Monday, 10 February 2014

Stupendously Stupid

Minister of Defence, the Hon David Johnston MP addresses guests and media during the Centenary of Submarines media launch, at the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney. Picture: Royal Australian Navy
Defence Minister David Johnston has gotten his toga in a twist about the ABC. Managing to get his point across and mangle the english language at the same time, he accused the ABC of "maliciously maligning" those brave and seemingly unimpeachable personnel of the Royal Australian Navy.

Somewhat strangely for a Minister of the Crown (and mature adult), he needed time to "cool off" - presumably in his ministerial naughty corner - before commenting on the ABC/Asylum Seeker Burns furore because he was "extremely angry". Now Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has rejoined the fray, arguing Labor has besmirched the Navy's honour by daring to call for an independent inquiry into burns claims. 

The behaviour of the government and its senior ministers has been particularly disheartening and unedifying during this whole affair. First, they attempted to use the story as an excuse to cudgel the ABC through the News Corp All-Stars and talkback radio's enlightened opinion makers. Secondly, they tarred those who don't share the government's views as "un-Australian" - a uniquely Australian word for 'traitor'. Thirdly, they have proven themselves very adept at obfuscation to dodge valid questions. Lastly and most sadly, they've continued the state-sanctioned demonisation of those who come across the sea, with whom we've boundless limited plains to share.

The attacks on the ABC have been so nakedly ideological, it's hard to believe they can be taken seriously by anyone except their instigators. First there was Abbott's attack on the running the "burns" story at all, essentially arguing the ABC is a traitorous organisation. That signalled to News Corp to open fire, attacking the ABC from the high towers of the Australian and swamps of the capital city dailies. They too attacked the ABC for running the story, before turning to the age-old criticisms of left-wing bias, expansion beyond charter and massive inefficiency. As usual without providing any evidence of said transgressions. 

As Prime Minister, John Howard used the military as an exemplar of unimpeachable Australian "values" and "mateship". Image: Australian Defence Image Library
When last in government, the Liberals had a great time attacking and "maliciously maligning" those who dared to hold contrary views. It seems the new government will treat its opponents with same contempt. Whether it be concerning the national curriculum or mass surveillance, the government and News Corp All-Stars command you to share their view. If you don't, you'll be labelled an "out-of-touch" elitist; a latter-day Trotskyite or even a traitor.

Abbott, supposedly the leader of this country put it the terms tailored for Heraldsunland: how can you possibly take the word of those illegals over "our" brave Navy personnel? Contrary to Abbott's Bush-like worldview, the world is not divided into goodies and baddies, or un-trustworthy illegals and brave, valiant naval officers and NCOs. One needs only to look at the defence force's dark recent history to see that.

While the Defence Minister sat in the naughty corner cooling off, the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce was busy deciding whether the 2,400 reports of abuse within the forces warrants a royal commission. Navy personnel have also been linked to a fascist Facebook group, with one alleged naval member stating that they were "about to head out today to deal with fuckers" (i.e. asylum seekers) who were coming to Australia "to jump on Centrelink and get free government housing".

With this in mind, is it beyond the realm of possibility that something other than "gallant" or "exceptional" behaviour occurred out on that naval vessel where both dread and tempers flare? Of course not, even though I find it difficult to believe Australian naval personnel would engage in such an act.

But gut feelings are not good enough. These are serious accusations which, if occurred, essentially amount to torture. They should be treated gravely and not be stonewalled and ignored by the government or Defence. Despite the assurances of the government and Defence brass that nothing improper occurred, the citizens they are meant to represent have not seen any evidence to support their conclusions.

Like most oppositions-cum-governments, the Liberals made the usual noises about improving government "accountability and...transparency", but have done quite the opposite once in government. While this might be disappointing, it's not unusual. Both parties regularly promise big on FoI and transparency while in opposition, but deliver little when in government.

Unfortunately in the federal government's case, this election fluff about improving accountability and transparency has been met with the aggressive concealment of documents that had been hitherto routinely available documents under the previous government. Whether they be documents pertaining to the National Broadband Network, or information on Operation Stop the Boats, the government has stonewalled even the most mundane questions at every possible point.

All this really does is point to the continuing state-sanctioned demonisation of desperate individuals and families who seek for themselves a better life across the seas. Abbott is only the latest in a line of mainly conservative politicians to stoke fears in the community about "illegals". Sadly, Abbott and Morrison have repeatedly used language of war to describe border protection and asylum seekers.

Reasoning on his refusal to discuss "operational matters", Abbott concluded that "if we were at war, we would not be giving out information that is of use to the enemy." The oddity is that, after untying the knot in his toga, defence minister Johnston referred to "on water" matters concerning asylum seekers as a "civil public policy matter". Hmm...

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