By John Biggs
The Collins Dictionary defines fascism thus: n 1 any doctrine, system or practice regarded as authoritarian, militaristic, chauvinistic or extremely right wing.
Expanding on this, a fascist government: has a strong leader or small group of leaders with psychopathic tendencies; rules by fiat and slogan; has a culture of lying; defines and maintains an underclass while redistributing wealth and power to an elite; filters information so that the government only receives advice it wants to hear; controls the media; is nationalistic and militaristic; is a poor world neighbour; takes over industry and commerce.
Let us see how the Abbott Government stacks up on these criteria.
A strong leader or small group of leaders with psychopathic tendencies
A fascist leader is obsessed with power and control for its own sake and will do whatever it takes to grab and maintain power. This suggests a strong streak of psychopathy. Psychologist Lyn Bender asks in Independent Australia, 13 May, 2014, “What if Abbott and his cronies are just a bunch of psychopaths?” She makes a startling case that they probably are, mentioning indicators from Abbott, Joe Hockey and Scott Morrison. http://www.independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/what-if-abbott-and-his-cronies-are-just-a-bunch-of-psychopaths,6472
Psychopaths are commonly described as lacking empathy and compassion, as exhibiting no guilt or remorse, given to seeking revenge, compulsive lying, seeing the end as justifying the means and narcissism.
Abbott has shown himself lacking in empathy and compassion on several occasions. In October 2007, he accused dying asbestos victim Bernie Banton’s public protests against James Hardy as “a stunt”. During a visit to Afghanistan in February 2011, his comment on being told the details of how an Australian soldier had died was “shit happens.” When a Channel 7 reporter questioned Abbott on this comment, his reaction was utterly bizarre, glaring at the reporter, jerking his head for a full 28 seconds, remaining silent. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wT9XS_TvzQ
Laurie Oakes said these and other “flat-footed comments will surely call his leadership of the Liberal Party into question … and he will pay dearly for it.” They haven’t – not yet. Later on talk-back radio, when a grandmother complaining about the budget said she was forced to do telephone sex work to make ends meet, Abbott smirked and gave the radio host a sleazy wink.
Rules by fiat and slogan
The following is attributed to Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” And this is exactly how Abbott had conducted his campaign, with mindless slogans such as “stop the boats”, “repeal the carbon tax”, “earn or learn”, repeated ad nauseam. No explanation, no justification.
Political debate in a democracy has parties standing on different platforms. Come election time they argue their case with evidence and logic, taking apart their opponents’ policies and arguments accordingly. Certainly candidates hurl insults at each other but they are the exhaust pollution that comes from a working engine. Prior to and during the last Federal election, however, Tony Abbott made the pollution of insults the engine, bringing political debate to an all-time low in Australia:
Such slogans pre-empt discussion of how those ends are to be achieved or reflection on possible consequences of achieving them.
A culture of lying
Fascist governments survive through a culture of lying. Joseph Goebbels again: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
In Independent Australia, 26 April 2014, Alan Austin defines political lying not as broken promises, which happen in all parties, but as “a knowingly false statement by a politician, expressed with the intention to deceive”. http://www.independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/is-australia-run-by-compulsive-liars-part-two-abbotts-astonishing-30-lies,6398 Here is the lie score of recent political leaders: Kevin Rudd 1, Alexander Downer 7, John Howard 15+, Tony Abbott 30, other recent leaders of all parties, including Julia Gillard, 0. The Federal Liberals are thus by far the most mendacious of all other parties, and Abbott worse than other Liberals.
In this interview Kerry O’Brien tries hard to pin Abbott down on lying. It is as telling as Abbott’s 28 seconds of furious nodding silence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tc5ljcri6Nk
Defines and maintains an underclass while redistributing wealth and power to an elite
Fascist governments on gaining power take the country in a radical, new and unpleasant direction. Pre-election Abbott promised no surprises, steady as she goes; post-election we were in for a big surprise.
First, Abbott destroyed virtually every positive initiative established by Labor – apart from Labor’s own cruel initiative in sending asylum seekers offshore. Labor’s social justice initiatives – Gonski, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, gambling reforms, superannuation tax relief for low income earners, the NBN and much more. The decks had been cleared for big changes.
The Budget gave the new game away. Australia has a Triple-A credit rating, 22 years free of recession, a strong health care system, and one of the lowest debt to GDP ratios in OECD countries. Yet the Abbott Government claimed that in view of Australia’s economic crisis (a lie) a really tough Budget was necessary (another lie) and that all Australians would have to do the heavy lifting (yet another lie). Unemployed 23-year-olds stand to lose 18 per cent of their disposable income, an unemployed sole parent with an eight-year-old child would lose 12 per cent. By contrast, a high-income couple with a combined income of $360,000 a year would lose nothing they might notice. The “heavy lifting” is to be done by those least able to lift.
