Where will we be in 50 years?

In the next few months, most Australians will be considering their financial affairs and the preparation of their annual tax return. It is usually a time for some questioning around how you did manage to spend all that money in the past year and what changes you can make to become thriftier in the upcoming year.

Most of us get so involved in the day to day activities that govern our lives, we have little inclination or time to think about the long term. It is also a truism that those who forget their history are bound to repeat it. Those who look at the long term can see patterns and trends that escape us mere mortals. Those long term thinkers — usually called Futurists — can give a valuable insight into our future based upon reflection and observation of what has occurred in the past. The results can be fascinating and worth thinking about.

Taking the reflection theme to heart, let’s look at where Australia has come from and where we as a society are heading. So go and prepare a beverage of your choice, click on this link for one of the better ‘80s Australian pop songs and read on while we discuss ‘where will we be in 50 years’.

Apart from the convenient segue to a song, there is a good practical reason to choose to look 50 years into the future. There seems to be a 50 year (more or less) cycle in Australian economic and immigration history going back to the days when Australia was comprised of six (sometimes friendly) colonies. It is a cycle of boom and bust — boom when we are using the land to produce riches beyond compare and bust when the rest of the world has moved on from our particular riches, and Australia has not adapted. There is a moral overtone here as well: it appears that we as a society welcome new immigrants during the ‘lean’ years, and throw up barriers to their entry when we are booming.

In the 1880s, the city with the highest per capita income in the world was Melbourne. While the streets were not literally paved with gold, they might as well have been. Next time you are in Melbourne have a look at the expansive and quality buildings built towards the end of the 19th century (which fortunately still exist), as well as the good quality housing stock in the inner suburbs originally from the same era. The impressive thing is that the ‘working class’ could afford to live in an expensive place.

The wealth of Melbourne was based on the mining of gold in the (then) colony of Victoria that commenced in the 1850s. Ballarat and Bendigo were the centres of the gold industry and also have a rich history of 19th century buildings to admire. Gold was the method of exchange in the day and extracting it from the ground increased the wealth of everybody in the colony. In 1852, it was estimated that mining comprised around 35% of the Victorian colony GDP and wages in Victoria rose by 250% between 1850 and 1853. Not that Victoria was alone. Gympie, in Queensland’s south east, boomed after the discovery of gold in the late 1850s and with some justification claims to be the ‘town that saved Queensland’ during the early years of the new colony — as Queensland was technically bankrupt.

By the mid 1860s, the initial boom was over. Immigrants to the gold fields were not only from the same or other colonies, there was a significant immigration from overseas. While the English, Scottish and Americans that immigrated to the gold fields could blend into the cities and towns to find work, the Asians that immigrated (predominantly Chinese) could not and, once the money stopped flowing, their different appearance, customs and language made it easy for those that were suffering unemployment to single out and victimise.

By the early 1890s, the six colonies that were to form the Commonwealth of Australia within a decade were feeling the effects of a long drought that caused a recession and industrial disruption (as well as the formation of the Australian Labour Party at Barcaldine in 1891 during an ongoing shearers’ strike). The South Australian premier at the time said:
I regard as second only to the necessity of protecting our shores against actual invasion, the necessity of protecting Australia against the influx of aliens, Asiatics, criminals, paupers, and other undesirable classes
By the 1890s, the gold rushes were back, due in some part to the availability of capital (from the UK) that could not be used elsewhere due to an ongoing economic conditions in Europe and the Americas. As a result, Charters Towers in northern Queensland was a town of over 20,000 at the turn of the century and had its own stock exchange. It was also considered necessary and economically viable to build a water pipeline from near Perth to Kalgoorlie in the last few years of the 1800s so that the extraction of minerals — again primarily gold — could continue apace. While the Charters Towers Stock Exchange is a shopping arcade today, the water pipeline in WA is still in daily use.

In 1901, the Australian colonies federated and became Australia. In the then population, 98% of Australians were of British heritage (70% born in Australia) and one of the first pieces of legislation through the Australian Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act — later known as the White Australia Policy.

Even though 98% of Australians had some British ancestry, it didn’t stop the Australian government interning those with ‘enemy’ bloodlines during World War 1. As various trade agreements and imports from Germany and Austria-Hungary were seen as ‘unpatriotic’ and the Australian economy benefitted from product substitution, higher output and the associated profiteering, Australia encouraged immigration (from the ‘winning side’) post World War 1 and like most of the world was caught up in the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s. People again began to feel threatened by immigration and joined local versions of the New Guard (remember Francis de Groot who ‘unofficially’ opened the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and the Communist Party. While both groups were ideological chalk and cheese, they both wanted ‘strong’ government who would keep Australia for Australians.

The economic pattern continues through World War 2, the 1950s and the Snowy Mountains Scheme, the 1960s’ ‘Credit Squeeze’; the largesse of the Whitlam years and subsequent contraction under Fraser and so on to the current day where Australia has not had a recession for over 24 years.

