By request …
Years from now we will be told that we didn’t know then what we do now about our treatment of asylum seekers. But we did know. We just chose not to hear even when our human rights champion spoke up
There’s always been something deeply disturbing about the Abbott government’s attitude to women.
Even in opposition, such sleaze as the menu for a Mal Brough fundraiser depicting Julia Gillard in the most vile way went beyond the vicious into some psychopathology if not too bizarre to divine, then too awful to contemplate.
The menu was seen as a throwback to another age, but in another age the public knowledge of something so foul would have been political death. It bespoke a new contempt that was also the coming politics of brutality and bullying.
Between the knighting of Prince Philip and the attacks on the human rights commissioner, Gillian Triggs, we now see revealed the essence of this government – one that believes in a near-feudal hierarchy with a European monarch’s consort at the top and women and children at the bottom.
The only accusation of Gillian Triggs with the ring of truth is that she has lost the confidence of the government – but then so too has Tony Abbott. Gillian Triggs’s real crime is that as human rights commissioner she spoke up for human rights with a government that has no respect for them.
Writing my novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North I came to conclude that great crimes like the Death Railway did not begin with the first beating or murder on that grim line of horror in 1943. They begin decades before with politicians, public figures, and journalists promoting the idea of some people being less than people.
It is they who wield the sword, the cane, the rifle butt and the rifle trigger as surely as the guards and soldiers who follow them. And it is they who in the end must be judged as far more responsible for those great crimes against humanity.
For the idea of some people being less than people is poison to any society, and needs to be named as such in order to halt its spread before it turns the soul of a society septic.
In recent years both sides of Australian politics competed in publicly asserting that cruelty to some people who are less than people is a public good. Those people were refugees, and the competition reached its nadir last election with Kevin Rudd and Abbott battling it out over who would be cruellest.
Gillian Triggs did her job in saying where such wicked nonsense led.
Murdoch’s junkyard dogs …
One day, many years from now, another prime minister will stand up and to a teary gallery apologise for the damage done to refugees in detention. We will be told that we didn’t know then what we know now. We will hear testimony of destroyed lives. But we did know. We always knew. We just chose not to hear and to silence those who tried to remind us of the truth.
Gillian Triggs became fair game for everyone from Murdoch’s junkyard dogs to the most servile government senator; she was attacked by the highest in the land, she was allegedly offered inducements to leave and was bullied ceaselessly and publicly, culminating in that most appalling display of thuggery and abuse of power by the government senators in Tuesday’s Senate estimates hearing.
In all this, our politicians have shamed us. They have poisoned our idea of ourselves as a people. But we have allowed them to do it. And we have accepted their idea of us as our idea. And we should not.
It is they who have lost our confidence. And to regain it they could do worse than by showing respect to women and children. Not as human rights commissioners or refugees. But as equal human beings.
For all their cant about families, this is a government with no pity and much contempt for the families of the poor and the powerless. In this government’s new Australia the strong can be needlessly and endlessly rewarded, and the weak endlessly attacked and punished.
At the end of it all Gillian Triggs was not Prince Philip. She was something far less: a woman defending powerless children with the truth.
And it is for that Gillian Triggs is being punished.
Democracy is not guaranteed by parliament, nor yet the government, far less by the prime minister’s office. Its security and its necessary freedoms reside in the hand of the people. A strong government respects – even if it does not agree with – the different opinions and arguments of other bodies, groups and individuals as the touchstone of our democracy.
But this is not a strong government. It is a deathmask of 1970s rightwing student bigotries and undergraduate bullying that has formed the most incompetent government in our history, the legacy of which conservatives will have to live down for decades.
In delivering us News Corp World, Tony Abbott has revealed himself as not a leader but a follower, and the ideas he follows are those of a world in which freedom is a privilege of the powerful, not the right of all; where truth must be convenient or it is to be crushed, and where the strong seek to punish the weak, and when challenged, destroy those, like Gillian Triggs, who will not bend their testimony to power.
We should expect more. We must expect more. Because if we do not, we will go somewhere far darker than the hells of Manus Island and Nauru. We will have become them.