In a sort of political version of Opposite Day, an idea has been kicking around social media for a few weeks on how to best understand the mystery that is the awfulness of the Abbott government. The idea is the Anti-Ministry, and it was quickly recognised and repeated because of the obviousness of its accuracy.
For starters, the Commonwealth government is headed by Captain No himself.
Tony Abbott remains in stubborn denial of the fact that he is no longer the leader of the Opposition but in fact the leader of the government. Leaders set the culture and tone and outlook of any organisation. This is so even when the specific leader lacks any actual leadership qualities, as with the current Australian Prime Minister.
Once I heard the Anti-Minister idea, I saw evidence that every man in cabinet behaves as though he hates his portfolio and everyone in it. This is not so bizarre. Consider the fact that the ruling LNP touts itself as following free market ideology, yet hands out huge corporate subsidies. This is a party that claims to be for small government and freedom, yet interferes in the lives of citizens to the extent that the grocery shopping habits of poor people are brought under its purview by force of law.
In that spirit then, here is another shopping list: of the Cabinet and their area of responsibility. Every single one of them is acting against the interests of those for whom he is responsible as a minister.
Malcolm Turnbull pretends that destroying the National Broadband Network and gutting public broadcasters ABC and SBS is good policy. Turnbull is the Anti-Communications Minister.
Kevin Andrews wants to cut pensions in real terms and bar job-seekers who are under 30 years old from any income support at all for up to six months. He is the ultimate Anti-Human Services Minister.
David Johnston disses Australian Submarine Corporation workers while failing to mount an argument against falls in real wages for defence force personnel. He is not the defence minister, he is the Anti-Defence Minister.
Greg Hunt wrote his Honours thesis on climate change policy. As minister, he has overseen dumping dredge fill where it will damage the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef. As anti-Environment minister, his greatest triumph to date is the repeal of the highly successful, market theory-based price on carbon.
George Brandis the Attorney-General. He champions “free speech” at the expense of legal redress for members of minority groups when their human rights are violated. The highest law officer in the land is demonstrably anti-justice.
Barnaby Joyce, elected by National Party-supporting farmers, looks out for mining interests that destroy farmland. His boss Warren Truss goes a step further, by being the Anti-Deputy Prime Minister. Truss is the second highest-ranking politician in the country, yet no-one ever sees him.
If Christopher Pyne does not hate public education, he has a funny way of showing it. In just over a year in office, the Anti-Education Minister has trashed the great social justice project that is represented by the Gonski reforms; and pushed to quadruple the cost of tertiary education.
Likewise, Peter Dutton displays every sign of hating universal health care, a cornerstone of our democracy. Dutton reckons that charging again for doctor visits – on top of the Medicare levy – should deter poor people, who have the worst health outcomes and the lowest capacity to pay. As of today, this ideologically confused “price signal” is current policy from the Anti-Health Minister.
I’ve published thousands of words, and spent far too much time, on Joe Hockey and his cigar-chomping buddy Matthias Cormann here https://imatthewsblog.com/2014/11/02/joe-will-be-the-first-to-go/ and besides, The Kouk http://thekouk.com/ does the job far more professionally and pithily than I can do.
Suffice to say that the two most senior ministers on budgetary matters are running up debt while running down confidence, and with it, the economy into the ground. They are Anti-Economy Ministers.
Together, this cabal are the Anti-Ministry.
At the top of the Anti-everything cabinet is something called the National Security Committee. This four-person inner sanctum is dedicated to distributing the message that Australia is under existential threat from frightening external sources. The purpose of this political strategy is two-fold: to distract from gross human rights abuses, the LNP-created budget mess and serial ineptness; and to justify further inteference in the lives of citizens, such as via data retention.
Again, this fits the Opposite Day pattern. If there is a country in the world more remote from anywhere and under any less existential threat than Australia, it is beyond the wilds of Siberia. Greenland, perhaps (yet no less vulnerable to climate change, about which we hear nothing – too real). If there is a law less representative of small government and liberal freedoms than data retention, I am yet to come across it this century.
The National Security Council is made up of the invisible Truss, who we need not mention again, and Morrison, Bishop, and Abbott. What a treat are these three: a trifecta of terror-mongering ghouls, pushing their political ambitions via manufactured threat after jumped up faux-military spectacle.
Leaving aside the euphoria of seeing a one-term LNP state government defeated tonight GO VICTORIA WE LOVE YOU the Anti-Ministry thesis sprang from deep frustration at the sheer deceit that shines through in every policy statement and political message put out by this negative-only government. It is the lies, and the lies about the lies in Opposition, compounded by the piles of lies in government, that are starting to bite.
