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Is this the Australia we really want?

Nigel Scullion

There’s a lot happening at the moment. It was probably always thus, but let’s take into account a few issues that are fundamentally impacting on our way of life and the way we see ourselves. It’s clear the conservative side of politics is now conducting a full frontal and shameless assault on our national broadcaster for a mix of reasons, namely perceived bias and the commercial gain it derives from being a trustworthy institution that provides multi-platform quality content.

We have Peter Dutton via his super ministry pressuring initially naïve state governments to hand over all of our license photos to feed into a real time facial recognition database to conduct criminal investigations. This technology has been used with great effect by the authorities in China.

We’re now signalling to the world that we’re open for business as a regional arms trader. Unable to maintain a car industry, we’ve decided to throw our hand at manufacturing instruments of war, instruments that invariably fall into the hands of our enemies and used against us in theatres of war. You have to ask yourself, is this the right strategic move to make, as tensions rise between the Chinese and Americans in what will become known as the Chinese century.

The government latest proposal, for the consideration of the parliament, is authorising police at airports to randomly ask people, travellers and non-travellers alike, for their identification documents. Currently police can only ask for identification documents if they suspect a person has or will commit a serious offence. When pressed by Neil Mitchell as to why this reform is necessary the Prime Minister invoked the mantra successive governments have invoked since Tampa, “national security”.

In short, we are or soon will be living in a country that has a diminished national broadcaster, will be an international arms trader, have a real-time facial recognition database and new powers that allow police to stop and ask you for your papers every time you step foot in an airport (at this stage).

So the question has to be asked, is this the Australia we really want?

It would be nice to think that since Tampa, since children overboard, since our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq that we’ve wised up to reality of the supposed threat we are under.

It would also be nice to think that during that same period we’ve become wary of our government using national security as a binary political argument that has inevitably emboldened the far right elements within our community and seen the eventually become part of the political fold.

However, the sad fact is, the toxic political stoushes around national security has turned the national psyche inward. We now see refugees as ‘illegals.’ We more readily buy into narratives spun for us by elements of the media around gang crime. We have flag cape wearing warriors turning up to protest at any community that dare to consider building a new mosque. In Peter Dutton, we have a minister who tells Sydney shock jocks that the ABC is dead to him.

All this noise, all of the scare tactics make it easier for governments to implement measures that can fundamentally change the way we want to conduct ourselves as a society.

Defenders of these extraordinary powers, largely overseen by one minister that has the discretionary power to enact how these powers are used, argue if you’ve done nothing wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide. Of course this is a simplistic argument that underestimates the impact such actions go toward marginalising communities and fraying the social cohesion that makes Australia a modern country.

The Australian Human Rights Commission, which has also had its budget cut, puts it this way, ‘a socially cohesive society is one which works towards the wellbeing of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust and offers its members the opportunity of upward mobility.’

Governments claim protecting their citizens from harm is their number one priority. I argue that there is another top priority and that is to ensure the social cohesion of the society in which it governs.

To these two goals we have become worryingly lousy at social cohesion and increasingly bullish with national security.

The big brother initiatives that are gradually being imposed on us have marginal impact on our national security and major impacts on our social cohesion.

There needs to be a rebalancing of these two priorities, we need to refocus on having an open non-binary national discourse that is inclusive and accepting of diversity.

It requires leadership at all levels of society and I would like to think we have it within us to reset the balance.

That’s the Australia I really want.

This post was originally posted on Daniel’s blog and has been reposted with his permission.

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