11 November 2005

Australia, Fair Dinkum

Australians are great. I'll just get that out there first. They have a good sense of humour. They're humble, even self-deprecating. Salt of the Earth. They'll never lord it over you. And, like my fellow Americans, my fellow Australians (I'm a dual citizen) are being ill-treated by the neo-cons in government.

[Some background, for the non-Aussies:
The leader of the Liberal Party, John Howard is the Australian Prime Minister. The Liberal Party and the smaller National Party make up the long-standing Coalition Government. The opposition party, Labor, is actually larger than either, but smaller than the Coalition. I quite like Labor. They actually support, you guessed it - labor! The Liberals and the Nationals are conservative. Labor is "small l" liberal, i.e., not conservative. Labor is liberal in the same way the Democrats under Carter were liberal (i.e., moreso than under Clinton, but by then the Religious Right had pulled the Republicans so far to the right that a moderate like Clinton appeared to be somewhere left of Fidel.)]

The Liberals' party platform is beautiful. I've read it. It says all the right things about the innate worth of the individual, personal responsibility, the various freedoms (freedom of thought, worship, association, et al), equality of opportunity, a just and humane society. In practice, the Liberals are conservatives, for instance on issues such as race and reconciliation, immigration and the war on terror.

The Liberals held their seats in the 2001 election on a fairly strong anti-immigration policy and very possibly in part due to the children overboard scandal. Known as "a certain maritime incident" (always in quotes), the Liberals claimed that asylum seekers on an "suspected illegal entry vessel" (SIEV) threw their children overboard in a sickening bid to gain unlawful entry into Australia. The demonising of the asylum seekers allowed the Liberals to run on a platform of stronger border protection and national security. The story was found to be untrue - photos of people in the water published three days after the claim was made were actually taken two days earlier when the un-seaworthy vessel was sinking ("SIEV" starts to look alarmingly like "sieve") , but the claims (and the hard-line policy) were never retracted.

Last year (2004), the Libs won the government again, this time using the threat of increased interest rates should Labor win, and the spectre of a resulting housing bubble bursting were that to happen. As in the U.S., folk here operate under the misconception that conservatives are better for the economy, while (small l) liberals are better for the economy of the working person and the poor. Since almost everyone either works or is poor, I'm not sure how "The" economy can be so exclusive. By the way, with one and a half decent salaries, my husband and I cannot afford to buy our own house in Camberra. Before moving into a share house with another couple, our rent was triple what it was in Buffalo, N.Y.

Howard's standing in the polls has been in a bit of a plunge recently, with the Federal Government's proposed industrial relations changes being perceived as leading to degradation of wages and conditions, loss of unfair dismissal laws, and the removal of workers' rights to bargain collectively. And people are pretty upset by the injury added to this insult in the form of $50 million (AUD) tax dollars spent by the government to promote their partisan plan. In addition, Australians are upset by a suite of new counter-terrorism laws that are perceived as threatening civil liberties. This isn't a misperception: according to Howard's own Media Release, he's asking States and Territories to provide for even longer preventative detention periods "because there are constitutional restrictions on the capacity of the Australian Government to provide for this type of detention".

So, in the last week, a minor change to current law was installed and as a result, 17 men were arrested on terrorism-related offences on Tuesday (8 Nov), primarily the offense of being a member of a terrorist group.

Not to take this lightly, as there are some (alleged) pretty dastardly plans foiled by these arrests, but given Howard's recent downturn in polls, is the timing a bit of "wag the dog"? Or are these folks an actual threat? We'll await the trials, of course.

And I think everyone agrees with the concept that as far as comparing the two scenarios, having a few innocents languish for a short while in a modern, Westernised jail is the lesser evil compared to the possible deaths of hundreds or thousands of innocents. (Although, having watched all 6 seasons of "OZ", I'm pretty convinced that jail qualifies as "cruel and unusual punishment"! Perhaps 6 seasons of OZ qualifies as cruel and unusual as well.)

That said, arresting people for joining a "terrorist organisation" is a slippery slope. The Liberal Party's tenet of "freedom of association" starts sounding more like guilt by association. And in the U.S., there are similar laws: US Code Title 18 (2239B) specifies as criminal "Providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations". As amended by the Patriot Act, this includes financial support.

This is all well and good as long as those nasty terrorist groups declare themselves so on their letterheads! (Or if they were overheard planning attacks on civilian populations, as this group is supposed to have been doing.) But what happens when Greenpeace stops a whaling vessel and are labelled "terrorists" by an unhappy government for respecting life over property? Was I guilty of violating Title 18 when I sent in my yearly $35 membership fee?!?



By the way, the original title of this piece was going to be "Australia, unter alles", which is a really bad pun, trying to do too many things at once. I was attempting to make some wise-acre remark tying fascism together with "Down Under", a colloquialism for Australia. But, according to Godwin's law, my very act of invoking (German / Nazi) fascism would have meant that I would have automatically lost the (one-sided) "debate"!



Speaking of opposition parties, Go Harry Reid! It's about time the Democrats started acting like an opposition party! But that's another post.

73 Comments:

Anonymous Blaecwulf said...

You Go Girl! I'd forgotten how darn good it was to hear you speak on a subject you're passionate about. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment. Hope life is going well for you & da hubby. Give him a big ol' WNY hug for me. I'll be in touch.

Joy*Strength*Courage,
David

3:52 am  
Blogger Kayelene Murphy said...

Buggar Godwin's law, call it as you see it!
Keep it up!
I'm cross linking your article with mine so our respective viewers can see/comment on the similar issues presented.
My article is: Terrorist Attack?
Thanks
Kayelene

6:32 pm  
Blogger elissa feit said...

Thanks for that! Your article is fantastic (and much better both at presenting the Australian perspective as well as expounding on the history of some of the recent events.) I may comment more on your site.

12:17 am  
Blogger Meegan said...

Hi Elissa, Great posting. Just one thing though - at the bit where you discuss the 17 alleged terrorists. They were actually arrested under the old laws. Makes you wonder what the panic to get new-and-improved anti terror legislation was all about. Obviously the existing legislation was adequate.

7:23 pm  
Blogger elissa feit said...

Hi Meegan,
Are you certain? There was that whole big deal about a last minute change to the wording of *one* of the current policies, so they could refer to "a" terrorist act rather than "the" terrorist act. Before the change, there actually had to have been an act that occurred. Now it's so generic that it can (evidently) be an alleged future act.

But you are right. The bulk of the laws haven't changed, and the validity of some of them is definitely in question!

It also occurs to me that the concept of pre-emptive arrests is effectively the same concept of the "pre-emptive strike" that was the sorry excuse for the war. Not sure where to go with that, though.... I guess if one is illegal, so is the other.

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