EDITORS NOTE: I was going to write a piece about Morrison’s play this week to trap Gillard in Western Sydney with his asylum seeker ambush when I realised I already had, more than a decade ago. Looks like Abbott is copying his political father’s playbook to win the 2001 election.
Reading Frank Devine’s column in Monday’s Australian, it hit me that the vicious cycle of demonisation of “the other” had reached its illogical conclusion.
There was not a skerrick of a suggestion that terrorists were among the boat people until after September 11. Suddenly, without evidence, the link was made – by Peter Reith, Phillip Ruddock and by John Howard in the last week of the campaign. The reactionary right jumped on board immediately, repeating the claim, embellishing it, and refusing to interrogate what it meant – an implicit admission that our security checks were not up to scratch. You’d expect an upgrading of security, wouldn’t you? None was announced. And what difference would processing the boat people offshore make to the danger – most assessed as refugees and cleared by security would come here anyway? None of these questions were asked. None of them mattered.
The fear of terrorism was all too real after September 11. Naturally. Yet, from what we know to date, the terrorists entered the United States by air, with fake or real passports. They had the money to do the job without putting themselves in danger. We also know that there are more than 60,000 overstayers in Australia – people who have also broken the rules. Surely, if fear of terrorist infiltration was real, the fear would focus on our airports and the security we use to weed out fake documents. And surely it would settle on the rule-breakers already in our midst. A boat person is subject to serious, intensive security checks, so logically is much LESS likely to be a terrorist after jumping those hurdles.
But logic has no place in this debate. It feeds on itself – so much so that Howard happily released the video which proved his government had lied about its proof that children had been thrown overboard two days before the election, and busily filled our television screens and radio airwaves with his defence. In truth, truth has become irrelevant. The emotions fuelled by Howard’s campaign, and his tactics of complete identification with people’s fears, are visceral. Exposure of untruth cemented support for the misrepresenters.
Logic is unwanted. The use of it merely reminds its users of the irrelevance of their discourse. Beazley’s pleas to the public that terrorists were far more likely to arrive in suits and carrying impeccable documentation at airports than on leaky boats, his last-minute protests that it was unnecessary to lie and demonise to prove the case for border protection, had zero impact.
And so we come to Frank Devine and his condemnation of the increased Greens vote at the election due to voters “in prosperous parts of Melbourne and Sydney”.
“Prosperity has much to recommend it, as do Melbourne and Sydney. However, it is from unthreatened urban enclaves that primal Greens come, combining sanctimonious tree worship with ruthlessness.”
“The Greens are also somewhat unusual in having an organised activist wing, Greenpeace, as well as a political one. Is it going too far to make comparisons with Sinn Fein and the IRA? No further than I’m prepared to go.”
You see what he’s done through imagery? There are terrorists on board the boats. Some people have supported the party which supports the terrorists on the boats. Those voters are terrorists. We are the terrorists within. It’s a line of “thought” echoing the link made between anti-globalisation protesters and the September 11 terrorists by his daughter in the Herald a week before.
The rhetorical devices used by such columnists is simple. Set up a straw man, `the other”, speak from the position of the right-thinking, normal reader, just like the writer, and tear the straw man down. It’s emotive polemic. It eschews reason at the same time as it purports to represent reason.
Now those who voted Green have joined the boat people as “other”. As a writer to Webdiary put it, our views are now “irrelevant” as we are not part of the majority. Yet the need to make us “other” persists. Only now, having won the the election, the victors feel free to vilify the irrelevant like never before. We have become, quite simply, unAustralian.
For example, Imre Salusinszky in Monday’s Herald, after quoting from a writer to Webdiary, said “Fine, drop `round any time. Only, I have mace.”
Is he trying to be funny? Mace is a form of tear gas used by police to temporarily disable protesters. Salusinszky is, consciously or otherwise, identifying with the state to label people of different views to him so dangerous they must be physically shut down. A strange position for a writer whose core idea is that the free market, under which the individual is free to do as he or she wishes with minimalist constraint from the state, is nirvana on earth. He could be foreshadowing the next phase – the purging of “the other” from positions of power or influence and the expulsion of their voices from the public realm.
John Howard could not possibly have been serious when he said in his victory speech that the things which unite us are more important than the things which divide us. The discourse since his election victory – after an election campaign which moved the limits of acceptable public discourse so substantially, has had nothing to do with unity. From several quarters, public discourse has had more to do with jackboots. Now they are not merely demonising boat people. They are demonising Australians who took their side.
Funny thing is, the reactionaries feed off their opposition to this “other” within. I met Imre for the first time after the Liberal Party launch. He introduced himself with the words: “We could not exist without each other.”
If the reactionaries succeed in shutting us up, what on earth will they write about?