Yesterday an extraordinary thing happened in Australia. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear the Australian Border Force announced that it would, in conjunction with Victorian* police, would be roaming the center of Melbourne and checking whether people ‘who crossed their path’ where in Australia legitimately. Now to make matters more like exactly what they sound like, the Australian Border Force is a newish agency cobbled together by the current government to protect Australia’s borders, and because that might not yet sound sufficiently creepy, they have black military style uniforms and are armed.
So, yes, literally black-uniformed armed paramilitaries roaming Melbourne demanding to see the papers of people they suspect to be insufficiently Australian.
Luckily the announcement led to mass protests and the whole things was cancelled when somebody finally realized that overtly imitating fascism is not the way to win friends and influence people.
Firstly some things to note:
- If you look at news coverage of the protest you will see lots of banners of far left organizations. Say what you like about the far-left when a government almost accidentally decides to organize a fascist coup the so called looney-left will actually turn up and attempt to do something about it.
- One guy had a great Lemongrab poster
- No sign of any obvious presence from any group to right of Australia’s Green Party
Of course the last doesn’t mean there were no libertarians or outraged conservatives at the protest but it does mean that, once again, if your country really is genuinely facing creeping fascism it is people overtly aligning themselves with socialism who are going to be out to stop it first.
That isn’t to say that right leaning politicians said nothing in protest. Millionaire populist Clive Palmer expressed his outrage and former independent MP Tony Windsor made some very important points: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/former-mp-tony-windsor-border-force-patrol-was-a-deliberate-act-to-create-fear-20150828-gjaj8a.html
Senator David Leyonhjelm is perhaps the closest Australia has to an elected libertarian politician and he also spoke up about the operation.
Nobody actually likes fascism but fascists. Yet here we have a relatively moderate conservative** government that somehow almost unthinkingly made itself look like they thought Mussolini was underrated. How did they end up in such a state?
The slippery-slope argument is not a great one and we’ll get to it in a Reason Hell post soon but like lots of semi-fallacies it sometimes is right. In this case the Australian government has been sliding down one for some time – indeed over several years and changes of government and changes of party.
The essence of this slope is the demonization of refugees. The current government has enacted a policy of overseas detention for people caught trying to enter Australia without a visa by boat that had been started under the previous Labor government. Ostensibly this was done as a humanitarian measure to deter people smuggles from using highly dangerous means of bringing refugees to Australia. It was this humanitarian argument (basically blaming the previous government for any deaths at sea on the grounds that the deaths were caused by lax border control policies) that helped sugarcoat an anti-immigration message. The prime-minister Tony abbott, had reiterated over and over before the election that he would ‘stop the boats’
This approach, in itself, was not fascist and people can argue about the extent to which it was motivated by racism. However the implementation took several steps further down the slope. Firstly the policy of turning back refugee boats meant that the policy had to be overtly military in nature. Secondly the policy of detention camps required them to be a more overt deterrent and as always, the notion of locking up innocent families (just to stress that – including children) relies on the logic of the concentration camp.
The next step down the slope was secrecy. The government actively restricted oversight over the anti-refugee operations. Human rights group were denied access to camps. The media was denied access to camps. Even members of the Australian senate attempting to make official visits were obstructed and spied on.
The net effect is people who have little or no recourse to the law, with no state protection, locked away on an arbitrary basis despite having committed no actual crime, under the control of security contractors. REGARDLESS of what you may think of immigration policy, asylum seekers or multiculturalism, the situation created by the government is a recipe for systemic abuse. http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/aug/28/wilson-security-guards-handcuffed-asylum-seeker-boy-on-nauru-as-a-joke
The Australian Border Force debacle was simply a more public manifestation of a trend that had been inflicting a militarized, nationalistic xenophobia on one set of people for some time. The mind set that produces one then easily slips into thinking that scary uniforms and aggressive police actions and a climate of fear and of PUTTING PEOPLE IN THEIR PLACE are smart moves.
Now note: this was all in an otherwise open, prosperous, tolerant nation. The current government are right of center but not extremely soon. Some ministers in the current cabinet would probably sit more comfortably with the US Democrats than the US Republicans***. Yet this is the essence of creeping fascism. The danger is not fascists directly but people on the right and center right who really, really should know better enabling a slide into madness.
The new generation of fight against fascism, in all nations, will be around how we treat refugees.
[*I’m sorry to everybody in Australia or in any other former British colony that has a place/territory/state called ‘Victoria’ but when I hear ‘Victorian’ (or even write it) I imagine gentlemen in top hats with mustaches riding penny farthings. Forgive me.]
[**In Australia the main conservative party is the Liberal National Party. The name is just to confuse everybody or due to the coriolis effect or something]
[***again those terms would mean something quite different in Australia…]