The immigration pattern continued from the propaganda fuelled racism in World War 2, through the ‘new Australians’ that largely supplied the labour for the Snowy Mountains scheme as Australia was rebuilding after the war — until there was a return to restrictions in the 1960s when we were booming after overcoming the ‘credit squeeze’ early in the 1960s. Malcolm Fraser to his eternal credit (with support from politicians in general) assisted a large number of South East Asian asylum seekers to come to Australia in the late 1970s (we had contributed to bombing their country almost to oblivion after all), when we were still suffering the after-effects of the oil crises and stagflation. Over the past 10 years, as our prosperity increased, the rhetoric from politicians to restrict immigration increased again to the ludicrous situation where the government of this country apparently implicated all of us as people smugglers by paying cash to those that profit from the miserable conditions endured by asylum seekers coming to Australia by fishing boat.

So we as Australians have a choice. Are we going to perpetuate a pattern of history that is, if nothing else, racist and economically irrational or are we going to break the mould? There does seem to be a correlation between economic activity and immigration. At the time of writing, the official cash rate is 2%; the government is allowing immediate tax write offs of $20,000 to kick some life into the economy; and, while the US seems to be coming out of a prolonged economic downturn, there are some real and structural economic problems in the Eurozone.

Australia seems to have an economic choice. As a nation we can continue to believe that our current export markets will again expand which is highly unlikely —

  • China is buying less coal than previously and plans to decrease consumption of fossil fuels by at least 20% between now and 2030.
  • India plans to reduce significantly (or even eliminate) the importation of thermal coal within two to three years.
  • NASDAQ reports falling demand and prices for iron ore exports

  • Or Australia could look at the new economy — such as renewable energy or even computer games:

  • The Queensland Government and US Navy are discussing using biofuel grown and produced in Queensland.
  • Australian computer games producers are asking for government assistance to expand

  • Instead our current prime minister is more intent on appointing a wind farm commissioner because they look ugly. In the words of President Obama:
    But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have. … But I think our decisions matter. And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that, at the end of the day, we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.
    It seems that the first sign of a coming decline in our lifestyle is the imposition of barriers against 'unsuitable' immigrants, be they boat people now or Chinese in the 1860s.

    This government (with support from the ALP) has been attempting to remove the legal rights of people to claim refuge in Australia. The previous ALP government wasn't much better.

    At the same time, it seems that our major exports, minerals and other primary produce are finding greater difficulty in attracting and retaining overseas markets. The government’s tax concessions to small business as well as official interest rates indicate that Australia's economic conditions are flat at best. There is even an iron ore price war occurring in Western Australia between BHP and Rio Tinto to move product. All of this would suggest that economic times will get worse rather than better in the next few years.

    When it comes time for others to judge our paragraph in Australia’s history, wouldn’t it be nice for those in 50 years time to recognise our generation as the one that observed there was a pattern and chose the sustainable alternative of assisting people in fear of their lives, value adding exports of high technology devices and supporting those in our society that need help?

    What do you think?
    2353 suggests that we actually first act to identify and restrict ‘unsuitable’ migrants while times are still good. Is that greed? Do we just not want to share our success? And does that blind us to changes? Do we not see our future economic opportunities because we are so caught up in our success that we inevitably slide down into the ‘lean’ years again? — and realise we need migrants to help rebuild. A cycle that 2353 hopes we can escape — once we recognise it.

    For the next two weeks we will be presenting something a little different — an historical approach rather than opinion. We are taking advantage of the parliamentary winter recess to present a two-part piece by Ken on “How did we get a multi-party Westminster system?” In the first week Ken looks at how parliament developed in England and the historical creation of some written but many unwritten rules about how it operates. In week two, he will look at the Australian Constitution and how that reflects the English system by a mixture of law and the accepted unwritten rules (conventions).

    A failure of the Left

    This is a piece about politics but not the politics we normally discuss on TPS. It is a tale of two radical youth: one from the late1960s (me) and one from the 2010s (Jake Bilardi).

    You probably know the story of Jake Bilardi, the young Australian who early in March became a suicide bomber for Islamic State (IS) in Iraq. For the media and the politicians, it raised questions about the radicalisation of youth, particularly of Middle Eastern background, and what could be done to counter it: why are ‘our’ youth running off to Syria and Iraq to join IS?

    For me it raised a different question: where now is the radical Left?

    I have read Jake’s alleged blog. My own reading of it is that much of it is probably his own work but there are parts which I think may have been ‘massaged’ by IS.

