There is a real estate billboard on the Hume Highway in Sydney that declares: “Un-see this!”. Despite ASIO having seized the Cabinet Files from the offices of the ABC, the glimpses we have had of their contents will remain a reminder of the insidious agenda of successive Coalition governments and ministers.
We can’t “un-see” the evidence now.
According to the Cabinet Files, a proposal to undermine the right to silence of a suspect during a terrorism investigation was raised by former Attorney-General in the John Howard government Phillip Ruddock, during the investigation of Doctor Mohamed Haneef.
According to the files, Ruddock proposed that, “amendments should be made to a suspect's right to remain silent to allow a court to draw adverse inferences in a terrorism trial where an accused relies on evidence which he or she failed to mention when questioned by police”. The proposal was knocked back at the time.
Haneef went on to take legal action against the government as a result of his treatment and was awarded compensation.
The files also allege that in their efforts to undermine section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the federal government consulted with alt-right columnist and presenter Andrew Bolt. Bolt was found to have breached the act following action by nine Aboriginal people in 2011 over four articles he wrote in 2009.
The government’s crusade to undermine anti-discrimination laws in the name of “free speech” continues today. During the campaign for marriage equality it was expressed in the attempt to undermine equal marriage rights by “strengthening religious freedom”. It is almost certain that the ultra-conservatives in the government will continue their campaign.
The files also reveal the depths the government is prepared to go to deny permanent protection to asylum seekers. According to the files, former Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison agreed his department should intervene in ASIO security checks to try to prevent up to 700 asylum seekers from being granted permanent protection visas in late 2013.
The files allege that this intervention was made so that people close to being granted permanent protection would miss the deadline ahead of changes being rushed through at the time to prevent any asylum seekers who arrived by boat from ever being granted permanent protection in Australia.
Finally, there is the revelation that ahead of the 2014 budget, the former Tony Abbott government’s expenditure review committee, also known as the “razor gang”, requested consideration of a ban on anyone under the age of 30 from accessing income support. Razor gang members were former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
According to the options papers published by the ABC, the proposals would have limited or denied about 700,000 people under 30, who were then claiming Newstart or Youth Allowance, from claiming income support “with immediate effect”.
One option considered was to deny income support for job seekers under 30 living in so-called “Prescribed Areas”, such as capital cities with low unemployment or areas where unskilled or seasonal work was available.
To “lessen the harshness of the measure”, proposals were put forward to put those under 30 on a Basics Card, “capped at $200 per fortnight and income-managed at 100%”, or “immediate suspension of any support for up to 12 weeks if a job offer was refused or for other non compliant behaviour”.
The papers indicate Cabinet was fully aware of the risks associated with the proposals, including that they could “be seen to be in breach of Article 22 (right to social security) and Article 25 (right to an adequate standard of living) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which “recognises the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance”.
The Cabinet Files remind us that there is no limit to the creativity employed by capitalist governments in their war on the people — whether in the punishment of asylum-seekers, undermining of our civil and democratic rights or the forced impoverishment of the unemployed and marginalised.
We cannot un-see, but we can fight back.
[Susan Price is the national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]