People under 30 would not receive any benefits at all if they lose their job leaving them with nothing to live on. Family Tax Benefit would be restricted to those earning under $100,000 and payment stops when their child reaches six, previously 16. With youth unemployment around 20 percent across the nation and higher in Tasmania, young Tasmanians were told to leave the state to get a job: “earn or learn” or you are cut off the Newstart unemployment benefits for six months. “Learning” means going to university where uncapped fees could in some faculties triple. With higher HECS interest rates, repayments could take decades to clear. What low SES youth would buy into that? That’s assuming they had the ability and the interest in going to university. Students with parents wealthy enough to pay fees will not be saddled with a long term debt, giving them an enormous lifelong advantage.
The $7 co-payment and increased pharmaceutical fees in the health budget are the first step in dismantling Medicare and setting up a more privatised health system along US lines. Yet the US spends 17.7% on GDP on health for a far worse and inequitable system than ours, whereas Australia spends 9.5% on health, including Medicare, for a much superior health service: a difference largely due to the fact that if people don’t go to the doctor the later consequences can be expensive. The Budget intervention on health is not about economics or efficiency of service, but a deliberate hit at the poor. The $20 billion medical research fund, impossibly financed by the medical co-payments, is an obvious furphy that won’t do anything for the poor with their present health problems.
The Government has gutted Gonski with its egalitarian intent, giving more and more largesse to independent schools. $245 million has been allocated to finance untrained chaplains to provide ideologically tainted support for students while removing professionally trained social workers and psychologists.
Abbott is putting future generations at risk by cutting science on all fronts. He abolished a Minister for Science which has been there since 1938; has savagely cut $140 million from the CSIRO; the tertiary sector by 20 per cent but uncapping the fees universities may charge; all the instrumentalities set up by Labor for climate change and renewable energy have been abolished. If climate change is real, and there is very strong empirical evidence that it is, all this is psychopathically irresponsible. Future generations will not thank the Abbott Government.
The Budget and the Coalition’s tax policies see that the already rich become richer and the poor poorer. The super payments of those on $35,000 pa or less, once tax free, will be taxed at 15 per cent, but Labor’s plan to tax the richest retirees’ super funds will be abandoned. Family trusts and other tax lurks worked out by tricky tax consultants will not be addressed. Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme as originally proposed was to the enormous benefit of rich double income families while child minding facilities of essential value to poor parents and especially single mothers were cut.
But there is meaning in this madness. Fascist governments need an elite and an underclass. That is what the Budget is helping to create.
The planned redrafting of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is another tactic in defining an underclass. Currently 18C makes it unlawful for a person to act in a way likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity. The change proposed by Attorney General George Brandis would replace these words with “vilify”. Thus, it would no longer be an offense to offend, insult or humiliate anyone of a different ethnicity. And not to be discriminatory, it would also be okay to offend, insult or humiliate anyone of the same ethnicity – a bogan, perhaps, or a Greenie.
Asylum seekers, demonised by Howard as child murderers, have become a target for community hatred, fear, and contempt. There is even a whisper, just a whisper, of a parallel with the demonising of certain minority groups by the Third Reich.
Filters information so that the government only receives advice it wants to hear
A fascist government does not want to entertain information or to consider possibilities it doesn’t want to hear: “the truth is the greatest enemy of the State”, as Goebbels had said.
Abbott has stacked all committees and inquiries he has set up with far right wingers and climate change deniers, the review of the national curriculum, the Royal Commission into pink batts and the National Commission of Audi being recent examples. Clearly, he is not interested in seeking balance and fairness but in obtaining the advice he wants.
SBS and especially the ABC are accused of left wing bias, although most ABC panels have representation from left and right. Both are in for heavy cuts and possible merging.
Controls the media
As part of information filtering, a fascist government controls the media. No dissent allowed. That is not the case in Australia, but perhaps there is little need. News Corp, which backs the government 100 per cent, owns over 140 papers and magazines and is far and away the most widely read.
