refugees are criminalised.

We are sliding towards fascism but there is still time to act and prevent it. As the communists learnt in the 1930s, this struggle requires the broadest united movement possible of all left and progressive forces.

Next article – Editorial – September 11: A day to reflect on the role of US Imperialism

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