Under the guise of a phenomenon called security, currently interpreted as “suspect any pro-China sentiment”, or “Don’t reveal murder by United States forces”, sinister theatrics are at play across Australia.
These reveal Shaoquett Moselmane MP as one victim, ABC journalist Dan Oakes another and in London’s Belmarsh security prison sits Julian Assange.
Labor MP Moselmane’s return to parliament took place after the Australian Federal Police (AFP) had repeated that he was not suspected of anything, nor had there ever been any plan to charge him.
In which case, why the raid on his home, why the derision by the media and politicians, why the stress on his family, why the failure of parliamentary colleagues and mainstream journalists to stand up for Shaoquett and show courage and a touch of decency?
In the Oakes case, the AFP has taken three years to confirm that this journalist would not be prosecuted for reporting on alleged war crimes carried out by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
With that confirmation came the groveling claim there was “a reasonable chance of securing a conviction against Mr. Oakes”. This shifty conduct looks like cover for years of so-called administration of justice, in which suspicions were maintained but human and financial costs ignored.
The Moselmane-Oakes-Assange cases are different in detail, but each is mired in trends towards greater police and Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) powers, greater secrecy and authoritarianism which make it possible for almost any citizen to be pursued, humiliated and the perpetrators not held accountable.
In a sinister drama, let’s identify the players and ask whether they would be prepared to apologise and support claims to pay reparation to the victims.
From the right-wing of the stage enter journalists and politicians, who jumped at the chance to deride someone who had been positive about China’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.
The cast, led by Ray Hadley of Radio 2GB, lined up to head kick Moselmane. They included: shock jock Alan Jones, Sky News anchor Peta Credlin; former politicians Stephen Conroy and Graham Richardson; Sydney Morning Herald journalists Lisa Ventin and Nick McKenzie; plus a representative of the Daily Mail and home affairs minister Peter Dutton, NSW Labor’s Walt Secord and Mark Latham of One Nation.
Without too much reflection, these characters were enthusiastic singers in a chorus of anti-Chinese sentiment, with Moselmane an easy target.
Between March 31 and April 10, their performance reached fever pitch. Moselmane was the subject of 32 articles and broadcasts in which Hadley’s language plumbed the depths of the shock jock repertoire.
In his contribution to a civilized society, Hadley described Moselmane as “this jerk”, “a train wreck”, “a Chinese PR spokesperson”, “a lunatic”, “a low filthy bludger”, “this low life”, “this bastard”, “this cancerous growth”, “unworthy traitor” and “a dolt”.
Other head kickers who may be feeling ashamed that they echoed Hadley’s behavior may appear on Sky News or in columns for the Daily Telegraph and the SMH to concede that they made a terrible error of judgement and, in future, will be more reflective, more analytical and far more professional.
The next extras to appear on stage are 40 representatives of the AFP, complete with sniffer dogs and a well-briefed posse of media to film their work.
Fortified by foreign interference legislation, McDonalds hamburgers and Subway sandwiches, the police are diligent in collecting dust and hair samples from someone they suspected of doing nothing wrong. Nevertheless, they trashed his civil liberties, traumatised his wife and elderly parents and, over five months, gave the public reason to think that this MP’s suspension from the Labor Party was justified.
Perhaps the police can’t apologise and may only be puppets on strings pulled by a Prime Minister, Attorney General and Home Affairs Minister. If so, the string pullers also need to move into the confessional.
The next extras to appear are ghosts — there but not there.
They played a part, but stayed silent and invisible. They contributed to stigmatizing, but the audience must imagine what they might have said. This is a reference to media, often referred to as “the mainstream”, who failed to do their job, who did not write about the significance of civil liberties, and whose silence could be interpreted as endorsement of Hadley and Co.
The silence of NSW ALP colleagues has also been significant, and sad, suggesting that courage to stand above the fray should be kept in cold storage for fear of upsetting the headkickers.
The Moselmane and Oakes cases prompt concern for another victim of abuse by the powerful states of the US, UK and Australia, that have been fascinated with suppressing truths.
Fellow journalists have failed to advocate freedom for Julian Assange. They have not even been interested in reporting his extradition hearings in London’s Old Bailey, let alone protesting the cruelty inherent in his continued imprisonment.
Peter Greste cries crocodile tears about the absence of press freedom in Australia, but in proud civil liberties tradition had labeled Assange as not really being a journalist. One exposes truths. The other stays silent about a massive injustice.
Where were the mainstream media when Hadley was hurling abuse about Moselmane, when Peta Credlin developed her brand of insults and Dutton was hinting that Moselmane was traitor?
In the last act of these theatrics, amends may be made.
In a centre stage, solo performance, Jodi McKay, leader of the NSW ALP may appear and recall that the Parliamentary Privileges Committee exonerated Shaoquett. She may therefore concede that her colleague had never been given any presumption of innocence, hence her apology and statements that Shaoquett is welcome back in the parliament and his party suspension will be lifted.
Justice could be restored as the bread of parliament and of the people.
The question of substantial reparations for Shaoquett and his family may eventually be addressed. But in this search for a touch of justice, it may take three years of thoughtlessness and an eventual decision to do nothing.
The audience in this theatre leaves dumfounded, yet has learned that these cases are a warning for all who cherish democracy and civil liberties, let alone the ideals of a common humanity.
[Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus at the University of Sydney and author of Cruelty or Humanity, Challenges, Opportunities and Responsibilities.]