    He appears a very intelligent young man. He writes that he was a 13 year old atheist in a working-class area of Melbourne when his interest in international politics was first aroused by his elder brother. He had hopes of becoming a political journalist, particularly in foreign trouble spots, and so did his own research into the world’s conflicts seeking to understand the reasons behind them. On Afghanistan, he wrote:
    I saw the Taliban as simply a group of proud men seeking to protect their land from an invading force, while I did not necessarily agree with their ideology, their actions were in my opinion completely justified.
    He also studied the violence of the street gangs in El Salvador, Brazil, Mexico and Los Angeles, and saw them in political terms:
    The elite prefer to portray them as simply groups of young men looking to make some quick cash and who love killing and mayhem but when asked what the real reasons for the establishment of their gangs are, the founders of the these criminal organisations as well as their members always seemed to agree that they had the right to steal, rape and murder because the government and police force were doing the exact same to them in their communities. … They are predominantly from poor communities unfairly targeted by law enforcement and government policies and they are denied the opportunity to integrate into the system and build a regular life, so turning to a gang becomes their most viable option.
    His research led him to question America’s role in many of the conflicts, including its attempts to introduce democracy into the Middle East, and it raised questions about democracy itself:
    The reality of democracy became clear to me, place in people’s mind the idea of freedom and convince them that they are a free people while oppressing them behind the scenes.

    On top of this the Western world throws celebrities and false reality into the spotlight to distract people from what is really going on in the world, hence the widespread political ignorance among Westerners.

    This was the turning point in my ideological development as it signalled my complete hatred and opposition to the entire system Australia and the majority of the world was based upon.

    It was also the moment I realised that violent global revolution was necessary to eliminate this system of governance …
    When I read his words, I thought of my own years between 17 and 22 when many of my political views were formed and how close they were to Jake’s. And I was not alone. On March 13 ‘Kat’ commented on-line:
    What is scary is how similar I was in my world view with him up until the point where he makes the transition from recognising the damage the west has caused to him thinking that blowing himself up to kill others would be a good idea. … I remember at that age exploring other religions as well. However, I came to the conclusion that there is no god. But what he has written I can completely relate to as far as a journey into realising what the world is really like at a young age.
    Although I came to my own politicisation a few years later than Jake (perhaps a sign of the times), I can well imagine writing very similar words myself, expressing disillusionment with the mainstream system. I didn’t write such words but I certainly engaged in conversations about revolution. I supported liberation movements, as they were known then, and found myself supporting (at least in thought and speech) foreign fighters like the IRA, the ANC in South Africa, ETA in the Basque country, the Black Panthers in America, and the PLO. And I shared a similar disdain for America. Such radicalisation is a fairly normal process for at least a proportion of politicised youth. If you understand the system at a young age, understand its faults, and you have not yet been captured by the system, you have the youthful enthusiasm to want to do something about it.

    I didn’t rush to join those overseas fights, not just because I may have had a sense of self-preservation, but because the Left then believed that those people deserved to fight their own fight, their own way, without foreign fighters interfering or, at worst, trying to tell them what to do. We saw those movements as liberation movements and that, almost by definition, required the people involved to achieve their own liberation — just as supportive males were not part of the ‘women’s liberation’ movement, nor supportive whites welcomed into the Black Panthers.

    There was some talk of violence in my radical days. People knew how to make Molotov cocktails but saw no real need to use them in Australia. And their use could be counter-productive. One aspect of a genuine revolution is the need to win popular support. In the context of Australian politics, we weren’t leading a revolution but we were hoping to change popular perception of the system and seeking popular support to change the shape of Australian society. The radical youth and university students (who in those days often formed the majority of ‘radical youth’) may have led the way and brought issues into the public arena but, alone, we could be dismissed by government — but not if that wider community support was gained, as in the anti-Vietnam war movement.

    While I can see similarities in Jake’s approach and my own, he turned to radical Islam and Islamic State: why?

    His family background is not clear although one report suggests his family is of Italian background. He grew up in Melbourne and his mother died in 2012, which some suggest had an influence on his conversion to Islam.

    And yes, it is Islam that is providing most of the revolutionary movements these days but in my terms many of them are Right-wing revolutions. I say that because, while I can accept Jake’s argument that freedom in the West is limited and a bit of a con, I cannot see how a strict system of Sharia law offers greater freedom nor that a system effectively allowing for male domination over women is a better system. If a revolution does not enhance freedom then it is not a true revolution, at least from a Left perspective: it is a Right-wing reactionary movement that will curtail freedom.

    Jake did not use his best critical facilities to question the group he was looking to join. I had also come from a working-class background but I saw that many of the more radical leaders in my time came from upper-middle class families. To my mind, while they may also oppose the system I opposed, they did not oppose it in the same way because they did not really understand what mattered to the working class and, for that reason, I could also question their motives.

    Jake does not appear to question whether IS was gaining popular support which, as I said from the earlier Left perspective, is considered essential for a successful revolution. IS does appear to have limited support from some Sunni groups, and in his blog Jake claims that it is ‘providing services to the people’, but IS, and similar Islamic groups like Boko Haram, also undertake mass killings of non-Sunni groups. In this context, the religious underpinning of IS is important.

    In the West, our freedom and the ‘relativism’ of the post-modernist era have created ‘uncertainty’. Young people need role models to help determine what personal boundaries and values they will adopt: they go through a stage of looking for some ‘certainty’ in the values that will take them through life. Our society does not offer any one system of ‘certainty’ but says that we are free to determine our own values — within a few legal limitations. I recall that the famous poet T S Eliot became a Roman Catholic in his later years and the reason was the ‘certainty’ it offered in relation to worship and faith, whereas the Protestant religions said that each individual could find their own path to god.