The only woman, Julie Bishop – who unsurprisingly is the least-worst at her job (work twice as hard for half the recognition because chromosomes and all that) – is getting a bit of a soft-focus run as potential leadership material at the moment. There’s probably no need to go there right now – she is attracting plenty of attention, and vitriol. I am old enough to remember when the LNP turned in desperation to the other woman Bishop, the one making as much a mockery of Parliamentary process today as Abbott makes of “leadership”.
That leaves Morrison and Abbott. Of course the culture of the Anti-Ministry is ultimately down to Abbott, the man who set the Captain No train on its seemingly unstoppable runaway track. He is stubborn and deceitful and practices a peculiar type of denialism that could be mere thick-headedness but probably contains a dose of malice as well. In other words, his refusal to switch from his Captain No oppositionalism might be simply because he lacks the skills to do so – but I doubt it. Abbott does come across as pretty thick, but he has some strategically smart advisers.
Either way, Abbott’s failure to adapt to the rather serious matter of being head of government is the hallmark of his Anti-Government: run by an Anti-Cabinet and, without exception, a slew of Anti-their-portfolio-responsibility Ministers.
Half the National Security Committee, Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop, tend to crowd the stage to glorify, in faux-solemnity, such events as the deaths of Australians on a civil aircraft, or our participation in the blowing up of people and property in Iraq. Again. These two use the same old tactics, politicising the military, surrounding themselves with brass to try and buy popularity and credibility by association. This is an association which, like Abbott’s other crutch, the churches, is mired in a culture of sexual abuse that stretches back decades if not centuries. They appoint the same old men as proved incapable of peace-keeping or creative diplomacy last time or the time before that.
The remaining member that counts, Scott Morrison, also surrounds himself with military brass to cement in the public mind that asylum seekers are a military threat to Australia. In reality, the war is on another continent, a war in which we are doing our unnecessary and uninvited bit to create more displaced persons through state-sanctioned violence – the worst kind. It is in this way that Morrison perpetuates the most horrendous Anti-Ministry charade of all. We actively participate in destroying the lives of thousands overseas. We then deny any sanctuary on our home soil to those victims of the violence we visit on foreign nationals.
While Abbott and Bishop are the architects of Australian contributions to the bloodbath in Iraq, Morrison is responsible for the inhumane, insanity-inducing conditions of off-shore detention as established by our government.
It is a close-run thing, but Scott Morrison is barely second to his boss in hypocrisy and deceit; and almost certainly, due to both his personality and his position, outdoes the rest of them for inhuman cruelty. His inhumanity is so appalling that this month the UN Committee Against Torture sanctioned our treatment of asylum seekers under the Convention Against Torture. Against Torture. Australia. And Morrison has minors in his care.
This and two other approaches under the Anti-Immigration Minister stand out from the more mundane racism, mendacity and dehumanisation. The first is the way this Anti-Government is wilfully and ignorantly damaging our standing abroad. We are not particularly important, so our reputation is easily damaged while our diplomacy is routinely ignored. The UN CAT Committee decision and refoulement of refugees to homelands where they are at very high risk of being tortured and killed, put our name out there for being in breach of international law. Negative negative negative. Given its approach and composition, how could this government produce any other outcome?
The other two are at the domestic level. These are the two that demonstrate that this government is so Anti-Everything except being in government that it is trashing our shared democratic principles; as well as their own liberal ideology. The shared principles are the separation of military and civilian law and function in a democracy. The military are for self-defence; other members of the executive (immigration department officials, say) are for non-military tasks. We have seen this line become increasingly blurred elsewhere, such as the military-issue equipment being used against civilians in Ferguson, Missouri.
Implying that asylum seekers are an illegal and invading hoard dehumanises asylum seekers and thus diminishes us all. It also diminishes our own understandings of the separation of powers; and the distinction between what is a foreign threat requiring a military response; and what is a domestic jurisdiction requiring action by public servants such as customs officials (who have also recently been given stronger law enforcement powers around the so-called threat of “foreign fighters”).
This deliberate blurring of foreign dangers and manageable numbers of desperate people means that we are unlikely to recognise an actual threat when we see it. For example, our most important allies/trading partners, the USA and China, are acting on climate change and the Anti-Australian government is refusing to respond. This is a far greater threat than a trickle of desperate survivors of wars in which we participate.
