Testing the thesis (continued)
(Obsession with crime and punishment)
The State lives on fear. Today, it is the fear of ‘terrorists’, which is a manufactured threat, meant to scare people into handing over their rights and dignity to the tricksters in power. “Our twentieth century is the century of fear,” wrote Camus in his article ‘The century of fear’ for Combat, the newspaper which had supported the French Resistance to Nazi occupation during the second world war. Camus said that fear could be regarded as a developed science, and that “its perfected technology threatens the entire world with destruction.” The time? November 1946. The truth of that statement came to fruition in the last century, but it has taken on new meaning since the 11 September 2001 attacks, especially when one considers the mindless reaction which was engineered and orchestrated by individuals at the highest levels of the United States Government who are interested in making the 21st century just as fearful and war-like as the last. 9/11 was obviously no ordinary event. It created a state of suggestibility in the American people, which is one of the means of indoctrinating ordinary people both religiously and politically. America was not always so ugly as today.
In his State of the Union address, on 6 January 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” ought to enjoy: 1. Freedom of speech and expression, 2. Freedom of worship, 3. Freedom from want, and 4. Freedom from fear.
Present day Australia has secured – more or less – the first three. As for the fourth, Alan Renouf, one of Australia’s most experienced diplomats, felt bound to give the title The frightened country to his memoirs of Australian foreign policy. He published the work in 1979 upon his return from Washington where he had been a well respected ambassador. His thesis was that an “unreasoning fearfulness” sits at the heart of Australia’s relations with the world. The country lives in fear of its neighbourhood. That fear has several deep consequences for the way Australia conducts itself.
The ‘White Australia’ policy, built on anger at the Chinese who had come to Australia during the gold rushes of the second half of the 19th century, came to a political head in 1888. Of the 40,721 Chinese who had come to Australia, accounting for a peak of just 3.3 per cent of the national population, 36,049 eventually left. This was Australia’s experience of the so-called Asian hordes. It was a defining moment for the country’s social and political evolution. The Chinese lingered in the collective national consciousness as the alien masses for which Australia has spent the rest of its history anxiously scanning the horizon.
Upon federation Australia incorporated the same ‘values’ of racial superiority and exclusion. The ‘White Australia’ policy was one of the founding principles of the Commonwealth, encouraged by the newly formed Labor Party and expressed in legislation as the first act of the new Federal Parliament in 1901.
In the previous century, after Tasmanian Aborigines started to resist the wholesale invasion of their fertile lands, the largely benign descriptions of ‘the natives’ gave way to derogatory descriptions which likened them to wild animals. Indigenous Australians were to continue to be treated as less than human, mistreated, murdered – and their children taken from the families. The ‘race’ was a ‘problem’ which required a ‘solution’. Does that sound familiar?
‘Invasion anxiety’ has been one of the most powerful, subliminal forces in Australian life. It has always had racial overtones and is often expressed most forcefully by the same people – and governments – who deny that Indigenous Australians are entitled to recognition as the original owners of this country and recompense for what has been taken from them. It has been revived recently when it has informed the imposition of a brutal detention regime on those people seeking asylum in Australia from the ravages that Australians have brought to their countries: Afghanistan and Iraq, in particular.
Domestic peace was very early a victim of the ‘Queen’s peace’, which led, amongst other causes, to the enactment of harsh penalties for non-conformists and to the conviction of Henry Seekamp for seditious libel over the Eureka Rebellion in 1854; the conviction of 13 trade union leaders of the 1891 Australian shearers’ strike for sedition and conspiracy; and the action against radical Harry Holland, gaoled for two years in 1909 over his advocacy of violent revolution during the Broken Hill miners’ strike.
During the first world war sedition laws were used against those who opposed conscription and war, in particular the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W). In 1916 members of the I.W.W. in Perth were charged with sedition including 83 year old Montague Miller, known as the grand old man of the labour movement. Miller was released after serving a few weeks of his sentence but was re-arrested in 1917 in Sydney at the age of 84 and sentenced to six months gaol with hard labour at Long Bay Gaol on the charge of belonging to an unlawful association. The ‘Sydney Twelve’ were all charged and convicted with various offences including sedition.
On 10 December 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nowadays, December 10 is celebrated as International Human Rights Day – but the heart is not there. Australians, insular and educationally limited, see themselves as inhabiting ‘the best country in the world’ – why, the best in the synonymous ‘Southern hemisphere’.
In theory, Australians are unequivocally opposed to human rights abuses. Those who know and care will condemn the governments of other countries where human rights abuses occur while simultaneously living indifferently with human rights abuses occurring in their own backyard. In fact many individuals would be incensed at the suggestion and reject the notion that human rights abuses are routinely occurring in Australia.
For Australians, the expression ‘human rights abuses’ conjures up a range of images including torture in Abu Ghraib, or at Guantánamo, or human trafficking in Asia, or honour killings in Muslim communities, and the detention of political prisoners living under repressive regimes. Australians associate abuses of human rights with corrupt governments, lawless lands and absolute poverty. The people they imagine as victims are rarely white: these people come from other lands, particularly African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries.
In March 1949 Lance Sharkey, then General-Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, was charged that he had uttered the following seditious words: “If Soviet Forces in pursuit of aggressors entered Australia, Australian workers would welcome them. Australian workers would welcome Soviet Forces.”
Australians who could articulate some ‘key facts’ would say, not without some boasting, that in their country all people – Australians and non-Australians alike – are treated equally before the law; that the Australian legal system is based on the concept of the rule of law, and that in all cases defendants are considered to be innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Let it be said immediately: this is not so – and it hardly ever was so. There was always present an urge for “the comfortable to disavow the needy” – as Galbraith would put it – making it easier to imagine that defects of character or culture rather than economic history cause disadvantage.
Now more than ever there is an implicit assumption that a person charged is inevitably guilty. Intellectually corrupt media fuel that prejudice. Due process, legal aid, ‘not guilty’ verdicts and sentences which take account of mitigating circumstances are seen as ‘mollycoddling’ the criminals. In other words, never mind the evidence, just focus on the possibility – the kleptocracy excluded, of course.
The State police may not be much loved, but it is thought of as responsible for keeping peace – which is the Queen’s peace – in the community and bringing before the courts people they believe have broken the law. There is also a national police force – the Australian Federal Police – which investigates offences against federal laws, including drug trafficking, illegal immigration, crimes against national security and crimes against the environment.
Tomorrow: Testing the thesis . . . Obsession with crime and punishment (continued)
* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.