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An Orwellian reading of our anti-terror legislation



In George Orwell’s most famous novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the white face of the Ministry of Truth – the Government’s propaganda arm – bears the slogans: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

Orwell – whose real name was Eric Arthur Blair – was a complex man and, in an irony worthy of the novel itself, seems to have ended his days as an informer on his fellow writers, compiling lists of left-wing writers and their ideological reliability which he sent to British intelligence.

Nevertheless, his insights into the nature of totalitarianism and how it gets going have a certain resonance today. Australia is not approaching dictatorship, but a quick look at Orwell’s slogans in the light of the past week’s news makes disturbing reading.

WAR IS PEACE. Mr Abbott informed the nation that 'Daesh [Islamic State] is coming, if it can, for every person and every government with a simple message: 'submit or die'.

'You can't negotiate with an entity like this. You can only fight it.' Troops are accordingly off to Iraq – despite our unenviable history there – even as anti-terror legislation is passed at home with nary a whimper from the Opposition. The threat levels are rising all the time and only more commitment to the war will suffice – even if we don’t know what victory might look like.

At the same time, whether or not the Government celebrated International Refugee Week by boarding a boat in international waters and paying the people smugglers who piloted it to return their load of asylum seekers to Indonesia is described as a matter of 'national security'.

This is of a piece with the militarisation of asylum seeker policy more generally. There is no limit to the force which immigration contractors will soon be able to use with impunity on those unlucky enough to have dared to ask Australia to honour its international protection obligations.

There are wars on every front and only the Government can keep you safe – just trust it. In Orwell’s work, this had become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Oceania is alternately at war with one or other of the remaining powers in order to keep its people obedient and rallied round the flag.

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, Mr Abbott announced that terrorists 'hate our freedom'. Presumably on the 'small target' theory that has served both political parties so well, the Government and Opposition seem to have agreed that Australia will pre-emptively remove many of these itself. Certainly both major parties have fallen over themselves to allow interception of electronic data, give ASIO unprecedented peacetime powers and allow for increased powers to detain people without warrant or court supervision.

It seems the citizenship of dual nationals – and possibly even Australians with no other citizenship – is to be made revocable henceforth with the wave of a Ministerial pen. This is not Orwell yet, with even the Solicitor General apparently thinking that the High Court would strike down such legislation as unconstitutional. Nevertheless, we are told that it will not even go back to Cabinet for approval before being introduced to Parliament. This is, remember, the 800th anniversary of the first signing of Magna Carta, with its embryonic notion of government subject to law.

In Orwell’s case, 'freedom is slavery' was a critique of Communist systems where the will of the collective trumped individual will to the extent that only absolute subjection of individuals would do in order to preserve society. It is a terrible irony, revealed by the Snowden files, inter alia, that the 'winners' of the Cold War are operating a surveillance system which would have seen the STASI’s jaws drop in awe.

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Here is the core of the problem which aggravates the other issues. Orwell’s dystopic vision was of a totalitarian state where information was so tightly rationed that people could be forced into doublethink – believing propaganda which was at odds even with itself. While channels of information are still more open here than in 1984, this week provided disturbing signs that we have set out on that path.

The destruction of the 'business model' of 'people smugglers' has been said to be the reason that Australia detains asylum seekers in conditions condemned by everyone from the Immigration Department’s own internal review to the UN Rapporteur for Torture. This week, however, we are told that the Government does 'whatever it takes', 'by hook or by crook' to 'stop the boats.' Never mind that, if it is indeed true that Australia stopped a boat in international waters and paid its crew to return the asylum seekers on board to potential persecution, Australia would have breached international and domestic law and destroyed its own rationale for its relentless cruelty to refugees.

The reason this argument can run for as long as it has, of course, is that information is practically unavailable. Even the Parliament, a body notionally sovereign according to Australian jurisprudence, is unable to prise information relating to 'Operation Sovereign Borders' from the Executive which is supposed to be answerable to it.

Big Brother may not be in power yet, but the safeguards which would have prevented his rise: an informed population in a vibrant democracy, are showing serious cracks.

Justin GlynJustin Glyn SJ is a student for the priesthood with a PhD in administrative and international law, who previously practised law in South Africa and New Zealand.


Topic tags: Justin Glyn, national security, George Orwell, IS, immigration, citizenship, Tony Abbott



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Excellent article which really brings home the type of nightmare into which this country is sinking under this front bench. They all claim "Christian" credentials, but this article comes into that category, not them with their fear and bigotry tactics. Some first class minds might be coming into this generation of Jesuits.

