What Orwell can tell us about the Abbott Government

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Although Abbott’s people smuggling and Bernardi’s halal fear-mongering appear vastly different on the outside, they emerge from Government agenda built on 'doublethink', writes Alex Jones and Celeste Moore.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell outlined the concept of “doublethink”:

'... to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them.'

If true, allegations which broke on Thursday that an Australian official named “Agus” paid six people smugglers US$5,000 each to take 65 asylum seekers to the Indonesian island of Rote demonstrate an Orwellian turn in the Government’s hardline approach to “stopping the boats.” Just last month, Prime Minister Tony Abbott unequivocally stated that it was essential to turn back the boats “if the scourge of people-smuggling is to be beaten”.

This means that, despite the Government’s rhetoric, Tony Abbott is allowing human traffickers to double dip — once on takeoff and once on delivery. Your tax dollars are going straight to the pockets of people smugglers. In an interview on Saturday, Opposition immigration spokesperson Richard Marles raised concerns about whether the money used was taken from the Australian public.

Abbott’s statement directly contradicts his long-held position, articulated just last week, that stopping people smuggling is a “humanitarian” issue.

As Orwell’s doublethink logic goes, this is a way

'... to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.'

The gap between rhetoric and actions has never seemed greater for the Abbott Government.

People smuggling has long provided cash flow to terrorist and paramilitary organisations, Julie Bishop alleged last month. While no direct link has been drawn from those involved in Abbott’s scandal, it takes no great leap of the imagination to see how such an implication might play out.

Far from curbing deaths on the high seas, Abbott seems content to throw these 65 asylum seekers back into the perils of international waters. The island of Rote is located towards the eastern-most tip of Indonesia. Therefore, the boat’s journey from Australia crossed into Indonesia’s Territorial Sea Baseline (TSB), effectively contravening the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime.

Despite refusing to comment on the operational details of Operation Sovereign Borders, it is not difficult to read between the lines.

Although on Monday we returned our ambassador to Indonesia (Paul Grigson was recalled on May 3 after the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran) you’d be a fool to think Abbott respects our neighbour’s sovereignty.

As Dr Rebecca Strating, lecturer in politics at LaTrobe University, noted in The Conversation:

'By escalating the indignation to score cheap political points, Australia’s politicians compromised any sense of moral authority.'

If Operation Sovereign Borders is not about saving lives on the high seas and seeking asylum is a universal human right, then what is behind the government’s doublethink approach to people smuggling, condemning it on the one hand while offering financial incentives on the other?

Race-based immigration policies have long been at the heart of Australia’s foreign policy and there is no reason to see this new iteration as anything but a continuation of a long historical trend that began with terra nullius.

Unsurprisingly, political exploitation of xenophobia rages on the home front as well.

Senator Cory Bernardi’s current senate inquiry, titled "Third party certification of food" is yet another illogical use of taxpayer money to fund thinly-veiled racism. Although there is no mention of halal in the title of the senate inquiry, the entire thing reeks of Bernardi’s well-documented Islamophobia.

Yet it also shines a light onto the Orwellian paradoxes underpinning the inquiry. What of other third party certifications of food? Low GI foods? Gluten free? GMOs? Kosher?

Interestingly, Guy Rundle notes in Crikey that the Jewish practice of kosher is virtually indistinguishable from the Islamic certification of halal foods, in principle if not in practice:

'...an attack on halal is an attack on kosher — and on the concrete practice of religions that involve taboos and observance.'

The inquiry originates from Pauline Hanson’s claim that halal certification “is a profit money-making racket” for Islamic terrorist organisations. In a recent Lateline interview, Senator Bernardi echoed this assertion by naming Hamas and Hezbollah as groups indebted to the proceeds from halal certification.

As the submissions to Bernardi’s inquiry show, it is almost exclusively concerned with halal-sponsored terrorism. But you’d be hard pressed to come across an equally absurd inquiry predicated on the basis that kosher certification funds Zionist terrorism. Sorry folks, you won’t find that on Bernardi’s weekly newsletter, dubbed the “campaign for common sense”.

To paraphrase Bernardi’s favourite novel, Animal Farm, as revealed by the Australian Literary Review in 2010, all Senate inquiries are created equal, but some senate inquiries are more equal than others.

Although Abbott’s people smuggling and Bernardi’s halal fear-mongering appear vastly different on the outside, they both tap into the disconnect between words and actions so prevalent in Australian politics. Such a divide shows how the political elite are unashamedly dependent on xenophobic populism. As a result, the government betrays their reliance on Orwellian doublethink to con the Australian public into believing such issues are worthy of their tax dollars.

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