Fear is the enemy of democracy


Scott Morrison

It's possible that future generations will judge the Bush administration's post 9/11 'War on Terror' as one of the most shameful and dangerous moments in American history. Crucial to this campaign were the 'enhanced interrogation' techniques that induced fear in order to bend the wills of those held captive. It was believed the end justified the means, and that the person's dignity, self esteem and grasp of their own reality were expendable.

We can look upon such forms of psychological torture as merely extreme manifestations of the damaging incidences of negative persuasion that are disarmingly commonplace in our society. There are still teachers and parents who prefer the pedagogy of the stick to that of the carrot. Also, political strategists are making increasing use of fear in order to persuade electors to vote for their party's candidates.

The most dramatic example of such manipulation in recent political history was the anti-Work Choices campaign that is credited with winning the 2007 Federal Election for Labor. It is widely believed that voters were paralysed by fear of losing their rights at work and their livelihood, and consequently voted the Coalition out of government because of the Work Choices legislation it had passed. 

This in turn spooked the Coalition, which is now afraid to countenance workplace reform, even though it is one of its core philosophical beliefs. Last week it shelved changes to the Fair Work legislation until the second term it hopes to win in 2016. This suggests that once fear becomes the currency, individuals and groups will abandon their values and hitherto perceptions of reality in a desperate attempt to avoid the imagined catastrophe.

For its part, Labor was thoroughly disarmed by the susceptibility of the population to the myths surrounding the Coalition's ongoing 'Stop the boats' rhetoric. It subsequently wound back the reforms to asylum seeker policy that it introduced during its first term of office.

Labor adopted the Coalition's terminology, embracing the delusion that 'breaking the people smugglers' business model' was the only way it could deal with our share of the worldwide challenge of refugee flows. 

Opposition Immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison showed last week that a population paralysed by fear of dangerous and illegal boat people ending up in its community could easily accept a premise that was blatantly untrue, and act and vote accordingly. After Morrison called for a suspension of asylum seekers being released into the community on the basis of a single violent incident.

Fairfax Media pointed out that these people are about 45 times less likely to be charged with a crime than members of the public.

The fact that the manipulative and misleading rhetoric of a fear mongering politician appears to have more influence and credibility than a set of statistics available on the Bureau of Statistics website and reported by a major newspaper group, is a worrying sign for democracy. The press may be free, but it is impotent in a climate of induced fear in which our democratic freedoms are an illusion.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Scott Morrison, psychological torture, fear, War on Terror, Work Choices, asylum seekers



submit a comment

Existing comments

Well most of the MSM don't care, they peddle the lies as facts and blame the victims for our policies.
Marilyn | 01 March 2013

Thanks Michael for an excellent and timely article. The Coalition seem to be now trying to further differentiate themselves from Labor on the asylum-seeker issue by escalating their fear-mongering campaign and further demonising all asylum seekers. Sadly, Labor cowardly gave in to Coalition fear-mongering and introduced off-shore processing itself, at great cost to the asylum-seekers concerned, to Australia's integrity and international reputation, and to the Australian taxpayer, with the massive initial cost and what will be a huge ongoing cost in trying to mend broken lives in the future. The Australian Greens favour onshore processing, which is the only humane way to go. We shouldn't brutalise asylum-seekers who come here in an effort to deter other desperate people from coming. The end doesn't justify the means! The fact that the boats keep coming is indicative of the poor judgment of the major parties in their attempts to deter would-be asylum seekers. Australians, don't be mean-spirited! Welcome genuine asylum-seekers and help them to settle in. Let's not forget that the ancestors of all of us came from from overseas. Considering the huge numbers of refugees countries like Turkey are currently taking should help us put our relatively small intakes in perspective.
Grant Allen | 01 March 2013

Perhaps Scott Morrison could suggest that asylum-seekers and those holding temporary protection visas should be required to wear striped pyjamas so that they can be easily recognised in the community. I believe there is a precedent where it was once used to promote and ferment xenophobia.
Ginger Meggs | 01 March 2013

Michael Mullins, in your race to express your moral indignation, did you verify that Morrison had in fact said what was attributed to him? According to Andrew Bolt, Morrison did not call for the suspension of asylum seekers becaue of the alleged sexual assault. Bolt admitted that he himself had condemned Morrison assuming that the report was true. However, after further research, he could find no such statement from Morrison. What Morrison actually said regarding the asylum seekers was that if asylum seekers were coming to a residential area, like a university residence, then it would be courteous to inform the residents of what was happening. MORRISON: Well I think especially say in the case of what we saw with Macquarie University that certainly the residents of that same facility should be aware of something of that nature happening in the place where they live. SPEERS: Where someone’s charged with an offence? MORRISON: No, no what I’m talking about is if that facility is taking on asylum seekers on bridging visas into that residential complex then I think there’s a simple courtesy that needs to be provided to other people, that they simply know that that’s taking place. On the current evidence, Michael Mullins, you are flat wrong. Please produce your source and its content to support what you said. If you cannot, you may owe Morrison an apology.
John Ryan | 02 March 2013