Robert Manne writes in The Monthly (November 2013): “Murdoch’s domination of the metropolitan press has two main consequences for our democracy. First, any government, no matter how worthy or unworthy, is now vulnerable should News Corp decide to target it in the way it targeted the Gillard government more than two years ago. Second, while News Corp retains its present dominance, mainstream debate about certain fundamental ideologically sensitive questions – how to respond adequately to the climate-change crisis; what levels and kinds of taxation are needed to develop the welfare state; the trajectory of foreign policy during the rise of China; Australia’s Middle Eastern policy; and, of course, media reform – is effectively ruled out in advance.”
Anthropogenic climate change is rubbished in all News Corp publications. 97 per cent of the columns appearing in the Herald-Sun were sceptical of human-caused global warming, an interesting symmetry to the 97 per cent of scientists who conclude the very opposite. This is irresponsibly dangerous – but perfectly in line with Abbott Government policy.
Is nationalistic and militaristic
The militarisation of Operation Sovereign Borders was entirely unnecessary, turning what should be a humane rescue operation into a military exercise with tight security clamps on information. Its handling probably reflects Scott Morrison’s militaristic fantasies as much as Abbott’s. A general was appointed in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders, now replaced by Australian Border Force. Is appointing another general as Governor-General of Australia a straw in the same wind?
In this time of supposed financial crisis, defence spending is increased to $122.7 billion for the four years to 2018, which amounts to 2 per cent of GDP. Then there is the purchase on 58 F-35 strike fighters for $12 billion. The F-35 is regarded as a lemon in military circles with performance and safety problems. Oddly, it is designed for attack not for defence. Arming for defence makes sense, but who are we going to attack?
Is a poor world neighbour
Being a good world neighbour means at least signing human rights treaties and adhering to them and to international law. Australia has signed 12 such, including treaties on refugees, torture, rights of children and of people with disabilities. Many of these treaties have been broken with regard to aborigines (as in John Pilger’s 2014 film Utopia) and in past and current asylum seeker policy.
Abbott’s treatment of asylum seekers breaks several signed treaties: separating children from parents, keeping legal asylum seekers in ignorance of when their claims will be processed, the foul and dehumanising conditions in the offshore detention centres under conditions that have been damned by the UN and Amnesty International and that amount to torture. Abbott has disbanded the Immigration Health Advisory Group, the only body to give independent advice on the physical and mental health of asylum seekers and to deny them access to legal aid.
In order to “stop the boats” the government had to make coming by boat (but not by plane) as nasty as the nastiness from which asylum seekers were fleeing. When boats of hopeful disbelievers in Australia’s nastiness kept coming, Abbott and Scott Morrison resorted to extraordinarily silly expediencies: buying Indonesian fishing boats in Indonesia so that none would be available to come to Australia; towing the people-smuggling boats back into Indonesian waters; packing asylum seekers into lifeboats and sending them back to Indonesia. All violate Indonesian territory and relations with our most important neighbor have been seriously damaged. Stopping the boats also involved Abbott in praising Sri Lanka’s murderous regime, presenting President Mahinda Rajapaksa with two patrol boats in order to help stop any Sri Lankan asylum seekers leaving for Australia. Such tactics have severely damaged Australia’s reputation internationally.
The environment sees Abbott at his worst as a world neighbour. Australia is per capita the largest carbon emitting country in the world. We are obliged to do our global bit. Not according to Abbott. He has axed or intends to axe carbon pricing, the Kyoto agreements, the Climate Change Advisory Committee, with $10 billlion cut from renewable energy investment. One such cut is totally irrational: that of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), which arranges investment in renewable energy and low emissions projects. The CEFC, chaired by financier Jillian Broadbent, obtains private sector investors to invest in renewable energy projects: some $3 billion since last July. These projects not only decrease carbon emissions but make big money in the long term. Environmentalists want it, the big end of town wants it. Win-win all round you might think. But unfortunately the CEFC was created by the Gillard government. The bill for dismantling it has been passed by the House of Representatives twice, but the current Senate isn’t cooperating. So far.
Abbott’s unthinking ruthlessness on achieving his ends has damaged foreign relations with Indonesia, with China, and with East Timor by defrauding Timor Leste of oil rights in favour of Woodside’s interests. His foolish resurrection of Royal titles was done without proper consultation with Buckingham Palace. Even more damaging in the long term has been an $8 billion cut in foreign aid to impoverished countries, lowering foreign aid to .29 per cent of GDP, compared to England’s .7 per cent. Twenty per cent of all cuts in the recent budget has been borne by the poorest countries in world.
Abbott’s international image will not be enhanced with this video, played on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show on Abbott’s first visit to the US as Australian PM.
Takes over industry and commerce.
