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Tony Abbott’s Tryst with Destiny

Paper No. 5602                                          Dated 13-Nov-2013

Guest Column by Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi

Australia’s conservative leader Tony Abbott swept into office in national elections recently as voters punished the outgoing Labour government for six years of turbulent rule and for failing to maximize the benefits of a now fading mining boom.

Abbott, a former boxer, Rhodes scholar and trainee priest, promised to restore political stability, cut taxes and crack down on asylum seekers arriving by boat. Immediately after election Abbot said that “From today I declare that Australia is under new management and Australia is once more open for business”. He promised to form a government which is competent, trustworthy and would deliver its best.

But the past more than fifty days are the emerging trends of a fascist style authoritarian government led by Abbot, contrary to their expectations. Unfortunately the previous labour government had already perturbed the Australians very much by continued infightings and dissensions which witnessed the unceremonious exit of the Prime Minister Julia Gillard. In fact, the government as a whole, and Mr Abbott in particular, are deeply indebted to two powerful individuals, Mr Rupert Murdoch, and Mrs Gina Rinehart. The debt owed by the new Federal government and prime minister to Mr Murdoch in particular is extraordinary, and is most likely to be paid through the sale hand-over of the NBN and, possibly, the privatisation or abolition of the ABC. Mrs Rinehart’s rewards are the repeal of the MRRT, the “liberalisation” of 457 visas to enable the employment of ever-cheaper labour in her mines, and an open-slather approach to exploration and mining, maybe even in national parks, and to coal seam gas fracking. (, “Fifty Two days Ago”, Nov. 09, 2013)

Since its inception the new government has taken several harsh and unpopular steps which cast a sad story on the fate of democracy and consensus politics by taking the opposition into confidence in Australia:

  • Has abolished the Climate Commission and sacked three departmental heads which would put an adverse impact upon climate protection programme.
  • Has sacked the NBN Board to reward to Mr. Murdoch for his extensive help during elections.
  • Has announced the privatisation of Medibank Private.
  • Has appointed the head of a major business union to chair the Commission of Audit which also includes Ms Amanda Vanstone. Mr Tony Shepherd also chairs a company that has substantial contracts with the Commonwealth.
  • Has announced a witch-hunt judicial enquiry into the Rudd Government’s home insulation scheme in a bid to trap him in any way.
  • Has cut disaster relief payments in the middle of major bushfires in New South Wales which is something very insensitive on the part of the government.
  • Has denied any possible connection between bushfires and climate change.
  • Has released draft legislation to repeal the MRRT, which also (among other things) repeals the school kids’ bonus- the low-income tax superannuation contribution-geothermal exploration provisions. These are   going to be very worrying in nature and are most likely as under:

1. The increased demonization of asylum seekers arriving by boat by requiring the Immigration Department and detention centre staff to call them “illegal arrivals” and “detainees”, just to wash off its hands from the impending humanitarian and social liability.

2. The militarisation of border protection, which is mostly an excuse for curbing free flow of information from all sources in the world.

3. Attempts to restrict information about the arrival of asylum seekers, and their movement to and from various places of detention.

By and large what is being seen is an attempt to curb the freedom of expression, “by shutting down sources of information; whether they are bodies like the Climate Commission, or reports in real time of boat arrivals” to keep Australians ignorant of the real state of affairs, and ultimately and as soon as possible to silence dissent. How long will it be before there is Federal legislation of the type Queensland Attorney-General, Mr Bleijie, released two weeks ago – legislation that has the potential to control what people wear, what music they listen to, maybe even what books they read and films they see? How long will it be before all Australian courts are effectively instructed to do as they are told by the government - something very serious on the part of government to attack the independence of judiciary?

Prime Minister Abbott has made it clear time and time again that he will not brook questions, he will not brook debate, will not brook even dissent. He is, as Jeff Sparrow points out, a cultural warrior par excellence who wishes to establish cultural regimentation in Australia - something which has, perhaps, never happened there. He has no compunction about establishing the slush fund, “Australians for Honest Politics” that resulted in the jailing of Pauline Hanson. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility that he might act in a similar way to anyone who dissents, disagrees, or differs? It may seem ridiculous in 21st century Australia even to ask such a question.

Under this scenario, despite Abbot’s convincing victory, much of the interest now remains on the Senate where the Greens, the independents and fringe parties might still hold the balance of power and frustrate Abbot’s harsh and unpopular legislative agenda which is most likely going to be a fascist programme, once imposed by Mussolini in Italy after the first world war, has certainly cast a pall of gloom for the native Australians of their bleak future. But they should unite to raise their collective voice in favour of larger freedom and democracy and also for a responsible and responsive government.

(Dr. Sudhanshu Tripathi, Associate Professor, Political Science, M. D. P. G. College, Pratapgarh (UP).  The views expressed are his own)