Something rotten in Canberra

By December 8, 2018Australian Politics

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.





  • JON says:

    Think Shorten was played and failed to show leadership , spine and nous myself. It was a simple test of his backbone and he flip-flopped – made a “captain’s call” according to some reports and caucus isn’t impressed. Australia survived years without the powers, many OS countries are in a similar boat, yet Shorten believed he wouldn’t be capable of defending Labor’s position on the amendments if there was a terrorist attack involving encrypted messaging. He could simply have turned the argument back on the government – if these new powers were so critical why did the govt wait until the last day of sitting and why didn’t they extend parliament? Keating would have been on the attack calling a press conference to condemn the govt and put the spotlight (and potential risk) back on the government. Shorten will rightly look a fool if Morrison refuses to negotiate in the new year. Have long believed that Shorten had no ticker and was easy to manipulate and this episode doesn’t change my view one iota.

    Gillard and Swan kotowed to big mining over the MRRT and sold Australians down the river for the same reason – they were incapable of making the simple case to the public regarding ownership of resources and a fair share of super profits. Gutless and clueless both of them.

    The whole thing does show the depths to which modern politics has plunged though I agree. The wedging on difficult and serious issues which ought to have broad national agreement is a disgrace. Little wonder Australians hold politicians in such low regard and believe democracy is failing them.

    • admin says:

      I agree to some extent in that politicians are mostly gutless, and are mostly concerned with being re-elected. As I said, I think Shorten perceived that the risk was too great. It would have been good to see him stand up to Morrison, but in the current media climate, where Murdoch controls so much of it, Shorten has to make himself a very small target. The most important thing for Australian democracy is for this government to get the arse. If they do not, we are sunk.

  • JON says:

    You’ve said yourself that the terrorism risk is vastly overplayed. The risk was very very small – anti-terrorism monitoring doesn’t stop while politicians play their puerile games – and if Shorten/the caucus think the amendments are so critical then he ought to have shown some nous.

    You’re right though. Shorten’s spin doctors no doubt want to keep him out of the limelight. His unpopularity, lack of vision, lack of ability to think on his feet and make a good argument are legendary so in one respect they’re right. On the other hand it bolsters perceptions that Shorten is an also-ran.

    • admin says:

      I agree that the terrorism threat is overplayed, but the threat from the Murdoch media using it is very real. I don’t think Shorten is as bad as you make out. I’d agree that he was singularly unimpressive when he first started, but either he has grown into the task or has changed speechwriters. Some of the people I correspond with on Twitter have seen him at his many ‘town hall’ meetings and they think he is impressive. I suppose, we’ll see after May, assuming that he wins the election. In the league of also-rans I’d counter with: Scott Morrison.

  • JON says:

    Morrison is a ‘never was’ and will soon be consigned to a ‘has been’ with even elementary luck. Someone else told me they’d seen some vision of a Shorten rally a while back and that he had done okay, but no doubt most of that was well rehearsed and among mainly supportive people. He might surprise but I’m not holding my breath. Give me a street brawler who stands for something and can actually communicate what that is any day. The good news is that (almost) no-one can be worse than the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison confecta. Australia must have done something wrong in God’s eyes (electing Howard probably) because she’s been punishing us for quite a while with spineless gits and ignorant nutjobs running the show. Perhaps she’s showing us what heel could be like if we don’t repent?

    Btw you will have to call me ‘Notable Jon’ from now on. I’ll email you with the reason, it’s quite funny.

  • JON says:

    Bowing is okay, no saluting of any sort is permitted. Too many notable La….s for you to get a look in I’m afraid.

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