This is a tried and true method of scaremongering by the conservatives whether in government or not - the children overboard incident, as untrue as we all knew or suspected it to be achieved its purpose - the demonisation of asylum seekers as heartless heathens who didn't care about their children and all that followed. It won votes. WMD and the on-going vilification of those who are so different from the white, ruling population also won over, even though the world suspected the truth. this is about the 'us and them' mentality that only has power and political gain in mind rather than responsible and good government. Thank you for your artive Michael and here's hoping that the Australian community remembers the points you raise and learns not to continue to make the same mistake.
Bea | 04 March 2013

Fear is also being used to win votes by the Harper government in Canada. I believe that there are space for politicians to behave in this manner because of the complexity of the social and economic issues we face, and the failure of the professional and scientific classes to communicate effectively on these issues. The result is that hard data and evidence-based interpretations of social and economic issues is ignored or denied in the public policy process. It begins to seem to an abandonment of the age of reason and a return to a belief in incredulous belief.
Marianne McLean | 04 March 2013

Exploitation of fear as a form of social control is not limited to politics. Religions of various stripes have used (and still use) the fear of eternal damnation or excruciating everlasting agony to control their adherents. This by no means justifies the exploitation of fear by politicians in their pursuit of power but I think people in glass houses should not throw stones. In a church that induced fear into our children it is not surprising that later in life they chose the freedom of facebook to express their inner selves rather the freedom of the children of God to express themselves by loving service to others.
Uncle Pat | 04 March 2013

Great article Michael. I had a similar discussion with a colleague on the weekend.The fear you speak of is responsible for the significant erosion of fundamental rights particularly when it it is expressed in economic terms. Nothing like telling the electorate your hip pocket is going to be hit, then seeing self interest overtake principle. The major issue is governments of all persuasions now use it. Ends justifying the means is never a good way to operate. It costs everyone eventually even politicians.
Tony Kerin | 04 March 2013

Dear Michael, Thank you for courageously voice your principles on behalf of the innocent and voiceless people. I was one of the so-called boat people and had I been treated like these asylum seekers now, I could have been a gangster instead of being a priest. I was not only welcome but given every opportunity to rebuild my life and I now in turn encourage my fellow Vietnamese Australians to help build this great nation. WE must all feel ashamed by cheap policital shots like Scott Morrison's and let those who share his mean-spirited view that if "the law does not distinguish and so we ought not distinguish." Yours sincerely, Toan Nguyen
(Fr) Toan Nguyen | 04 March 2013

Don't let Morrison get away with this. Email him, as I did yesterday, and ask him to apologise for all the harm his comment contained. Invite him to attend Jessie Taylor's award-winning film 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea', which will be shown at Parliament House Canberra on March 18th. Having seen this, he could surely never make such a comment again.
fiona dodds | 04 March 2013

Scott Morrison, presumably a cabinet minister in the next Parliament, seeks to influence public opinion by misleading the public based on the disgraceful behaviour of one asylum seeker.He is in bad company in so doing - in the tradition of George Bush and Tony Blair in Iran, the USA in Korea, Mrs. Thatcher in Argentina,the Dreyfus affair, Holt in Vietnam, and then Tony Abbot equivocating between his utterances being quite true or not so true What does it lead to? George Bush going to war in Iraq on a lie? Dreyfus being falsely imprisoned by the French Fovernement on a lie? Australian soldiers killed in Vietnam based on the American lie about the Bay of Tonkin incident? These are the bedfellows of our home grown liars
frank hetherton | 04 March 2013

The vast bulk of people here are praising Michael Mullins. IF Scott Morrison did say what he reportedly said, I would join Michael Mullins in his condemnation of Scott Morrison. I put a challenge to Michael Mullins, which he has hitherto not yet answered. I will also put it to other readers and posters of this article. Please give a link to the actual source of Morrison's own words where he called for a suspension of asylum seekers being released into the community. It will be plainly insufficient to say that he was quoted in this or that article. Who is to say that the authors of such articles have not innocently or mischievously misquoted Morrison?
John Ryan | 04 March 2013

It's a very good point about fear. It is nothing new, of course. Menzies almost turned it into an art form with his "Yellow Peril" campaign, portraying Communist China as am imperialist beast eying off Australia. It was a simple step to then link Labor to communism and bingo!
Peter Luxton | 04 March 2013

