My Daily Advertiser column for today, 17 October 2017: The Turnbull government’s national security agenda is all about its own survival.

by ray goodlass

A government that exploits people’s fears to win elections is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean it is anything to be proud of.

Nonetheless, examples abound, such as Britain’s 1914 ‘Khaki election’, Nazi Germany playing on fears of communist USSR, and most Western governments playing on the same fear during the Cold War.

So it needs to be made very clear what Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues are up to when the government pushes its national security agenda.

Peter Lewis recently wrote “Are war and terrorism the last hope for a revival of Turnbull’s government?” (The Guardian), which got me thinking that this would be a topic worth teasing out.

More than half of the Australians in a recent Essential poll are quite rightly concerned that the nuclear brinkmanship displayed by both Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un will lead to all-out conflict.

And so as the Turnbull government fails to make any headway on most domestic issues it is increasingly turning to external threats to reset the political agenda to its advantage.

The first issue is the face-off between two crazy-brave hot-heads with their fingers way too close to the button. As this week’s Essential Report shows, most Australians now think war between the US and North Korean is more likely than not.

Today’s reports that President Trump told his national security advisers in July that he wanted to increase the country’s nuclear arsenal by nearly tenfold (The Age) is likely to increase our fear. Trump now of course claims this to be ‘Fake News’, as he invariably does when caught out.

Frighteningly the Turnbull government has already signalled it will follow President Trump wherever he cares to go. Real war on and possibly off the Korean peninsula ironically would relieve the current internal pressure on the Coalition, with all parties except the Greens unifying behind the US alliance.

The second threat likely to benefit Turnbull & Co is the increasing possibility of a home-soil terrorist attack. As last week’s Essential report shows, this still represents the greatest challenge to Australian’s sense of personal safety.

It is here that the Coalition has been pursuing its most proactive groundwork, establishing the truly Orwellian sounding homeland security super ministry and seeking more and more powers in the name of anti-terrorism.

What is frightening is the incrementalism of the government’s approach to its anti-terror legislation. Firstly, because by tightening the screws small bit by small bit the ‘Boiling Frog’ syndrome will apply, that is, they hope we won’t notice each small change, only waking up to the fact when it is too late to realise how many of our civil liberties have been taken away.

In terms of parliamentary politics, the government’s strategy is to probe and push until it finds a point of difference with the Opposition. To date Shorten’s Labor has matched the government each step of the way, conscious that to create a contest on national security opens the attack of being “weak on terror”.

Indeed, as Kim Beazley discovered to his ultimate demise in 2001 when the Howard government confected the Tampa stand-off, there will be a point where Labor will not be prepared to follow and that will become the point on which a winnable Coalition election campaign can be fought, perish the thought.

So war and terror will ironically be the last remaining hopes for a Coalition revival.

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