Culture

Tony Abbott Is Going Full Commando To Save Australia From Terrorists, People On Welfare, Human Rights

Nothing distracts from your government being unpopular like a dose of the scares.

To make a clean break with the now-legendary Week of Good Government, during which he ignored a scathing report on children in detention and made an unnecessary Holocaust reference on the floor of Parliament, Prime Minister Tony Abbott released one of his fairly rare YouTube messages on Valentine’s Day, a day on which he had lots of spare time because no one loves him anymore.

Mentioning the Martin Place siege and ISIS in Iraq and Syria as examples of a growing national threat, Abbott flagged a bunch of vaguely threatening-sounding changes to national security arrangements that he’ll outline properly this time next week. It’s in a similar vein to his announcement in September that “the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift,” presumably because nothing distracts people from how badly your government’s polling than a good dose of the scares. More importantly, it’s a sign that the government’s getting ready to tip the scales even more in favour of “security” at the expense of human rights and due legal process, whether or not any of the changes actually make people safer.

“It’s clear to me, that for too long, we have given those who might be a threat to our country the benefit of the doubt,” Abbott said. “There’s been the benefit of the doubt at our borders, the benefit of the doubt for residency, the benefit of the doubt for citizenship and the benefit of the doubt at Centrelink.”

This isn’t the first time the government has tried to conflate social security with national security — much hash was made of the fact that Martin Place gunman Man Haron Monis was on welfare, as though that somehow had something to do with his also being violent and erratic, and Scott Morrison has promised to bring the same Rambo-like rigorousness to the Social Services portfolio that he did to Immigration, declaring his intention to be a “tough welfare cop” soon after his appointment in December. How exactly collecting a welfare cheque equals a national security threat has never been made entirely clear, but it’s fair to assume your fortnightly Newstart allowance will now be available only once you’ve sung the national anthem in its entirety (including the lesser-known fifth verse that’s uncomfortably warlike) and sculled a tinny of VB to prove your trustworthiness.

“And in the courts, there has been bail, when clearly there should have been jail,” Abbott continued. Presumably this is again in reference to Monis, who was out on bail for sexual assault and accessory to murder charges when he walked into the Lindt cafe, but considering tightened bail laws have already come into effect in NSW — under which Monis would have been locked up — it’s difficult to know what Abbott is getting at, unless he’s calling for even stricter bail conditions. Restricting bail even more than we have already could lead to some pretty serious infringements of human rights like the presumption of innocence, but that doesn’t seem to be weighing on the government’s mind.

Nor do the ever-increasing concerns around the government’s proposed metadata legislation, which has telcos frightened of the potential problems of collecting literally everyone’s information and large parts of which the government itself doesn’t really seem to understand. “This will make it easier to keep you safe and we want to get this legislation passed as quickly as we can,” Abbott said, without giving any evidence that collecting an entire population’s metadata makes people safer (probably because there’s no evidence suggesting that’s the case).

“We are a free and fair nation. But that doesn’t mean we should let bad people play us for mugs, and all too often they have,” Abbott urged, seemingly unaware of the irony of that statement coming out of the same mouth that demonised the carbon tax as the end of civilised life and promised no cuts to all the things that have now been cut. Whether or not measures like the metadata legislation become law are ultimately up to the Parliament, but if the public reaction is anything like last time, it’ll take more than Looking Tough to distract people from how badly the government’s going.