I checked out Scott Morrison's website. A media release for 27 February includes the following. "Labor should suspend further release of boat arrivals into the community on bridging visas and community detention, in all other than exceptional circumstances until Minister O Connor has had his Department undertake a full review of the scheme and can give the community a clear guarantee that the lessons have been learned and there are clear community safeguards in place." This is at odds with what he said in the interview that Bolt quoted. So I find myself agreeing with the gist of what Michael Mullins wrote. There are certainly issues that have to be considered when you place large numbers of young male asylum-seekers into the community. But it is wrong to condemn the whole on account of the possible wrongs of a small number. I therefore agree with the gist of what Michael Mullins wrote, and say that on the evidence now, he accurately reported Morrison's words, and rightly condemned them.
John Ryan | 04 March 2013

John Ryan, for evidence of Scott Morrison's attitude re asylum seekers, you need go no further than the long interview with him on The Insiders (3 March). "I've also said that the Police should be notified as well...", "... why shouldn't they (neighbours) know (that an asylum seeker is next door). People are entitled under Australian law to seek asylum and they are not breaking it by doing so. In the Insiders interview which I implore you to watch, Morrison pointed out that those released into the community would otherwise be in detention whilst awaiting processing. True. However he has completely ignored, for purely political and deeply inhumane reasons, the fact that the majority of asylum seekers are found to be legitimate, and that their rate of transgressions (only 5 cases - not convictions - out of over 12000) has been less proportionally than those of some parliamentarians of both Labor and Liberal stripes! I am saddened by Morrison's stand and its dangerous scaremongering and lack of basic fairness. We the electorate need to pressure the Labor and Liberal parties to achieve consensus about asylum seeker policy so that the current obscene political game with already-traumatised people's lives ceases.
Patricia R | 04 March 2013

Surely it is more inhumane to keep refugees in detention for an unlimited period than to inform residents of a residence such as a University residence that they are about to welcome new neighbours! Whichever government is in power should limit the time refugees are denied entry into the community to the minimum time necessary to undertake health and police checks say four weeks.
Bill Barry | 04 March 2013

John Ryan is to be congratulated on recognising that he was mistaken in claiming that Michael Mullins and others may have been "innocently or mischievously" misquoting Scott Morrison. John readily found the telling quote on Morrison's own website. That raises the question why Andrew Bolt could find nothing of the sort?
Frank Golding | 04 March 2013

Fear is symptomatic of ignorance; Morrison's shameless appeal to mob violence exploits both.
David Arthur | 04 March 2013

Yes Michael fear usually brings about that which it says it seeks to avoid. However I am much more afraid of some of the refugees leaving the United States, and its toxic culture, than I am of the ones coming from countries we destroyed to our west.
Michael D. Breen | 04 March 2013

Scott Morrison understands that a good scare is always worth more than good advice. If this single violent incident had become a single violent rape or a single violent murder would the Michael Mullinses of this world still be telling us that we have nothing to fear but fear itself because these people are still only 45 times less likely to be charged with a crime? You would have to, wouldn't you.
DavidSt | 04 March 2013

Thanks very much Michael for a good article. I agree with you and with many other posters that the demonising and fear-mongering is perpetuated by both the Coalition and the ALP as a policy stance, with each trying to race the other to the bottom of the barrel. The interview from which John Ryan has cited can be found on: Scott Morrison Speeches and Transcripts Wed 27 February 2013 http://www.scottmorrison.com.au/info/speech.aspx?id=591 See also SMH video in which Senator Doug Cameron's expresses his views: http://media.smh.com.au/news/breaking-politics/asylum-seeker-controversy-4069372.html and the SMH article of 28 February 2013: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/behaviour-rules-vilify-asylum-seekers--lib-20130227-2f6d4.html and views of Judy Moylan’s Liberal MP on recent developments refugees and asylum seekers http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/more-principles-less-politicking-20130302-2fcvw.html Madeleine
Madeleine Kingston | 04 March 2013

Malcolm Fraser, Liberal Prime Minister from 1975 to 1983 has written on the subject on Australia's inhumane policies previously. His opinion article in The Age 4 March 2013 is worth a read: Open our hearts, and our doors, to refugees: We all share the blame for Australia's inhumane policies http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/open-our-hearts-and-our-doors-to-refugees-20130303-2fe89.html Mr. Fraser says he has met many people who do not wish to vote for either major party. I can certainly relate to that. The policies of both the Liberal National Party and the Australian Labour Party (as well) as the Liberal Democratic Party) and some independents are inhumane and unacceptable. As to the Bali Process otherwise known as the Regional Solution, I have much to say about that. Many who are well-meaning do not understand what the Bali Process or Regional Solution is about and what asylum seekers and refugees must face in countries with no regard for human rights and no domestic laws in place to indicate nominal acceptance. Now that the whole of Australia has been excised from the Migration Zone, there are no saving graces in any of the policies proposed.
Madeleine Kingston | 05 March 2013


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up