Police-state governance and the civil liberties of an MP

There was a media scrum at the early morning raid of Shaoquett Moselmane's home on June 26.

In disdain for human rights and to display power, governments deploy police forces to harass or arrest citizens, and then justify their actions with claims about the influence of foreign forces. And it’s happening right now in Australia.

That sounds like life in Belarus, Russia, China, Iran, Bashar al-Assad’s Syria or the thuggery that passes for government in Zimbabwe. But these references to abusive governance concern the Scott Morrison government’s victimisation of New South Wales Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane.

In this significant civil liberties issue, the persecution of Moselmane is the tip of a sinister iceberg. Below the surface are layers of secrecy that involve the media, the cowardice of politicians and sensationalism sustained by anti-Chinese sentiment.

Police and media collusion

By influencing publicity about the Moselmane case, government has set the media agenda, not least in regard to leaks about police raids on the MP’s home.

Who informed the media about those raids? How has a Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Nick McKenzie, been enabled to develop his taste for sensation, referring to the raids as “one of the most significant inquiries in recent ASIO history”?

Events of June 25 and 26 merit investigation. At 10pm on June 25, a magistrate signed warrants for an operation in NSW. The Australian Federal Police executed these as part of an investigation into possible offences under sections of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, the so-called foreign interference law. They arrived at the MP’s home at 6.30am on June 26.

As though employed on a film set, journalists plus satellite dishes and related equipment were already in place, ready to film the arrival of police.

To set the stage, there must have been close cooperation between the government, police and media. How could it be otherwise?

Is it possible that McKenzie and company learned of the planned raids between 10pm on the 25th and 6.30 am on the 26th? If journalists had time to drive or fly from Melbourne to be in Sydney early on the morning of June 26, they must have been informed before the magistrate issued a warrant.

Two days later Channel 9’s Sixty Minutes went to air, with McKenzie as the key informant.

Were only 48 hours needed to organise a program for which this journalist had boasted that he had been observing Moselmane’s pro-China activities for months. Verdict certain. Case closed.

Apart from the government/media cooperation, political coincidences suggest that this matter has as much to do with domestic politics as with foreign interference.

The raid occurred eight days before the crucial Eden-Monaro by-election, and there’s a looming pre-selection contest in the NSW Upper House in which the contestants are Adam Searle, Walt Secord and Moselmane. Only two can be elected.

As leader of the opposition in the NSW Upper House, Searle is a potential favourite for a spot on the ALP’s Upper House ticket for the 2023 State election. If Moselmane is removed, Secord has a free run.

Palestine the issue?

A little more head scratching suggests that antagonism towards Moselmane concerns Palestine, not China.

As an Australian of Arab descent, who supports the human rights of the Palestinian people, Moselmane’s principles contrast with the attitude of Secord who is the deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel and has welcomed the demise of Moselmane.

In bullying, which appears to be a taken-for-granted political technique, Secord has been supported by the former chief executive of the Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff.

Cues for bullying had come from radio 2GB’s Ray Hadley who, in characteristic abuse, referred to Moselmane as “a train wreck”, “a Chinese PR spokesperson”, “a low life”, “unworthy traitor”. Verdict certain. Case closed.

In an interview with NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay, Hadley asserted that the people of NSW “want that bloke sacked”. McKay responded: “Ray, his actions have been appalling”. Verdict certain. Case closed.

On June 26, Moselmane resigned as assistant president of the NSW Upper House and was suspended from the Labor Party.

In human costs and in financial terms, the scapegoating of Moselmane is costing a fortune.

Moselmane ’s civil liberties have been trashed. His wife is under tremendous strain. His elderly parents are traumatised. The safety of his young son has been threatened by anonymous individuals, who have apparently decided that his father supports Chinese, not Australian, interests.

Who cares as long as the powerful get their way?

‘Much ado about nothing’

The handling of this matter also has fumbling, bumbling features.

The police told Moselmane that he was not suspected of any wrongdoing. But, as many as 40 came with sniffer dogs, stayed in his home for 18 hours, took hair and dust samples from cars, confiscated a computer and phones and sought records going back 10 years, including copies of his inaugural speech to parliament.

Black boxes were carried in and out of the house. Media onlookers could be forgiven for speculating that the boxes contained secret, incriminating documents. To sustain the police, one box contained McDonald’s cheeseburgers another Subway sandwiches.

This controversy is deadly serious, yet looks like a re-run of a Shakespearean comedy.

As theatre of the absurd, players in Much Ado About Nothing noted the significance of rumour, gossip and excitement about manufactured sensation. Perhaps the bard had been briefing Australian politicians and media?

A welcome touch of satire should not divert attention from the need for a socially-just outcome. This worthy parliamentarian deserves an apology from government and police, the payment of reparations and a dignified return to parliament as a duly elected member of the Labor Party.

[Stuart Rees OAM is a human rights activist, poet, novelist and author. He is a recipient of the Jerusalem Peace Prize and the founding Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation. This article was first published at Pearls and Irritations and is reprinted with permission.]

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