Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Incredible, Shrinking Opposition

Australia's political arena has long been, and still is, dominated by two political parties, Labor and Liberal. As the latter is now the governing party, the former is currently referred to as the Opposition.

However, when it comes to protecting Australians' basic rights and freedoms from a Government hell-bent on eliminating them (on the pretext that it is necessary to combat terrorism), astonishingly, the Labor Opposition has gone AWOL.

What was the Labor Opposition - some 55 MPs - has now shrunk to just one, Melissa Parke, the only Labor MP to oppose new legislation granting expanded powers to our spies and criminalising reporting on their operations.

Here's an excerpt from her very fine speech in federal parliament:

"Tony Abbott made a speech to the IPA in 2012 in which he referred to the Coalition as the 'freedom party'. However, as Prime Minister Mr Abbott now believes that 'the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift' and that 'there may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others.'

"I do not support a number of key elements in this Bill, and I am aware there are further even more controversial Bills coming before parliament in the near future.

"I question the premise of the government's general approach to this area of policy, which is essentially that freedoms must be constrained in response to terrorism; and that the introduction of greater obscurity and immunity in the exercise of government agency powers that contravene individual freedoms will both produce, and are justified in the name of, greater security.

"So far the debate on this issue has occurred within a frame that posits a direct relationship between, on the one hand, safety and civility in our everyday lives and, on the other, the powers that impinge upon and make incursions into individual freedom.

"If we want to continue our lives free from terrorism and orchestrated violence - so the argument goes - we have to accept shifting the balance between freedom and constraint away from the observance of basic rights and towards greater surveillance, more interference, greater silence.

"Let me say that no one should be fooled into believing it is as simple as that.

"The truth is that the remarkable peace, harmony, and security we enjoy in Australia is in fact produced and sustained by our collective observance of freedoms and human rights, rather than existing in spite of such values and conditions. It is wrong to say we have been complacent about security on two counts. First, because we have strong, well-resourced, and competent security agencies, and second because our commitment to a way of life that puts faith in freedom, respect and tolerance, that puts faith in democracy and the rule of law, is itself productive of peace and shared security.

"These are the reasons we must be so careful when we legislate to constrain those freedoms - because contrary to the reductive argument that says we're making a straight trade of less freedom for more safety, the reality is likely to be, and indeed has proved to be many times in the past, that constraining our fundamental liberties achieves nothing more than making us less free and in fact does ourselves harm through licencing the abuse of powers." (Restricting freedom, privacy could be the real threat to the nation, 1/10/14,

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