The two main political parties, the Liberal and Labor parties, seem to be mostly concerned with playing political games rather than trying to govern the nation for the benefit of all Australians. It is sickening to watch. The games consist mostly of each trying to ‘wedge’ the other.
Wedge politics comprises a strategy or pattern of behaviour by a political party which is intended to have a divisive effect on political opponents, or allows the political party to claim weakness from the opponent on a particular topical issue. The reason this is more effective for the Coalition government than expected, is because it has the Murdoch press very much onside. They seemingly write whatever Murdoch wants them to write to aid the government, so that anything the Labor opposition do or say is deemed to be pandering to the elites, brown people, black people, aboriginals, terrorists, asylum seekers, the unions or whoever else is the current boogey-man1-11. Among the numerous wedge issues used by the current government, terrorism is perhaps the most powerful, because it brings up the spectre of bombings killing numerous people. This is despite the fact that, apart from perpetrators, only 12 people have been killed in terrorist attacks on Australian soil in the last 46 years, of which 5 have been in the last decade12.
The latest Coalition wedge effort is in regard to breaking encryption of electronic communications. The government has put forward the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment Assistance and Access) Bill 2018. This bill is mostly about establishing a framework for “mandatory industry assistance to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in relation to encryption technologies via the issuing of … technical assistance notices and technical capability notices”13. According to the Department of Home Affairs encryption already impacts 90% of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s (ASIO) priority cases and 90% of data intercepted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The measures aim to counteract estimates that communications among terrorists and organised crime groups are expected to be entirely encrypted by 2020. The AFP and ASIO can already access encrypted data with decryption techniques, but that takes time. This bill aims to speed up this process by compelling organisations to assist the AFP and ASIO to access encrypted information; by introducing new computer access warrants that enables the AFP and ASIO to covertly obtain evidence directly from devices; and by increasing existing powers to access data through search and seizure warrants14.
There was an outcry online about this bill, but the Labor Party acquiesced and passed the bill anyway. This led to even more of an outcry online, with all sorts of derisory comments and disgust levelled at the Labor Party for passing this bill. Passing this bill by Labor was to avoid something similar to what happened with the Tampa episode in 2001. The Norwegian ship, MV Tampa had rescued hundreds of asylum-seekers from a stranded Indonesian fishing boat and was attempting to bring them to Australia15. However, the Howard government, which was trailing badly in the opinion polls, used this and the September 11 attacks, to bring out the dog-whistle and effectively conflate asylum-seekers and terrorists. With help from the Murdoch press, this made the Coalition government look ‘strong’ and they were returned to government in the election on November 10. If the bill had not passed and if a terrorist event was to happen over the holiday period, you can bet your bottom dollar that Coalition government would sheet it home to the Labor Party for failing to pass this bill. There is no sense of whether a piece of legislation is good for the nation, just how it can somehow wedge or damage the Opposition. This is the parlous state in which we find politics in Australia today.
With the failure of this encryption wedge with the passing of the bill, the government is now in a very difficult position. Despite knocking off early for Christmas, the government must now face the possibly of losing a vote on the floor of the house when it resumes next year. This will be over legislation codifying the acceptance of medical opinion when dealing with asylum-seeker children on Nauru. The government have been actually removing children from Nauru on the quiet, so why would they not want to codify this or make it public? The answer came today online with Morrison declaring he will use anything he can to stop this legislation passing, and laughably asserting that Bill Shorten was “a clear and present threat” to the nation’s safety16. The bill is about getting children on Nauru. To repeat; it’s about children. At about the same time, tweets from the federal Liberal Party organisation included memes and slogans that Shorten is soft on border protection. This is an insipid attempt at another wedge, and it will be repeated for all it’s worth (which is not much) by the Murdoch media. The reason the government are so desperate is because of the possibility of the loss of the vote on this bill on the floor of the house. That hasn’t happened since the 1920s, and it precipitated a federal election. There is a suspicion about that Morrison may not risk this happening, but may call an early election anyway, perhaps in March, to attempt to circumvent the possibility of parliament voting on the bill. An election cannot come soon enough.
This senseless and endless politicking at the expense of good governance must stop. This nation needs to drag itself into the 21stcentury, not continue with this pointless boxing match which prevents it from doing so.