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An Orwellian reading of our anti-terror legislation

  • 22 June 2015

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