Griffiths / Flipping into fear and loathing

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WELL, that was quite the spectacle, the week Australia lost its flipping mind.

John Griffiths
John Griffiths.
It was a quite astonishing coincidence that the advice from our security services flipped the country into fear and loathing just as laws to expand their powers were being debated.

Also quite the coincidence that this opportunity for a deeply unpopular Prime Minister to look so strong, resolute and protective, should turn up just at the same time.

It’s almost as if ASIO and the Prime Minister’s office have a mutual interest in terrifying the nation.

Judging by their newspaper websites, it’s clear that the UK and the US are not experiencing anything like the same hysteria.

President Barack Obama went so far last week as to say that climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism, but don’t expect this Government to bring back a carbon price.

“But John”, I hear them cry, “our intelligence agencies are beyond and above politics.”

To which I would ask them to please stop talking about serious matters if they have no knowledge of Australian history. ASIO has been intensely political at least since Charles Spry’s 20-year reign as director-general of security under Menzies.

But if Australia in the 1950s is too distant history, it’s worth remembering the invasion of Iraq where intelligence was cooked up to support the action the Government wanted to take at that time: invading Iraq.

There are plenty of signs to show this is all pantomime. Eight hundred police officers in an operation to make just one arrest in an unheard of blaze of publicity is an easy one.

The much heralded arrival of assault-rifle wielding police at Parliament House here in Canberra is another.

Parliamentarians filing past must be dreadfully impressed by this show of force never seen before in Australia. Not after 9/11, not when standing off against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, not when Imperial Japan was on our doorstep. MPs have also been told to close their blinds, for fear of sniper attack, to really keep the juices flowing.

But what exactly are these guys supposed to be doing with those guns? An angry mob can be thwarted with the key to the doors.

Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that guns can indeed stop trucks and cars.

But not the paltry 5.56-millimetre rounds fired by the M4 carbines we’ve been seeing pictures of. For that you need the mighty .50 BMG round, 12.7mm and in a shell closer to the size of a banana.

In the stunningly unlikely event that a suicide bomber in a truck full of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil turns up, those police are at best going to kill the driver a few seconds before the truck blows up anyway.

Architecture speaks a powerful language and it’s fitting that Parliament House is writing this story.

The free country that opened the building in 1988 had no need of big black guns and tactical vests. Speaker Bronwyn Bishop spoke more than she might have realised when she complained about the architecture:

“One of the problems with this building, of course, was that it was designed for people to come in easily,” Mrs Bishop told a briefing, “And so we have lots of entrances, [you can] walk on the roof.”

If IS were a serious threat to this nation’s safety do you think we’d have sent a training shakedown flight from the RAAF as our sole contribution to the fight?

They’re a nasty group very far away, amongst many other groups of similar unpleasantness. Before anyone raises the tragedy in Dandenong, ask yourself how sanely you would be acting if you felt you were the target of the recent convulsions?

My suspicion is we’ve got a lot more to fear from power-hungry security services in harness with a deeply unpopular government with a reputation for incompetence and dishonesty. Each is driving the other on trying to make the wider population as scared and angry as possible.

How’s your decision making when you’re scared and angry? Mine isn’t very good.

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