You cannot believe how much you have to deceive a nation in order to govern it
Adolf Hitler – Mein Kampf
Has anybody else noticed how frequently Prime Minister Julia Gillard uses the word friends in her speeches? In fact, she used “friends” twenty-four times during the ALP Campaign Launch in Brisbane on August 16, 2010, coming from the mouth of Julia Gillard the word “friends” rings as hollow as tovarisch must have done too many Soviet citizens when used by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in addressing them. When one thinks of the world’s worst tyrants in in recent history, it’s no more than the fate of the toss of a coin to decide between Hitler and Stalin. For my money though Stalin was worse; Hitler unboundedly betrayed his people bringing untold misery and destruction on them and their neighbours, but Stalin betrayed both his people and the revolution that ultimately brought him to power – that makes him a traitor as well as a tyrant.
In his novel 1984, George Orwell described an imaginary tyranny that had an uncomfortable resemblance to Nazi Germany, Stalanist Russia and many other existing tyrannies. It had its own language, its own laws, and its own slogans. The slogans were totally meaningless: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” or in the words inscribed in an elegant script across a 1,000 foot high pyramid:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
The huge pyramid was the headquarters of the Ministry of Truth, known as Minitrue. Here was developed the new language called Newspeak, with its three separate vocabularies – one for elemental human needs, another for technical matters, and the third for political slogans and commands.
Orwell realised that a corrupt government inevitably corrupts language. Words are not so much separated from the truth as placed in direct opposition to the truth, in direct confrontation with logic. Hence WAR IS PEACE and FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. As Orwell observed in his classic essay “Politics and the English Language”, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” It is not a question of shades of meaning or of a reinterpretation of accepted terms. The government gives its own precise and authoritative definitions of things, and anyone who refuses to accept these definitions is severely punished. In the days of the Soviet Union the President addressed everyone as tovarisch, comrade, thus implying that everyone was a fellow worker and that there were no differences of degrees between them. It was a simple and convenient formula; unhappily, it was merely a formula, in much the same way that Gillard’s “friends” is a simple and convenient formula designed to pretend a commonality of interest and purpose with the average Australian.
Orwell was not exaggerating when he invented Newspeak. The language fascinated him. He observed that it was designed to distinguish the range of thought. It was permissible to say “this dog is free of lice” or “this field is free of weeds”, but it was not permissible to use phrases like “intellectually free” or “politically free.” Similarly words like “politically equal” were discouraged, but it was permissible to use the word “equal” in mathematical equations.
Just as the words in Newspeak lost any definable meaning, so did the official songs. The theme song of Big Brother was:
Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me;
There lie they and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree.
The theme song of Big Brother where the words lose all definable meaning make an interesting comparison with Australian Labor’s theme song from the 1972 election It’s time:
It’s time for freedom,
It’s time for moving, It’s time to begin,
Yes It’s time It’s time Australia,
It’s time for moving, It’s time for proving,
Yes It’s time
The merit of both songs lay in their perfect inanity and hint of treachery. In the Big Brother song, who “I”, “we”, “you”, and “they” are is never explained just as in Labor’s theme song the concepts of regaining our “freedom” or “moving” are never explained. It was enough that the people should recite the mindless words mindlessly. Nor was Orwell exaggerating to any great extent when he permitted O’Brien, the Grand Inquisitor, to address Winston Smith, his prisoner, with a homily based on the historical mistakes of recent tyrannies. Speaking with a kind of exaltation, he said:
The first thing for you to understand is that in this place there are no martyrdoms. You have read of the religious persecution of the past. In a Middle Ages there was the Inquisition. It was a failure. It set out to eradicate heresy, and ended up by perpetuating it. For every heretic it burned at the stake, thousands of others rose up. Why was that? Because the Inquisition kills its enemies in the open, and killed them while they were still unrepentant; in fact, it killed them because they were unrepentant. Men were dying because they would not abandon their true beliefs. Naturally all the glory along to the victim and all the shame to the Inquisitor who burned him. Later, and the 20th century, there were the totalitarians, as they were called. There were the German Nazis and the Russian Communists. The Russians persecuted heresy more cruelly than the Inquisition had done. And they imagined that they had learned from the mistakes of the past; they knew, at any rate, that one must not make martyrs. Before they exposed their victims to public trial, they deliberately set themselves to destroy their dignity. They wore them down by torture and solitude until they were despicable, cringing wretches, confessing whatever was put into their mouths, covering themselves with abuse, accusing in sheltering behind one another, whimpering for mercy. And yet after only a few years the same thing happened over again. The dead men had become martyrs and a degradation was forgotten. Once again, why was it? In the first place, because the confessions that they had made were obviously extorted and untrue. We do not make mistakes of that kind. All the confessions that are ordered here are true. We make them true. And, above all, we do not allow the dead to rise up against us. You must stop imagining that posterity will vindicate you, Winston. Posterity will never hear of you. You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. We shall turn you into gas and poor you into the stratosphere. Nothing will remain of you: not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as in the future. You will never have existed.
