Quick Shots – 26/Feb/2014

Manus Island Breakout

I’ve been busy writing a script. Yes. I’m a paid writer at the moment so I’ve been a little quiet on this front. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been following the news. This business on Manus Island is turning into something rather awful as messengers keep getting shot. At the crux of the issue is fundamentally how this government actually sees the role of government and how it fits into what we might call a democracy. That’s right, we’re actually seeing a coalition government that has very little tolerance for what it takes to be a democratic government save for the bit – the election – that got them in.

I guess we ought not to be surprised when the government subcontracts out the detaining of asylum seekers, then it also subcontracts out the security to private firms. And it should not surprise us that such firms might have far less ethical staff or formal procedures when compared to a government organ, and that it should lead to mishandling a population like the detainee asylum seekers. What is worse is perhaps that the minister of immigration Scott Morrison would lie to us about the status of Manus Island and its riot. There is no other way of putting it. He made announcements to effect that were otherwise to information that he had already obtained. This is lying – in spite of Scott Morrison’s protestations to be otherwise. Worse still has been the general lack of transparency about the whole handling of asylum seekers, which admittedly not a new problem with this government but a fundamental philosophical one.

All this culminated in ALP Senator Stephen Conroy accusing General Angus Campbell as aiding a cover-up. The furore has been rather telling. Today, the Defence department chief David Hurley came out swinging in defence of Campbell. Now, the Coalition are carrying on as if some great offence has been made by Stephen Conroy. You sort of worry about how the Coalition sees the military because they’re essentially using the privilege of the military operations to say “we can’t tell you what we’re doing.” The problem with this is that it places the military out of reach of proper scrutiny. Worse still, the Coalition Government’s accountability is taken away with it, so there’s really no telling what this government is doing, but no, they’re not telling. They are effectively saying the chain of command of the ADF stops at the Prime Minister’s office for him to use at his leisure. This should be constitutionally debatable – not that anybody would bother – but it should be debated.

To add insult to injury the same government wants to break custom and break open the cabinet papers from the Rudd Gillard government so there is absolutely no quid pro quo there; worse still, they *only* do things that suit themselves for no good reason other than it suits themselves.  I can’t think of a dirtier modus operandi than that, and if that’s not anti-democratic, I don’t know what is. But I digress.  The more salient thing is that the Coalition Government has adopted the military chain of command and military protocol as its defence for not being held accountable to the Senate of the land. This is a bit like ancient Rome on the eve of the Triumvirates. You could make a cartoon of Senator Publius Conrus in a toga summoning Consul Claudius Morrisus to account on the Senate floor and Claudius Morrisus says he cannot discuss the said matter because it would affect the operations of General Pompei Campbellius in North Africa against the pirates at sea. In fact that’s exactly what it is, and what we’re seeing is the Coalition Government actively trying to limit the control of military from the Senate.

I can’t tell you how disturbing this is, because any time you cut the military loose from government control like this, it sets a precedent. A precedent which will be abused at some point in the future, even if there is not much harm today. I understand David Hurley’s protestations but he is *wrong*. This *is* a problem for Australia and Senator Conroy is correct in asking General Campbell whether the ADF is politically in bed with the Liberal National Party to such a degree that it would take such military operations out of the purview of the Australian Senate.  History is full of military operations done outside of government purview that turn into major political disasters. The Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria in the 1930s was such an entity that refused to be accountable to the Diet of Japan. The 1960s CIA is such an organ that created the conditions for the Bay of Pigs and in a roundabout way brought about the Cuban Missile Crisis. The rise of the Triumvirate in ancient Rome was exactly this problem, where the Roman army ended up being a privatised organ of ambitious citizens. It killed their republic – which in fact might jive well with Tony Abbott’s anti-Republican position.

Which is to say (and jokes aside), not only is this Coalition Government not very well versed in science, it appears it is not very well versed in history. And where it seems to discount scientific findings with spurious and casual disdain, it would also ignore lessons of history at its peril. In that light, I can’t say I’m impressed with Defence Department chief David Hurley or the other indignations hurled at Stephen Conroy for his remarks by Tony Abbott and company.

Now be that as it may, Stephen Conroy is still a nincompoop in my books. It pains me to defend him. But that’s the nature of having truth on your side – it’s defensible to be truthful. Morrison and his lies are not defensible in any way shape or form. The endorsement that at least Morrison is not a wimp from Tony Abbott, is a bit like claiming the best asset of Maria Sharapova’s tennis game is her grunt. It amazes me that the Coalition don’t worry about things like the truth or facts; instead they worry about form. They just seem to love it when they can push the envelope of hypocrisy as far as it can be pushed, if it looks good to them and their punters. I really worry about the mental health of people who think this is a good government or for that matter better government than they were getting under the Rudd-Gillard ALP.

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