    If even a renowned poet can succumb in the quest for ‘certainty’, how much more so young people still searching for their adult identity? Apart from anything else, IS offers a ‘certainty’ of politics and backs it with a certainty of faith.

    Jake wrote that he did research a number of religions, as he saw them as the key to many of the conflicts taking place in the world:
    I found myself deeply confused by all of these outlandish and odd religious systems, that myself as an Atheist had never been exposed to. However, it was Islam that for me stood out as easy to understand and shockingly consistent with established historical and scientific facts ... Slowly but surely I began being drawn towards the religion and it was no longer a political interest for me but the truth I had been circling around for years … [emphasis added]
    I, like Kat and Jake, also went through a period in my young life when I studied many religions. I still have in my library Buddhist scriptures, the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, the works of Lao-tzu regarding Tao-ism (my personal favourite) and the Koran, not to mention the Book of Mormon and a Bible. But I also have many revolutionary works including Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare, Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

    One difference is that the Left focus in my time was essentially economic, against the capitalist system, and opposed to governments and the politics they represented mainly to the extent that they supported capitalism and denied freedom to groups that suffered under the capitalist system. These new radical youth seem much more focused on the politics (if Jake is any guide). Radical Islam may be attractive because it is offering a different political system (or more correctly a politico-religious system): it doesn’t seem to discuss economics to any degree and the social aspects are set by Islamic teachings. With the demise of socialist governments (and even China now using a form of guided capitalism), the Left no longer really offers either political or economic alternatives, only variations to the existing system, a socio-economic alternative. That may also be a sign of the times. I could still see things around me in terms of the class structure, or, in Australia, the economic structure that created class. Jake appears to have been viewing things through the prism of political systems and appears to have failed to examine fully the social and economic consequences of his choice.

    If I am right in suggesting that the current radicalisation is based largely on politics, not socio-economics, then the government, for all the noise it is making, will not be able to change this because it is the system the government represents that is the very thing the youth are reacting against. Changing social and economic circumstances may help but will not be enough.

    I had available other ways of expressing dissent. I took part in protests, including the Vietnam Moratorium marches. I took part in sit-ins. I could express my disdain of the system and feel self-justified when police carried me roughly away from demonstrations and sit-ins. I could discuss my views with like-minded people before and after demonstrations; we could share tales of abuse by the police; the way police did not wear their numbers when they planned to ‘get rough’ with the demonstrators; of government seeking to stir a violent reaction from us for political purposes; and we could identify the then Special Branch officers who watched and photographed us. We could discuss how the system needed to change and we had an alternative socio-economic view of a future Australia. There was an outlet that didn’t have to result in violence — at least not here in Australia.

    Where are the Left movements (if not revolutions) that such young people can join now? Where are the Left organisations that provide an opportunity to protest against the current system? Why don’t we have movements that can draw these young people to protest and express dissent against the political and socio-economic system here in Australia?

    We have had many demonstrations against the Abbott government and its policies but it seems that, for many, they knew what they were demonstrating ‘against’ but not necessarily what they were demonstrating ‘for’. That raises the question: where now is the philosophic basis of protest? Some might argue that the Greens offer the best Left approach at the moment but they are now a mainstream political party, embedded within the political system which youth like Jake are rejecting.

    So, these young people need not only a protest march or sit-in but an alternative narrative outside the mainstream political system — which is exactly what radical Islam and IS is offering them.

    The problem is not just that IS is waging a successful propaganda war on social media but that the Left in Australia is failing to provide an adequate radical alternative for disaffected youth.

    What do you think?
    With a piece like this, is Ken still an ‘unreconstructed Leftie’ or does he have a point? Has the Left been so marginalised in our politics and replaced by a liberal Left or progressive approach, that groups like Islamic State are filling the void and attracting some politicised youth who see it as an avenue to express their radicalism? Could that radicalism be expressed more constructively if a radical Left still existed as a significant movement in Australia?

    Come back next week for 2353's 'Where will we be in 50 years' which asks whether, in Australia, there is a connection between immigration and economic conditions.

    Where does Abbott really stand on national security?

    The idea of ‘national security’ arises from the ‘social contract’ referred to by political philosophers. The concept is that the people gave the power to enforce rules and punishments to their leaders, whether monarchs or elected governments, in return for ‘protection’. Otherwise, in going about our daily business we would also have to build into our day the need to protect ourselves and our families and property from any threats that may emerge.

    So in a functioning society, we say I will largely divest myself of my right to defend myself and grant that power to our leaders, leaving me free to go about my business without those additional security concerns. The quid pro quo is that the government defends my other rights and my property, as well as my security. (I won’t go into the issue of protection of property as that is the dominant theme of neo-liberals and, in my view, is somewhat contentious for reasons that would make this piece two or three times as long.)