Bilal | 20 June 2015  

Orwellian ‘Doublespeak’ is alive and well. For instance, notwithstanding 26,000 Islamic terrorist incidents worldwide since 9/11, counter-terrorism efforts are branded Orwellian; and Amnesty International, founded to protect prisoners of conscience, denies conscious protection to medical workers who oppose abortion. Or take the ‘Doublespeak’ that infests universities founded to enhance, in Newman’s terminology, ‘universal knowledge’. Like Jesuit Marquette University which prohibited discussion on same-sex marriage in a philosophy class and is sacking Professor John McAdams who had the temerity to disagree with the teacher who shut down discussion; or a ‘faculty climate survey’ at Loyola Marymount University which found that Catholic Professors claim a hostile environment towards authentic Catholic teaching. Contemporary academic life promotes an intolerance for diversity of thought alongside sexual extremism, as if George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and Herbert Marcuse’s ‘Eros and Civilization’, were how-to manuals for students. Wesleyan University in Connecticut is now offering ‘LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM’ housing, because apparently ‘LGBT’—or even ‘LGBTTQQ’—wouldn’t have been inclusive enough. Not to worry. ‘Democratic’ North Korea claims it has a cure for AIDS, Ebola, TB, cancer and morning sickness, all in one miracle drug, and, with Iran, is working on acquiring nuclear weapons. This postmodern world is beyond parody.

Ross Howard | 20 June 2015  

Not to mention a military man appointed as head of state and a whole bucket of money allocated to glorifying ANZAC and WWI. Well, one can't say we shouldn't have seen it coming. The man is a wrecker, he has never built anything of worth, always tearing down. Hardly a statesman, interested only in gaining and retaining power, he struts the stage like a prize boxer rather than a statesman. Habeas corpus and magna carta effectively suspended in the case of 'queue-jumpers' and those considered 'disloyal', legislation already in place to 'disappear' people, critics abused and vilified by so-called ministers of the Crown, trade treaties negotiated in secret, true science debunked in favour of pseudo science, and so it goes on... The tragedy is that there is no credible or effective opposition. It will get a lot worse before it gets better. Start reading Chilean and Argentinian history.

Ginger Meggs | 20 June 2015  

Ross Howard makes some very good points. I would add a further one. 1984 included the phrase 'Big Brother is watching you.' This has now become a stock phrase in English to denounce the intrusion of the state into every aspect of our private lives. The hallmark of totalitarians is that they will suffer no one to have private correspondence, conversations or interactions of any sort, lest something against officially sanctioned opinions be expressed. In reverse, this is what Julian Assagne and his ilk did and do via wikileaks. Under the guise of 'transparency' and 'accountability' public officials were allowed no private channels for communications. Everything they said or wrote was fair game for Assagne and his warriors to throw open to public scrutiny. They were the self-appointed gate-keepers of the public interest. Assange had now assumed the mantle of Big Brother himself. What was Eureka Street's response to this? Was it concern that this was too much power in a non-statutory body's hands? Was it fear that this information could be misused? Was it to question critically why wikileaks should be considered more trustworthy than elected governments? No. None of the above. Their recommendation was to give the man a Nobel Peace Prize. Some Big Brothers are better than others.

Marg | 21 June 2015  

Once again Justin, thank you for raising our consciousness and helping us to see through the fear-inducing facades being constructed by those in leadership.

Maryanne Confoy | 22 June 2015  

Thank you Justin, for expressing so well what is in my own and many other minds about Australia's direction under this Government - apparently we must preserve our freedom by giving some of it up. It also disturbs me that the Govt is outsourcing so many of its operations to businesses which are not really accountable - and secrecy lies over these operations anyway.

Rodney Wetherell | 22 June 2015  

I don't know who conjures up the three words slogans that the government likes to employ to encapsulate its policies. These slogans repeated often enough defy analysis. There is no hint as to what the consequences of the policy behind the slogan might be. Of course this sloganeering is not limited to politics. It is used to promote sport like the recent State of Origin Rugby League match at the MCG. Rugby League compared to Australian Rules is legalised violence. Yet clever promotion of this violence drew a crowd of over 91 thousand to the hallowed turf of the G. The relentless appeal to our lower instincts drives out rational thought and respect for our fellow human beings. Boxing was once euphemistically called "The Gentlemanly Art of Self-defence. Today it has lost all pretence of being gentlemanly and points are scored for attacks only. And a KO is the surest way to victory. Ronald Reagan once observed. ' Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.' Politics has suffered the same fate as boxing. Gentlemen need not apply. Nor ladies.