In fascist countries the state owns industry and the means of production. This is not so in Australia. Here it is rather the other way around: corporate power owns the government. The results for us however are much the same.
In Australia, company tax rate is 30 percent but few pay that. The average rate is 22 per cent for companies, but Westfield paid 8 per cent last financial year, and through a loophole, Apple and Google pay virtually no tax at all despite enormous profits made in Australia. Labor tried to fix that but when the Abbott government came to power the Labor initiative was dumped.
The mining tax on 2011 rates would now be yielding about $60 billion pa but after a ferocious campaign by both mining corporations and the Liberal Opposition, PM Gillard watered it down so much it yielded nothing in the first year although it will raise around $3.8 billion over four years. Now Finance Minister Matthias Corman wants to abolish it altogether claiming through a convoluted flow-on argument that it would save $13.8 billion. Believe it or not. The diesel fuel rebate cost the government $5.4 billion in 2012-13, which the Australian says is “fair” (10 May, 2014).
Abbott’s dismantling of renewable energy projects is at the behest of the mining and fossil fuel industries. Abbott’s Direct Action policy is ineffectual with regard to reducing emissions, but very effective in giving large handouts to the worst polluting industries.
The Great Barrier Reef is to be a dumping ground for dredged silt, World Heritage nominations are to be dropped, marine parks around Australia have been scrapped, the “greatly endangered” listing of the Murray-Darling Basin has been removed, the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement is to be ripped up, and all environmental assessments for development projects are to be in the hands of the states, who want the royalties from development whatever the environmental cost, as in Queensland and West Australia.
The damage isn’t being done only for the benefit of Australian based corporations. The proposed Trans Pacific Partnership would include an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause into the agreement, which is only available to corporations. Philip Morris tobacco is claiming compensation for loss of revenue, against the Australian Government’s legislation for the plain packaging of cigarettes using an ISDS clause contained in an earlier trade agreement with Hong Kong. The fact that this law was made by a democratically elected Parliament and had been deemed legitimate by the nation’s highest court is irrelevant under the proposed TPP legislation.
One tribunal judge reportedly said, with regard to the ISDS clause:
It never ceases to amaze me that sovereign states have agreed to investment arbitration at all … Three private individuals are entrusted with the power to review, without any restriction or appeal procedure, all actions of the government, all decisions of the courts, and all laws and regulations emanating from parliament.
(The Guardian, 5 November 2013).
The government’s stated policy of “small government”, deregulating, and allowing market forces to prevail means giving open slather to the corporate world, even to international corporations who are not at all interested in the welfare of Australians.
So is the Abbott Government fascist?
The Abbott Government would no doubt defend its policies and radical change of direction as simply implementing their neoliberal agenda, which they would say they were elected to do. The public’s highly negative reaction to that agenda post-election suggests that they were fooled.
Neoliberalism leads to the adoption of most characteristics of fascism, except for the role of government itself. Neoliberalism’s so-called “small government” just hands control and the destinies of citizens to the corporate sector, which as Joel Bakan’s film The Corporation (2003) sees as manifesting all the symptoms of full blown psychopathy.
Whether we ordinary people are being bullied by psychopathic fascist governments or by equally psychopathic corporations, it’s not nice to be at the receiving end. Worse, we seem to lack the power to do very much about it. As Richard Cooke points out in “A class of their own” (The Monthly, June, 2014), political accountability is a myth. The values and decisions of political and economic elites are basically unaffected by the needs and values of their constituents. A majority of people want less privatisation, more spending on health care, social welfare for the poor (certainly not for the rich) even if all these mean higher taxes. Neoliberal governments give exactly the opposite to what a majority of people want – and tragically for us they seem to be getting away with it. Neoliberalism is undemocratically grabbing power across much of the Western World; it is a juggernaut that must be stopped.
To answer our question: yes, the Abbott Government at least has strong fascist tendencies. That is what hard line neoliberalism does. It is itself a form of neofascism.
The good news for us Australians, as John Oliver’s little doco points out, is that Abbott and his mates are being so kack-handed about it they’ll self-destruct, to peals of international laughter.
• John Green: Freedom of Speech? HERE I have now discovered another nasty little trick in Abbott’s budget. All community legal centres have been forbidden from taking part in any law reform activities or any kind of policy activities upon threat of their funding being cut. They have been explicitly banned from criticism on the Commonwealth government or any of its agencies. One of the major purposes of community legal centres is to develop a policy to improve the law and make proposals for law reform. It is clear the Abbott government opposes freedom of speech and is determined to stop all voluntary bodies from criticising it if at all possible.