    There are two aspects to protection: one from external threats and one from internal threats. As I recall, in international relations, one trait that was used in defining a nation state was its capacity to protect itself and defend its borders. Hence the need for a standing army or these days also a navy and an air force. And ever since the Middle Ages, there have also been spies and intelligence services as a means of gaining advance warning of potential threats and what one’s enemies may be up to. Note, however, that these are meant to protect us from external threats.

    For internal threats the protection comes primarily from the police which also has a key role in protecting our rights — and, in fact, the main internal threats do relate to our rights. Our rights link to the basic John Stuart Mill tenet that freedom is about ‘pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to attain it’. Thus we allow our governments to create rules that protect that freedom and, importantly, also stop us from impinging upon the freedom of others. Stealing, assault and fraud, for example, each deprive someone else of their rights and so are subject to punishment by the rules we create. That is where the police and the courts come in. We have many freedoms or rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of movement which we consider important to our everyday lives (even if we sometimes take them for granted). Franklin D Roosevelt also spoke of freedom from want and freedom from fear — two that I think we do not hear enough about.

    Of course, over time, societies can change their emphasis on some of these rights, considering one more important than another, and hence also change the rules that support or enforce them. And in times of genuine external threat, such as during World War II, we may accept the need to forego some of our freedoms in the name of national security.

    So we come to the Abbott government’s view of national security.

    Firstly, the so-called ‘boat people’. Are 50 or 100 people in a leaky wooden boat an external threat to our national security? I doubt any reasonable person would say so but Abbott dresses the Australian response to the ‘boat people’ in security terms. He created a secret operation (‘operation’ being used as military jargon) and refuses to provide any details because these are ‘operational’ or military or intelligence matters. That may be justified in time of war when a heavily armed invasion fleet is menacing the country but does not appear so when we are talking about boat loads of refugees.

    Are we merely protecting our borders? That is a safer argument to make, at least up to a point. Yes, the boat people may be breaching our borders but only if they come within 12 nautical miles (22km) of our coastline (including off-shore islands). Beyond that, they are in international waters and should be free to move as they wish. They may come within our 200 nautical mile (370km) ‘economic zone’ but that applies only to economic activities such as fishing and also restricts the right of other nations to search for or exploit other natural resources within that zone — I don’t think the boat people are there searching for oil so that doesn’t apply. So the argument must be that our ‘intelligence’ suggests that these boats will breach our borders if they are not stopped in international waters — which, on the surface, is a valid argument.

    The UN convention on refugees, however, does give people the right to breach borders in certain circumstances — when we recognise that their own government is failing to protect them and their rights. We have processes to assess such people to distinguish ‘genuine’ refugees from economic migrants who may simply be trying to skirt the immigration programs that most countries have.

    So can Abbott justify that a major military-style operation is necessary to stop ‘breaches of our border’? Certainly not in a philosophic sense. It was Howard who said ‘we will decide who comes to our country and the circumstances in which they come’ and Abbott has basically continued that approach. It is ‘son of the White Australia policy’ and plays on the same fear of being over-run by hordes of ‘Orientals’, now refugees, who may bring with them a different life-style. Abbott ramps up those fears in the populace by exaggerating the threat to one akin to a military invasion, requiring military responses and the language of national security — all in the name of stopping a few leaky boats.

    Logic would suggest that controlling the flow of refugees actually requires actions to manage the flow, and steps to reduce the flow, at their source. That would require assisting in the processing of refugees in refugee camps (as was done by the Fraser government for Vietnamese refugees) and providing aid that may improve the circumstances in countries of origin, so diminishing the need for people to leave. We are doing nothing on the first and actually cutting our international aid on the second. Therefore, it can only be a political decision to ignore measures that may reduce the problem at its source and instead focus on creating a situation where our government can react with overwhelming power on the basis of national security — it would not suit its political agenda to take pro-active measures. It also follows that this is only a ‘border security’ issue because the government chooses to make it so and it is the proverbial sledge hammer to deal with a mosquito.

    Then we have the internal and external threat of ‘terrorism’. There is no doubt that this is a real threat but how great a threat to Australia and how far should we go in dealing with it?

    Genuine terrorism is based on the premise that by creating terror and fear in a population, its government will be forced to change its policies in a way that meets at least some of the political objectives of the terrorists. Thus the IRA conducted a ‘bombing campaign’ on mainland Britain in an effort to change the British government’s policy on Ireland (this was done twice, once in the 1940‒50s and again in the 1970s). For a long time, the British government treated captured IRA members as criminals: they were tried under normal criminal law. It was the IRA itself that campaigned for its members to be treated as political prisoners or prisoners of war. It was an approach that refused to acknowledge publicly the politics of the situation and, as far as it went, down-played the threat (and the fear) by treating the acts as mere acts of criminality.

    What terrorist threat does Australia actually face? The biggest threat at the moment appears to be the possibility of ‘lone wolf’ attacks inspired by radical Islamic and IS propaganda. There was the stabbing of the two police officers in Melbourne and a small number of threats that have allegedly been stopped before being carried out.