Uncle Pat | 22 June 2015  

Well written article by Justin Glyn. PM Abbott & his Ministers strut the national & world stage as self-proclaimed "saviours" of western democracy. But their "big brother" government wants no legal process on citizenship removal from alleged terrorists, refugees are being pushed back & locked up, & even its own cabinet cannot fully assess its own anti-terror bills. Speaker Bishop acts like a Sergeant Major with debates in Parliament & Foreign Minister Bishop finds poorer countries to rehouse refugees & cuts foreign aid. Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Dutton tells us the LNP Citizenship Bill is to "protect Qld families". At the same time, a largely captive mainstream media attacks Opposition leader Shorten's union background, as if it is somehow tainted. However Joe Hockey gets big business donations frim North Sydney Foundation & even gets "travelling allowance" of $270/night to sleep in his wife's house in Canberra. Big brother is alive & well - and our "media prominent" RC PM is strutting the world stage, in "Climate Change Denial" mode, presumably to support big coal mining companies. Shades of Saul of Tarsus before his dramatic fall from his horse - we can but hope !

John Cronin, Toowoomba Q | 22 June 2015  

Justin, your insightful article names unspoken concerns with such clarity that it should be packaged into a PR campaign and shared far and wide. It would serve as an intelligent form of rebuttal and help explain why the rule of law must be upheld if we to remain a democracy. It's the creeping nature and slow turning of the screws on vulnerable people that is so sinister.

Mary Tehan | 22 June 2015  

Ross Howard accuses Amnesty of opposing the right of health professionals to be exempted from any work on abortion cases. Totally untrue Ross. To be current about this, go to www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Human-Rights-Act. There you will find a strong campaign in defence of the current UK Act which seems to be under government threat. Directly relevant text on abortion is found in that very Act. See it at www.equalityhumanrights.com/publication/religion-or-belief-workplace-guide-employers-following-recent-european-court-human-rights-judgments

Wayne Sanderson | 22 June 2015  

Totalitarianism is dependent on bypassing the judicial system and hobbling the parliament. Hitler was able to do what he did by doing both these things. The next step is to unite the people against a common fear or fears. Well Abbott has a tick next to all the pre requisites. The public in Australia now have no idea at all what is really happening on the high seas or in our own detention camps. WE the good citizens dare not think that the one death at Manus was just one of many. Dachau started that way, as cliched and dramatic as analogies to Nazi Germany are, we cannot ignore them. when you have insecure men that have a need to prove themselves above a need to do great things there is a disaster in the making. It is wonderful that we have a fit athletic Prime Minister who spends his weekends and holidays in physical pursuits and is proud of his body beautiful......but?! This is the same guy that promotes his deep concern for remote Indigenous people and visits for a few days each year and then smashes the programs for these destitute people. My Slogan; STOP THE BULLSHIT!

Steve Shilkin | 23 June 2015  

Not so Wayne Sanderson. You refer to an “Equality and Human Rights” document which supports “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” and “conscientious objections”, but then qualifies those purported rights. An example is given of religious objection to adopting out children to same-sex couples. This is rejected because it is “incompatible with upholding the dignity and fundamental rights of same-sex couples”. This is exactly how the Catholic Church is being forced out of the adoption business. Amnesty International supports both the Human Rights Act and Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and in practice, some ‘human rights’ are valued more than others, depending on the arbitrariness of the adjudicator. In 2007 AI secretly introduced Sexual and Reproductive rights which included a ‘right’ to abortion. Officially this was denied with Karen Schneider writing, “This policy will not be made public at this time”. In “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA,” AI decried conscience protection for medical professionals as well as religious hospitals’ refusal to provide “reproductive health services” such as contraception, sterilization, and abortion. Today, under cover of ‘human rights’, AI openly advocates abortion, urging Ireland in 2014 to amend its abortion laws. Orwellian ‘Doublespeak’ is alive and well.

Ross Howard | 23 June 2015  

If the US President claimed executive authority on just one issue - gun laws - ignoring the normal legal and legislative processes, I would not be alarmed.

AURELIUS | 23 June 2015