ON Tuesday, Tony Abbott stated his intention to introduce new counter-terrorism legislation in the parliament, including metadata retention. The decision was announced against the backdrop of the attempt by Sunni Islamist group the Islamic State, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to establish a caliphate in parts of what now constitutes Iraq and Syria.
In recent weeks there have been reports of what are called Islamic State militants (read terrorists) waging war against Iraqi and Syrian Shia Muslims along with the Christians who remain in the area and also the Kurds. As the BBC Panorama program Terror in Iraq (which aired on the ABC’s Four Corners on Monday) documented, Islamic State militants have been busy slitting the throats of their Muslim opponents. In July, The Sunday Times in London had a photo of Islamic State militants stoning a Muslim woman to death for alleged adultery.
There has been an Australian angle to this story. One Australian, Khaled Sharrouf, has posed with headless bodies in Iraq while another, Mohamed Elomar, appears on Twitter holding what seems to be a severed head. Meanwhile, reports indicate Melbourne-based teenager Adam Dahman has joined the ranks of home-grown suicide/homicide bombers following an attack on a Shi’ite mosque in Iraq.
The intention of the government is to bring about a situation where Australians will be prevented from leaving the country to take part in terrorist movements. There is a secondary aim: namely to check on the activities of Australians returning home after having been radicalised by involvement in foreign terrorist movements. It all seems like good sense.
So how did the ABC cover this development? Well, on the Mornings with Linda Mottram program in Sydney last Wednesday, the presenter interviewed three individuals in the first half-hour of the program. First up there was Maha Abdo, from the United Muslims Women’s Association, followed by Khaled Sukkarieh, president of the Islamic Council of NSW. Mottram engaged in soft interviews as Abdo and Sukkarieh expressed concern about the Abbott government’s intention with respect to Muslim Australians.
No one mentioned that one of the aims of the legislation is to prevent Sunni Muslims from travelling to Arab lands to kill Shia Muslims. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of inconvenient truth Mottram, who essentially runs a green-Left line each morning, wants to highlight.
In the final third of the segment, Mottram interviewed commentator Keith Suter. He also criticised the Abbott government. Suter’s contribution was profoundly silly. For example, he claimed that Osama bin Laden “wanted to destroy the Western world but he needed the co-operation of the Western governments to do it”. Suter’s line was that harsh counter-terrorism safeguards move Western nations “more and more towards a police state” and that this gives credibility to the opponents of democracy. There is no evidence to support the theory that bin Laden, who was killed by US forces in Pakistan in 2011, supported tough anti-terrorist legislation in Western nations because this would be counter-productive. Suter just made this up.
This happens to be an area where the Green-Left meets the libertarian lobby. On 7.30last Wednesday, reporter Sabra Lane covered the issue by interviewing one supporter of the Abbott legislation along with three opponents. This was an attempt at “balance”, ABC style. In the pro-camp was Tobias Feakin from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. In the anti-camp was Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm, Chris Berg from the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs, and Chris Althaus of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.
Across seven decades, the IPA has made a positive contribution to the political and economic debate in Australia. However, in recent times, sections of the organisation have run a libertarian line that presents human rights as of more importance than national security.
There is nothing that Fairfax Media or the ABC likes more than someone who criticises the Coalition from the Right. This helps explain why Berg has a column in The Sunday Age and why he appears so regularly on the ABC, including the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster’s online publication The Drum.
In Fairfax Media last Sunday, Berg railed against the Abbott government, accusing it of “hand-waving about terrorism and … Australian residents fighting in Syria”. Berg seems so committed to small government that he does not believe democracies should do everything in their power to stop their own citizens from entering another country with murderous terrorist intent.
According to Berg, we are being “told to take the government on trust”. Many Australians have been prepared to do this, under both Coalition and Labor governments, in the wake of al-Qa’ida’s 2001 attack on the US and Jemaah Islamiah bombings in Bali the following year.
Australia is fortunate that, in recent times, those Australians who have been convicted of terrorism-related charges have been charged with conspiracy to commit a crime rather than the real thing. This has been primarily due to the good work of Australia’s intelligence and police agencies.
Berg seems unaware that if a terrorist sets off a dirty nuclear device in, say, the Melbourne or Sydney CBD there will not be many libertarian get-togethers for quite some time. Libertarianism is a viable entity today because libertarians are protected by the security of the state in which they live.
In the wake of the real terrorist threat a decade ago, Labor — under Kim Beazley — did the correct thing and supported John Howard’s national security legislation.
Bill Shorten has yet to decide how he will respond to Abbott’s anti-terrorism initiative. The green-Left and the libertarian lobby will prevail in their peculiar unity ticket only if the major parties divide on national security.