    Abbott likes to refer to Monis at the Lindt Café siege as an example of terrorism reaching our shores despite evidence suggesting that Monis was mentally unstable and an attention-seeker wanting to link himself to IS. Reports emerging from the inquest indicate that there is no evidence of him ever having been in contact with any terrorist group and, when even a bikie gang found him ‘weird’, you do have to have some doubts that he was a genuine terrorist with political motives.

    While we may find any single event terrible, we must keep a sense of perspective. We have had mass murderers with no political intent, such as Martin Bryant, and they do not generate the same degree of fear. We may be shocked but we perceive such events as a ‘one-off’, even if, as in the US, they occur on a regular basis. Terrorists, on the other hand, are trying to convince us that they are capable of carrying out their attacks again and again. If we perceive some events as worse because we also perceive them as ‘terrorist’ events, then the terrorists are winning the battle for our minds.

    It was George W Bush who declared the ‘war on terror’ after the 9/11 attack on the twin towers. As horrific as that event was, taking the US to ‘war’ was giving Al Qaeda a status beyond its real power. Abbott is now doing the same in Australia, describing IS as a ‘death cult’ which really, as Abdul-Rehman Malik who runs an outreach group for young Muslims said, is accepting the IS propaganda and giving it an inflated status:
    The propagandists of the Islamic State, when they hear themselves referred to as a death cult hell-bent on global domination, are patting themselves on the back because you know what? You’ve bought in to their narrative.
    We seem to be adopting the former British approach but only in part. We tend to ignore the politics of radical Islam but we accept its proponents as political enemies whom we must engage in war. Can anyone else see the inconsistency in that? War is sometimes said to be an outcome of the failure of diplomacy but if we refuse to recognise the political elements of our enemy, which rules out diplomacy, and don’t treat them merely as criminals, then war becomes the only recourse — as it seems to be now. (There is little doubt IS is playing a similar game.)

    In the case of IS, war may be justified because it does have some components of a ‘state’ in the areas it occupies and does see itself as forming an Islamic government of a caliphate. But as a ‘state’ it is not yet a direct threat to Australia. We can, if we so choose, be involved in supporting other states who are threatened by it: so there can logically be some justification for our current involvement in Iraq — it is a political or diplomatic decision to support another state.

    Abbott, and Howard before him following 9/11, have used this so-called threat to our national security to curtail our rights. These laws are justified on the basis of our fear of terrorism and the need to protect us. The extent of that protection is driven by the intensity of the fear but, as suggested above, the level of fear being expressed by the government seems to outweigh the real extent of the danger.

    Under laws that have been introduced to address ‘terrorism’:

    • ASIO can detain people for up to seven days and it is illegal to speak of that detention afterwards. You can be detained merely for questioning about your possible knowledge of an event even if you were not involved and you may not be told why you were detained. The warrant for your detention is decided merely on security advice without your presence and with no opportunity to challenge it. It sails very close to arbitrary detention.

    • ASIO has the power to monitor computers but that is now defined as including a network. At its broadest it means the internet can be treated as a single network: it is more likely to relate to smaller networks but that may still capture the computers of many people who are not directly under investigation. It also has the power to alter and delete material from those computers and you will not be told.

    • Journalists cannot report ASIO activities that involve Special Intelligence Operations (SIOs) but there is nothing to allow identification of which ASIO operations are SIOs and which just normal activities. Effectively, journalists are barred from reporting on ASIO with the threat of 10 year gaol sentences.

    • There are ‘control orders’ that can limit a person’s movements and who they can meet and again these can be decided without any other parties being present or able to challenge the decision. They can be likened to bail conditions except that the person has not been charged and may never be tried.

    • There are also travel bans under which it is an offence, also carrying a term of up to 10 years imprisonment, to be in areas ‘declared’ by the Foreign Minister as areas where terrorist organisations are operating. There are exclusions for legitimate purposes, such as providing humanitarian aid, but the presumption of innocence is reversed: the onus is on the individual to prove they were there for a legitimate purpose, and prove it was the sole purpose for their presence.

    • We also have laws that people can be charged for ‘planning a terrorist act’. It takes us into dangerous territory. There is a difference between planning an action and being about to carry it out (which is when police often act if they have advance intelligence). Also, what constitutes a ‘terrorist act’ is not clearly defined, so how far could this law go?
    Some of our traditional rights that are affected by these new laws include freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of association and the right to a fair trial, procedural fairness and judicial review. The danger is not just from the current laws (which we may think won’t affect many people) but the precedent they set. We must always be vigilant of our rights and remember that the elected Nazi government began with small limitations to freedom in the name of maintaining social stability.

    These approaches are also tearing up the ‘social contract’. Our national security actually depends on the social contract — a binding trust between the government and the people. If governments ignore their part of the bargain by undermining the rights they are meant to protect, then people may begin to question the value of the social contract and the role of government. Isn’t that exactly what the terrorists want us to do?

