The Guardian • Issue #1970

OP-ED

Where’s the fair go gone?

Richard Boyle’s exposure on the debt recovery tactics of the Australian Taxation Office hasn’t made such a big imprint on our consciousness but it is significant.

Since 9/11, we’ve experienced governments giving enormous powers to police forces and intelligence services in order to facilitate anti-terrorist laws. This has led to collection of data on individual citizens, and also – more importantly – no legal accounting by authority figures, such as Cabinet Ministers, and senior members of the police force. With the intelligence collected inaccessible to the public, those in authority are seldom held accountable but expect us to trust them. As a result, we see increasing secrecy in government which political theorists would suggest is “fascism,” which is also known for its promotion of “nationalism,” masculinity and contempt for democracy. I rest my case!

We’ve seen a steady erosion of civil liberties, with the various governments in Canberra over the last twenty-plus years introducing restrictive legislation with increasing regularity. Acts on workplace relations; mandatory detention; the Northern Territory Response; and now the cashless debit card! Remember the Royal Commission into the Unions, to try to discover criminal activity? But nothing has come out of the Royal Commission into the banking fraternity!

9/11 gave John Howard the excuse to push through new anti-terrorist laws – almost one a month – and these counter-terrorism laws have led to warrantless searches, banning of organisations, and the secret detention and interrogation by ASIO of innocent citizens. The Australian Federal Police have accessed information on people quite unnecessarily. And that’s what we know about. Any chance we have of any future brave whistle-blowers is being effectively removed by intimidation.

There is also an increasing veil of secrecy permeating this government’s actions which is subtly undermining our individual liberties, and which people are beginning to accept as “normal.” This “normalisation” is daily backed by the Murdoch Empire where its operatives are quick to deride any dissent we make about police state tendencies whilst denigrating whistle-blowers who tell us the truth. The electorate is beginning to feel unrepresented by their political representatives and is reeling under the growing threat to our democracy which they represent. I sometimes wonder if this government is following Hitler’s handbook.

We have seen how authoritarian the characteristics of Australia’s legal and political landscape have become with the abusive treatment of its citizens. We only have to look at the Australian government’s failure in supporting Julian Assange to realise its spite for any attempt at exposing criminal activity of those in power. Civil liberties are completely ignored by police and intelligence services, with the backing of a revengeful Minister for Home Affairs or Attorney-General, as in the case of lawyer Bernard Collaery, citizen K, military lawyer David McBride, NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane, and taxation office whistle-blower Richard Boyle.

Shaoquett Moselmane’s home was invaded a year ago, conveniently in full view of assembled media by forty police. I wonder would a LNP MP have received the same treatment? Complete with sniffer dogs, and a hovering helicopter, the raid lasted eighteen hours – no doubt leaving the family completely traumatised. In another example of federal “thuggery,” we have citizen K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, being judged in a closed court. They reported on the Australian government’s illegal bugging in 2004 of offices in Timor Leste, done for the sole purpose of empowerment during oil negotiations to gain commercial advantage for Australia. They’ve now been charged under the National Security Information Act – intended for the protection of intelligence information while prosecuting terrorists! Two upright and honest citizens are being persecuted and, in fact, have suffered years of official bullying tactics, for revealing the illegal activities of their government. Do we still believe that we live in a democracy?

Military lawyer David McBride had, since 2014, been warning about the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, but Attorney-General Porter decided to lay charges. Secrecy had to be protected. When told that McBride had displayed courage in the public interest and should be thanked not prosecuted, Porter blamed court proceedings on the Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions. Let’s see how he wriggles out of his own past misdemeanours!

Richard Boyle’s exposure on the debt recovery tactics of the Australian Taxation Office hasn’t made such a big imprint on our consciousness but is equally significant. He has become a victim of this fascist system for daring to speak about institutional ineptitudes. He faces a long prison sentence for the charges cooked up against him. Last year, a Senate report found that the ATO had performed a superficial investigation into Mr Boyle’s public interest disclosure about the ATO misusing its powers against small businesses. This is the first major test case of protections available under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (2013), and if found guilty Mr Boyle will face a life sentence.

This legal chicanery, which can be seen all the time from the haste of our politicians to sue for defamation at the slightest excuse, is extremely damaging to our democracy and needs fighting at every turn of the screw. We have a breed of politicians currently meeting and plotting in secret and seemingly in thrall to fascist methods. This can be seen in its support for the US-concocted charges to prosecute Assange, which to my horror as a Londoner, has been supported by the crooked UK justice system now in place. Politicians now have a sinister rapport with a legal system which is allowing them to do what they can get away with. This is a dangerous trend that must be identified. We must challenge it here and now, or we will be living under a fascist regime, which will have crept in whilst we slept.

It is being encouraged by an opposition which mutely accepts this secrecy in government, perhaps keen to use it if they ever get into power. While we have sections of the media willing to label any activity questioning those in power as “terrorism” and therefore a threat to security, we will be kept in ignorance and begin to accept illegal government activity as “normal.”

Orwell’s essay What is Fascism, ends with most people’s definition of fascism being “something cruel, unscrupulous, arrogant, obscurantist, anti-liberal and anti-working class.” I think this sums up precisely what our present government represents, and we tolerate it at our peril.

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