This is of course, not prophecy. Such things had happened in Orwell’s lifetime. The Jews in Auschwitz were scientifically transformed into gas. Ultimate power is the power to destroy a man not simply by killing him, but by ensuring that he has never had any existence or by transforming him into an invisible gas.
In all corrupt societies, and Australia is no exception, humanity tends to become not zero, but a minus sign.
Healthy societies are always different; corrupt societies are all alike. This should come as no surprise, since healthy societies manifest an infinite variety of life, while corrupt societies have the sameness of death. What corrupt societies have in common is precisely their corruption; they smell the same, and the same contagion flows from them.
Just as human beings die in different ways, so societies become corrupt in different ways. The tyrant who destroys the spontaneous life of a nation brings about almost from the moment s/he takes power a kind of death that can be immediately recognised. Life as we ordinarily conceive of life stops. Fear and caution, a wooden obedience take the place of spontaneity. People are reduced to things, numbers, nothing; they are permeated with death that comes from the top.
We are now more than ten years on from the tragic events of September 11, 2001, yet the laws that were put in place under advice from the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (“ASIO”) following these events remain in place.
There were no national anti-terrorist laws in Australia before the September 11 attacks. About 54 laws dealing with terrorism have been passed at a federal level since then.
There are many more similar laws at a state and territory level. Leading constitutional lawyers say the laws have been in place too long and are eroding democratic freedoms. Attorney-General Robert McClelland says four major terrorism plots have been thwarted in Australia due to the laws:
If you’re looking at the history, the major threat has been from the so-called home-grown potential terrorists… A terrorist attack is feasible in Australia but there’s no specific evidence of an intended one at the current time.
Professor Peter Bailey from Australian National University’s College of Law says the laws have been in place too long and are threatening human rights.
In terms of human rights, too many protections have been removed [because of the laws], the original promises were that they would all be out of the way within the decade and that hasn’t happened. That is regrettable… I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some counter-terrorism laws, but I think the ones we have are too many. People’s human rights and ordinary common law civil liberties have been heavily reduced and threatened.
Professor Bailey says there needs to be a government inquiry into the laws.
I would like to see a parliamentary committee have a thorough review on the basis that there should be consideration of which provisions are still necessary… And if they are necessary, whether they should be put into the criminal code as such and then aligned with common law rights and freedoms and human rights.
Professor George Williams, from the University of New South Wales law faculty, agrees the laws are in bad shape.
It’s appropriate we have laws on the books that criminalise terrorism and prevent acts of terrorism, but we’ve got too many laws which are disproportionate, which I think, in, for example, criminalising speech or providing for the detention of non-suspects, go too far and are unjustified in terms of the threat that Australia is facing. I think it’s really significant that we copied a lot of these laws from the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom is now in the middle of winding them back.
They’ve got a protection of liberties bill in their parliament, put there by the Cameron government, that abolishes their control order regime, replaces it with something far more respectful of human rights, and in other respects as well, they’re, for example, halving the detention period of suspects.
We’ve copied those laws yet there’s no hunger here to actually take the message that we should recalibrate them to the new environment and actually put them in a form that I think is more appropriate, given the threat and also given the need to protect individual liberties.
An inquiry by John Clarke QC into the Haneef affair recommended a raft of changes to the laws, which the Federal Government enacted in 2010.
One of the main changes he recommended was that this old provision that you could hold someone, potentially indefinitely, when your 24-hour questioning would proceed, had to go, and he suggested a time limit be imposed which was done in 2010, with a seven-day time limit now imposed so that terror suspects can be held for that maximum period before being released.
However this is still dramatically longer than the 12-hour period for other types of suspects. What is more concerning is that even though these laws were enacted quickly. It’s been rare to see amendments to them; it was only in 2010, nine years after some of these laws were enacted that we saw a raft of changes bringing about some much needed amendments.
Mr McClelland says following September 11 there was a need for strong laws:
Many of these powers were designed as measures of absolute last resort and have been treated as such… While some may see this as indicating that these powers are unnecessary, it actually indicates the laws are working as intended, with agencies using their powers with appropriate restraint.
The real problem with giving so much power to our elected representatives is that it devolves down to organisations like the AFP and ASIO. Both of these organisations, especially the AFP, have shown themselves to be organisationally corrupt. Given the AFP willingness to become involved in major miscarriages of justice both in Australia and in the Pacific to further the economic/political goals of their political masters, trusting their integrity with such wide ranging powers cannot do anything other than damage Australia’s democracy.
Under Australia’s anti-terrorism laws “people are reduced to things, numbers, nothing; they are permeated with death that comes from the top”. Remember Hitler’s confession in Mein Kampf “You cannot believe how much you have to deceive a nation in order to govern it.”