    Finally, I return to Roosevelt’s ‘freedom from fear’. That is one of the rights that is supported by government when it provides for our protection. When, however, it is the government itself that is generating fear, and using that fear to weaken our rights and renegue on its side of the social contract, isn’t it actually the Abbott government that is threatening our national security? Isn’t it actually the Abbott government that is behaving like a terrorist organisation by creating fear to achieve its political objectives?

    What do you think?
    Are ‘terrorists’ just common criminals on steroids used to promote governments’ ‘law and order’ platforms? Why are asylum seekers labelled with the same description? With the increase in security measures - where are the corresponding increases in safety, or any scrutiny, checks and balances to ensure that the additional powers are used wisely or correctly? Ken’s piece is timely and relevant given the current discussion of the ‘race’ of ’terrorists’.

    Next week Ken continues the national security and terrorism theme when he discusses the young Australian suicide bomber Jake Bilardi but comes to a very different conclusion in his piece ‘A failure of the Left’.

    The politics of marriage

    While Australia had a uniform Marriage Act from 1961 until 2004, there was nothing specific (except for common law) that prohibited marriage of two people of the same gender. The requirement that marriage was between a man and woman was only inserted into the act by the Howard Government. The government at the time claimed the change was to clarify the term ‘marriage’. The 2004 amendments were introduced in the final two sitting weeks of parliament and only a few months after the UK introduced its Civil Partnership Act. The Australian amendments were supported (nominally at least) by all political parties except the Democrats and the Greens.

    During 2009, the Rudd government legislated changes to allow ‘civil unions’ to be recognised for all couples (regardless of the partner’s gender) as well as formally recognising rights for de-facto couples. Something like 85 pieces of legislation were changed to allow this to happen.

    In February 2012, Fairfax Media reported that two thirds of Australians were in favour of same-sex marriage. By July 2014, there was 72% support. Greens Senator Hanson-Young has had a bill before parliament since 2010 and there have been various attempts to change the law since.

    On 1 June 2015, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten introduced a private members bill into the House of Representatives that would delete the words inserted by the Howard government’s 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act as well as other sections that prohibited marriage equality or similar marriages solemnised overseas being recognised in Australia. Despite the lack of government members in the House at the time, the bill was shunted off to a committee. Tony Abbott’s response is that while marriage equality may be considered by the government in time, it is currently more important to pass the budget measures. In the same week, according to The Saturday Paper, Abbott himself is attempting to change the discussion to yet another ’national security’ debate:
    First we got senior diplomat Greg Moriarty appointed to the newly created position of national counterterrorism co-ordinator. (Sherlock fans, I regret to inform you that Moriarty bears much more resemblance to Mycroft than to his evil namesake.) Justice Minister Michael Keenan got the new title of minister assisting the prime minister on counterterrorism, and then Philip Ruddock and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells got new posts aimed at tackling radicalisation.
    Being fair to the Abbott government, it has spent considerable time both inside and outside parliament urging the ALP to allow the small business measures associated with the 2015 budget to pass — and to be fair to the ALP, passing the small business measures is something the ALP always said it would do. On 3 June, Shorten moved a motion, to a lower house almost empty of government members, to pass the small business legislation immediately. The government voted against it:
    "Let us pass this bill straight away," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday.

    "Let's get it through this place in a hurry," Small Business Minister Bruce Billson said last week.

    On Wednesday, Mr Shorten obliged.

    The government seen voting against putting their own small business budget measures to an immediate vote.

    "We are not going to delay this legislation for one minute longer," he told the House of Representatives and then put forward a parliamentary procedure that if approved would allow an immediate vote.

    The government opposed Labor's motion so it failed by 47 to 77 votes.

    The leader of the house Christopher Pyne immediately decried the incident as a stunt, because the Senate is in estimates and not sitting this week.

    "Labor are a joke. Ending the debate on small business won't get the bills to the Senate any faster – the Senate isn't in session!" he tweeted.

    "So why the calls for Labor to get out of the way in such urgent tones," Labor backbencher Joanne Ryan immediately responded.

    Small Business Minister Bruce Billson released a statement describing the spectacle as a "another pointless piece of politics by Labor".

    Speaking at a media conference in the Canberra suburb of Dickson a short time later, Mr Shorten said: "If they're in such a hurry to help small business, why were they so slow today?"

    "I think the government's got some explaining to do," he said.

    In question time on Wednesday, Labor pursued the Prime Minister, asking why his government had voted against passing its small business bills straight away.

    Mr Abbott said the Senate was not sitting.

    "What we saw from the opposition this morning was yet another childish stunt from the Labor Party, an attempt by the Labor Party to deny 11 Labor members and 31 Coalition members the right to speak on this bill and ensure that they were able to demonstrate their support for the small businesses of Australia," Mr Abbott said.
    Stunt? — yup, it probably was. It is pretty amusing that on Wednesday the government is voting against something it was calling on the opposition to pass on Monday and Tuesday. It seems that there is an alternate agenda within the government: probably something to do with a number of government members getting a speech into the Hansard appealing to a part of the LNP’s core support base — small business. Getting and keeping the front page free of the budget (after the 2014 fiasco) also reduces the risk of adverse polling for Abbott and his government — which could be construed as keeping Abbott in a job.

