My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 15 October 2019

by ray goodlass

This government trying to stifle dissent

The current and very necessary protests about our lack of action to combat climate change by Extinction Rebellion (‘Dozens arrested as protests kick off’, DA 8 October) brought about a change in my planned topic for this week’s column.

I had thought to focus on discussing PM Morrison’s very worrying tendency to increasingly channel Donald Trump, but after Peter Dutton’s appalling call to punish social welfare recipients who take part in protests, I thought best to focus on that more topical issue, as I imagine the Morrison/Trump love-in will be, unfortunately, ongoing.

Dutton was “sounding ‘like a dictator’ after urging welfare cuts for protesters” reported the Guardian Australia.

Protesters who disrupt traffic should have their welfare payments cut and be subject to mandatory jail sentences, he has declared, as conservative MPs continue to lash out against climate change protests.

Dutton also accused the Queensland government for not going far enough in deterring the protests.

“Community expectation is these people be heavily fined or jailed and they should be jailed until their behaviour changes because they are putting lives at risk,” he told Sydney radio 2GB, one of his favoured media outlets on which to spout his divisive and dangerous diatribes.

“They’re diverting police and emergency service resources from tasks that they should be undertaking otherwise and they keep turning up week after week because they know a slap on the wrist is just not working.

“The premier needs to come out and explain why this is acceptable. If there needs to be mandatory or minimum sentences imposed, that can happen overnight in a Queensland parliament.”

Dutton’s condemnation of the Queensland Labor government is remarkable, for its introduction of new police powers last month in answer to Extinction Rebellion protests, after peak hour traffic was disrupted by participants gluing themselves to roads itself outraged many of us who saw it for what it was: a calculated attempt to silence dissent.

Dutton also called for protesters to be publicly shamed.

“People should take these names and the photos of these people and distribute them as far and wide as they can so that we shame these people.

“Let their families know what you think of their behaviour.”

The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, said legislation was already in place to deal with protesters who broke the law, but the government was going too far in suggesting peaceful protesters have their income stripped.

“Peter Dutton doesn’t know what living in a democracy means,” he told the ABC.

“One of the most fundamental rights in any democracy is the right to speak up and to protest against those in power … It’s starting to sound more like a dictator than he is an elected politician. Because somebody says something that he doesn’t like, that he doesn’t support, he’s saying we’re going to strip away income support.”

Dutton’s comments were the latest in a string of statements from Coalition MPs and ministers urging punitive welfare measures.

Not surprisingly, Michaelia Cash backed the withdrawal of Centrelink benefits from what she described as full-time protesters for failing to meet mutual obligation responsibilities.

“You’re not giving up a lot if you are attending a protest when you don’t have a job” she told, no surprise here, 2GB.

The Labor MP Stephen Jones said these comments were an attempt to distract from the debate about raising the rate of Newstart and the unchanging jobless rate.

To add insult to injury, I have just learnt that an access agreement being negotiated with the US could grant Australian law enforcement agencies access to messages sent using US-owned platforms such as Google and Facebook.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and US Attorney-General William Barr are negotiating a bilateral agreement under which Australian police would have the same powers as US police under the CLOUD Act, which compels US tech companies to hand over data on their servers when presented with a warrant.

Stifling dissent isn’t limited to our shores, as we can see it happening in Hong Kong, Europe, the UK and the USA.

But here these are yet more examples of how the current Liberal/Nationals coalition government are seriously frightened of criticism, to the extent they are serious about preventing us, the people, from speaking out against their machinations. It is a calculated attempt to silence the voice of the people.