THE novels “Brave New World” and “Nineteen Eighty Four” were last century’s warnings of the need to protect one of our most precious assets – our freedoms.
Aldous Huxley and George Orwell may have been half a century out in their timing and predictions of how technology would develop. However, they certainly raised the right warning bells regarding the rise of authoritarianism.
The spectre of dictatorship is not far away. It is not so long ago that Turkish citizens and ex-patriots were singing the praises of Mustafa Atatürk for the protection of the secular Turkish state. Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has certainly put an end to any such pretence since he has become president. There has been a rapid transition to authoritarian rule as he rebuilt the judiciary and the armed forces in his own image. The failure of the July 15, 2016 coup simply provided him with further opportunity to continue reframing his own dictatorial vision of civil society, universities and schools.
Christopher de Bellaigue, writing in “The Guardian”, pointed out the growing wave of authoritarianism: “Turkey under Erdo?an may be compared with Putin’s Russia, Modi’s India and Netanyahu’s Israel. In all these places the forms of democracy have been suborned by majoritarian nationalism, bolstered to varying degrees by the security state.”
He was also concerned about the United States of Donald Trump where, “American pluralism could soon be washed away by a demagogue whose conception of democracy consists of a soapbox and a baseball bat”.
The ABC’s “Foreign Correspondent” TV program recently examined the use of technology to rate the behaviour of citizens of China. It is truly frightening how this approach is able to be used to reward compliant behaviour or punish what is seen as aberrant. Orwellian.
Australia is not exempt. Many of us are nervous about the “opt out” system of medical records but at the same time spend very little time ensuring safeguards on our other social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and even our humble emails. The current impact is being bombarded by sales and business advertising. However, the same sales tools and techniques are able to very easily be used in a much more sinister manner.
I have regularly made the point that protecting our freedom ought to be about protection from domination rather than protection from interference. The distinction separates the “liberals” from the libertarians. A libertarian protection from interference will favour the strong and the wealthy while a “liberal” approach that protects from domination provides a much more sophisticated platform for freedom for all. Its greatest strength is in addressing disempowerment of the marginalised and the most vulnerable.
Scott Morrison is the “James Hacker” of Australia as the compromise candidate to be Prime Minister. Perhaps his greatest contribution will simply be to keep Peter Dutton and the ultra-conservatives (the reactionaries) from ruling.
However, there can be little doubt that MPs from the ultra-conservative faction such as Tony Abbott, Zed Seselja and Eric Abetz still exercise considerable power.
The “religious right”, as described in the “Saturday Paper” by former WA MP Mal Washer, exercise their power in the belief that they absolutely know what is right for the community.
The danger of the religious right is what they “know”. They frame within their own belief systems and believe this framing should dominate. This is not so far removed from Turkey’s Erdo?an. It certainly fails to take account of the most recent ABS survey identifying the largest religion in Australia as “no religion”.
It is sobering that Peter Dutton has demonstrated, through his Border Protection Department, that he is willing and able to use a wide range of technology without counting the costs to individuals and to our sense of a fair and equitable society.
Fundamentals of freedom that have been embedded in our culture are simply swept away. Incarceration for an indefinite period without a trial – whether on Nauru, Manus or in Australia – is an affront to our long established jurisprudence and to our sense of “fair play”.
How government deals with “them” should be a warning to the rest of the community. The scapegoats, for the time being, may well be marginalised groups that think differently. History teaches us how quickly this can spread more widely. The price of freedom from domination by any faction is eternal vigilance.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.