    Chris Berg, writing on the ABC’s ‘The Drum’ website suggests
    The budget was delivered on Tuesday, May 12. National security week was launched on Monday, May 25. That's 13 days. Really just 12, if you factor in the budget lockup and newspaper print deadlines.

    This quick hop from economics to security is indicative of a broader problem with the Abbott government's populist push. It knows it doesn't want to be unpopular. But it's not sure what it wants to be popular about.

    The 2015 budget is nothing like the political catastrophe that the 2014 budget was. If anything it has been well received. Everybody likes the accelerated depreciation changes for small business. The fiscal reckoning has been postponed, and nobody but sticklers, obsessives and economists could object to that.
    Clearly, changes to the Marriage Act don’t figure prominently in the Abbott government’s agenda. This fits with Abbott’s public pronouncements in the past, as well as the public pronouncements of other ‘well known’ government members such as Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who was recently interviewed on ABC’s PM radio program:
    Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells was recently given the job, in harness with Philip Ruddock, of inquiring into tough new citizenship laws.

    Today, she says allowing a conscience vote on same sex marriage would be a "cop out".

    Senator Fierravanti-Wells says it could lead to a fracture between the Liberal Party's base and its parliamentary wing.

    She spoke to James Glenday.

    CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I don't believe that this issue is a conscience issue. It's not a life or death issue, which has traditionally been the purview of conscience votes.
    Thirty seven of the USA’s fifty states already allow marriage equality— although North Carolina is currently involved in a political intrigue that would surpass Game of Thrones to allow magistrates to choose only to marry those who fit their particular moral and/or religious beliefs. As the New Yorker discusses in this article, the proposed law — that was vetoed by the Republican (conservative) governor in spite of his personal support — is demonstrating signs of having the governor’s veto vetoed by the legislature! The (possibly) unintended consequence is that there could be the re-instatement of the long overturned ban on couples of mixed ethnic backgrounds marrying each other — despite the marriage being that of the seemingly all important man and woman — if the particular magistrate doesn’t approve. Apparently the US Supreme Court is currently deciding if equality in marriage will be legal in all fifty states, which may overrule the North Carolina brouhaha in any case.

    Other countries, including New Zealand and Ireland, have allowed marriage equality over the past few years. In Ireland, a traditionally Catholic country, it was put to a referendum during May 2015 and 62.1% of the voters approved the change. Ireland’s parliament now will introduce the necessary legislation by the end of the year.

    Reaction to the Irish referendum was generally positive around the world. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported:
    Political analysts who have covered Irish referendums for decades agreed that Saturday's results mark a stunning generational shift from the 1980s, when voters still firmly backed Catholic Church teachings and overwhelmingly voted against abortion and divorce.

    "We're in a new country," said political analyst Sean Donnelly, who called the result "a tidal wave" that has produced pro-gay marriage majorities in even the most traditionally conservative rural corners of Ireland.
    Politicians live and die in Australia at the whim of polling data. Just ask John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. Unless there is a significant problem with the data in a number of surveys, there seems to be a significant level of support for marriage equality in Australia — despite the protestations of various members of parliament (from both major parties). So what is the problem here: is it that both sides of politics are scared of making the change, or are they attempting to differentiate themselves and lose the vote from the unaligned voter?

    Shorten knows very well that his private members bill will not become law. Hanson-Young’s similar legislation has been sitting on the table since 2010 (when the ALP was in power). A number of political players have advised him that his bill wouldn’t help the process — assuming he does want the changes he has sponsored. Abbott has indicated he is prepared to allow a bi-partisan bill into the parliament for debate. The ‘problem’ with bi-partisan bills is that no political party can ‘take the credit’ for the initiative.

    There are LNP members of parliament that have indicated they will co-sponsor a bill with the ALP to make the debate happen. The experience in other countries demonstrates that changes that allow marriage equality do not cause revolution, moral decay, pestilence or any real impact to most people’s lives. Maybe if the polling is correct, both sides of Australian politics should take a reality check and listen to what the public actually want. If Ireland can ask the public and act on public opinion, why can’t Australia?

    Ironically Fairfax Media claims that changing the marriage act would cause a $1.2 billion boom to the economy. With the Australian economy almost flat-lining, perhaps it’s the boost we all need.

    What do you think?
    Apparently focus groups are showing that voters consider this a non-issue, not because they are indifferent, but because they see it as inevitable and just want the government to deal with it and move on. As 2353 points out, politicians are too busy playing games with the issue to listen to the people. As ‘the people’, speak up now and leave a comment.

    Next week Ken will take a philosophical look at national security and answer the question ‘Where does Abbott really stand on national security?’. His answer may surprise you.