The Guardian December 4, 2002


The snowball method: "Shut the f#&k up"

by Marcus Browning

One day on a bus on the way to work I noticed a graphic in a magazine 
someone was reading. It was of muscle-bound US Marines armed to the teeth 
standing over astonished civilians. In the background were the exploding 
Twin Towers in New York. One of the marines was saying to the stunned 
citizens: "Shut the fuck up. We'll handle this."

It was a concise summing up of the Bush Government's swift action to 
silence all questions, all criticisms and all dissenting voices around the 
events of September 11 last year. This method, used in the US, Britain and 
here in Australia, I call the Snowball.

First came the counter-posing of what initially appeared to be the same 
things: "democracy and freedom" and democratic rights and free speech.

It didn't take long before it became clear that to George W Bush, Tony 
Blair and John Howard they are not the same things at all. Bush set the 
Snowball in motion when he warned, "You can't be against terrorism and 
war". Furthermore, criticism of the government "gives aid and comfort to 
the enemy" and is therefore by definition unpatriotic.

And so the Snowball rolled on, gathering speed and mass. Using this "for-
us-or-against-us" contrivance, the Bush/Blair/Howard troika granted 
themselves immunity from scrutiny and the right not to be held accountable 
for any of their actions.

Hence the impression you may be getting that Howard and his Ministers have 
been invested with a transcendent executive power  in fact the festering 
germ of authoritarianism.

NSW Supreme Court judge John Dowd encountered the Snowball last week after 
giving evidence to a Senate inquiry into the proposed legislation to give 
ASIO sweeping new powers.

There followed a coordinated, vitriolic attack on him via the media and 
some politicians, such as Howard's warmongering right-hand man, NSW Premier 
Bob Carr.

Carr: "We had the slaughter of Australian innocents in Bali. We've had 
warnings that Australia might be targeted. So John [Dowd], wake up to 
yourself. The threat is real."

Liberal Senator George Brandis: "What worries people about civil liberties 
activists is their responses sometimes seem automatic, like Pavlov's dogs."

Piers Akerman in the Daily Telegraph: "Premier Bob Carr was rightly 
outraged by Dowd's claim that the legislation was an exercise in fear-
mongering."

Daily Telegraph editorial, alongside Akerman's column: "Justice Dowd 
is wrong, so wrong."

Amanda Devine in The Sydney Morning Herald: "Since the September 11 
attacks and Bali we are all in a kind of prison now."

See how the Snowball works?

Giving evidence to the Senate inquiry Dowd  who as the Australian 
President of the International Commission of Jurists was after all 
reporting the ICJ's views  condemned the legislation, saying it would 
undermine fundamental democratic rights and would turn ASIO into a "secret 
police".

He warned that the introduction of laws under the banner of anti-terrorism 
and in "an atmosphere of hysteria" would see Australian Muslims become 
their first victims.

The ICJ said the laws  which include new powers for ASIO to search, 
interrogate and detain suspects and to hold people for seven days without 
charge, access to legal representation or to the courts  represent a 
greater threat to Australia's way of life than terrorism.

"What we have done", said Dowd in the ICJ submission, "will be used by 
terrorist regimes and totalitarian regimes throughout the world. This is 
not what Australia is about. We developed our legal system on habeas corpus 
[presumption of innocence] and a whole range of protections of the 
individual. This just throws it aside."

Now, Dowd is not the only critic of the legislation. A former NSW Liberal 
Attorney-General, he is not from what Devine, Akerman and co define as the 
"left". His background indicates that he should be "on-side" with what the 
Government is doing, or at least giving an assenting nod.

He was singled out for attack in part because his position in the legal 
system and as ICJ President gives him a higher profile both here and 
overseas: his criticisms have a certain level of public impact. And he 
represents a growing disquiet across various sections of Australian society 
about the terror laws and threats to democratic rights.

The Government knows that the momentum must be maintained, that in 
conducting a bogus war, appearance is everything. Dowd and the ICJ crossing 
the public relations line could knock the Snowball out of kilter.

Said Dowd, in response to the attacks on him, "If the legislation does 
pass, then people should remember that they have been warned." 

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