The Anti-Immigration Minister, right this moment, is overseeing a policy which ensures that desperate people fleeing from persecution will be worse off for having entered his sphere of influence. Morrison, whose 90-odd communications staff must be working overtime at our expense today, is busily denying that we oversaw the refoulement of 36 Sri Lankan asylum seekers. No doubt he is hoping the story will sink under the Victorian election outcome.
I heard Morrison say three times in as many minutes this afternoon that the asylum seekers had been screened “in person”. Is there some other way of processing asylum seeker applications? Of course there is not, but because we are no longer processing applications at all, Morrison kept repeating that the government had screened the asylum seekers “in person”.
The whole depressing spectacle of course is also giving paid to the lie that the government has “stopped the boats”. How are Australian officials screening asylum seekers at sea on boats which have stopped setting out for Australia?
This is a man whose heartless cruelty in the governance of people fleeing persecution –that’s asylum seekers to you and me, or “illegals” to the dehumanising mind-set of the Anti-Government – is comparable only to his mammoth hypocrisy in calling himself a Christian. Can a human being be illegal? If so, under what law, international covenant or cultural norm? The answer is no. Morrison is deliberately perpetuating a lie and dehumanising asylum seekers. He is the Anti-Immigration Minister. Every single one of them.
It should be remembered that over 90% of asylum seekers under at least the last two administrations, both ALP and the LNP policies, have been found by the department and Refugee Review Tribunal to be genuinely fleeing persecution. These decisions, some of which proceed through the Federal Court and High Court appeals processes, are made under the terms of the 1951 Refugee Convention and our unforgivably compromised Migration Act 1958 (Cth). This is the legal system we have, the one all government ministers as well as naturalised citizens, swear to uphold. Naturally, therefore, the Abbott government has installed a man with the heart of a persecutor to oversee people fleeing persecution.
The remaining outrage is the rampant profiteering from human misery that is facilitated by this Anti-Immigration government, at mammoth cost to the Australian taxpayer.
While the horrifically flawed and jumped-up defence policy Operation Sovereign Borders operates to politicise the Royal Australian Navy, it also operates to enormous financial benefit of giant corporation Transfield.
The Transfield contract is reported to be for $1.2 billion of our taxpayer dollars. And according to multiple credible sources, such as the UN-endorsed agency Save the Children and the highly-regarded Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and its equally well-respected CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis, asylum seekers who are forcibly sent to off-shore detention by the Australian government are exposed to huge dangers such as sexual assault, including of children, by armed guards.
Two men have paid the ultimate price, one by medical neglect and one by armed violence. Neither of these deaths were from natural causes, both were preventable, both occurred due to the actions and decisions of people we, the Australian taxpayers, fund – along with the money we forward to the pure profit of the corporation and its shareholders. Estimates vary, but the cost of off-shore detention is said to be between $400000 and $800000 per person per year. Even for such a colossal cost, Reza Berrati was not “secure” under the management of “security” corporation Transfield. He is dead, killed by agents of the state, people whose wages are funded by us.
Another man who costs us many hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary, staff, travel and so on is responsible for the well-being of asylum seekers, including children. In March this year, the former Sydney broadsheet reported that Morrison had 66 spin doctors to massage his litany of lies into media messages. By June, this had become 95 “communications” staff – presumably said spin doctors and associated assistants. The cost is reported to be over $8 million per year, on top of thousands in media monitoring retainers. This extremely expensive person presides over multiple forms of abuse carried out by our staff, via our contracts, via our elected government.
That Morrison is responsible – and under the principles of the Westminster system he is in fact both responsible and accountable – for these inhumane policies and practices while calling himself a Christian says nothing for Morrison or his religion. These tragedies have resulted from the decisions of his government. These atrocities are committed by agents of the state – via the “efficient” private sector – efficient at profiteering, that is – representatives of a state that we have elected.
All this is for political ambition, of course. Morrison is eying off the prize. There will be no refraining from covetousness for this self-proclaimed Christian. He is not as stupid as a box of hammers but he is about as Christ-like as a packet of razorblades. He will probably get Treasury at the first ministerial re-shuffle. Who knows, he will probably get whatever he wants for battering away at the ludicrously named Operation Sovereign Borders, a label in the finest tradition of the Anti-Immigration Minister, with its implication that the persecuted and the destitute are invading our remote and safe and wealthy island. How revolting. What a hypocrite. Yet entirely in keeping with the social media thesis that invoking Opposite Day is the best way to make sense of every single thing this government says and does.