Shut Up! Be Happy! – Silencing of Dissent in Australia
In 1989, in the opening track to Ice T’s album The Iceberg, Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedy’s fame did a spoken word piece titled “Shut Up! Be Happy!” (full lyrics here). In it he paints an America under the control of martial law, where all constitutional rights have been stripped of citizens, all means of dissent and protest quashed, and a place of curfew and governmental control. This dystopian future reflects George Orwell’s 1949 vision in “1984”, where the information available to the public is controlled by a totalitarian government. And I see elements of this dystopian future rearing its ugly head in today’s Australia. How so?
“Remain calm, do not panic.”
If a government wants to rule over a population without any fear of questioning or reprisal, the most effective way to do that is through controlling what information the people can access. Control of information means people can only make decisions based on a blinkered view of the world, and of course, if the information is served up in such a way that it matches the wants and needs of a government, the better it is for that government. No information means no dissent, no dissent means “successful rule”. Furthermore , clouding the information with “smoke and mirrors” makes it difficult for people to decide what “truths” to believe.
It’s important to remember that in a true democracy, government policy should be transparent to the people, accessible to the people, and be up for criticism; The government is a “public service” and therefore should serve the needs and wants of the public it serves. Anything that goes against the needs of the public should be taken to task and scrutinised.
However when one looks at the current government, we see a “Mother knows best” application of policy, where the government not only makes decisions about what should happen within our borders, but also discourages any questioning of these decisions. A “mandate” they call it.
Unpopular decisions made by the government in the “name of the people” are again and again being questioned, but the policy of tight-lipped politicians still holds sway, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which only serves to further muddy the waters of debate.
By this token, a lack of reportage means an apparent lack of any given problem.
“The number one enemy of progress is question.”
Example one is the instant removal of science research in this country. As if in complete disregard for the perilous situation we face on the planet right now, that of anthropogenic climate change, the Abbott government has taken steps to silence the science community by removing millions of government dollars from science budgets. The first move of the government in this regard was the removal of the position of Science Minister, a portfolio that is now buried under the headings of Industry and Education. Since that time, moves have been made to increase our coal output from Australia. Also, any investment in sustainable energy sources have been buried under mountains of red-tape, and incentives for the public to invest in it privately have been removed. The science sector had 1400 jobs slashed with the apparent motive being “cost cutting”, but effectively showing the level of disdain the current government has for research in this country. Remove the scientists, the ones telling us that anthropogenic climate change is a clear and present reality, and suddenly that clears the boards for further exploiting the country for it’s remaining fossil fuels. The result? Money.
“The comfort you’ve demanded is now mandatory.”
Example two, which is closely linked to example one, was the Abbott government’s abolition of Australia’s Climate Council, formerly a government funded, but independent service for reporting on climate related news and updates. Headed up by Tim Flannery, the “Who” section on their website reads:
The decommissioning of this council was again labeled as “cost cutting”, but just under the surface it reveals that the real motive: The government wanted to clear up the opposition to the removal of such environmentally based initiatives such as the dismantling of the carbon tax, the delisiting of old-growth Tasmanian forest and the dredge/dumping in The Great Barrier Reef. All of these environmental incursions could have drastic impacts on the climate of Australia, and definitely are much simpler to pass through parliament if there’s nobody there to refute it. The Australian government are also turning a deaf ear to the UNESCO World Heritage listings in both Tasmania and The Great Barrier Reef, and without the Climate Council’s reporting, this task is much easier. The denial of climate change and environmental concerns are seen as a hindrance to big business, as espoused by Abbott’s key business adviser, Mr Maurice Newman who said “Climate change madness … has been a major factor in the decimation of our manufacturing industry.” It is clear that the Australian government is hostile toward environmental concerns, and is doing everything in their power to make sure nothing gets in the way of their business plans.
“Do not attempt to think or depression may occur.”
Example three is the government’s directive to take control of information regarding the arrival of asylum seekers arriving on our shores by boat. Their excuse for this being that it’s in the interests of those attempting to make the journey if we don’t report it, and that it serves as a deterrent to those planning on attempting the perilous journey themselves. But the real intention of such a move is to remove the “appearance” of the arrivals from the public eyes, since one of Abbott’s oft parroted policy platforms was to “stop the boats”. Designed to make it appear as though, as soon as the Abbott government took the throne in Australia, the boats have miraculously ceased their arrivals, this policy of media silence actually just highlights the fact that the current government’s policies are not only inhumane, but also glaringly unsuccessful.
“National security is more important than individual will.”
Example four comes from the government’s attempts to stop Australia’s top independent and government owned media source, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, from reporting any negative news about government policy and action. The biggest thorn in the Australian government’s side is the fact that the ABC report independently, and often reports facts that are outside the of the government’s interests. In stark contrast, most of the mainstream media (which controls 80% of all media in the country) consists mostly of right-wing propagandists and fear-mongers. Abbott recently asked for an inquiry into the pay levels of ABC employees, in the hope that the public outrage would be sufficient to garner support for his push to deregulate the ABC. In an interview with Sydney’s 2GB, Mr Abbott said:
“The ABC seemed to delight in broadcasting allegations by a traitor … you should not leap to be critical of your own country … You would like the national broadcaster to have a rigorous commitment to truth and at least some basic affection for the home team, so to speak.”
Painting a picture of a traitorous broadcasting corporation is easy when you have most of the mainstream media in your pocket. He also likes to paint the ABC as a leftist propaganda group. But given the far right spin the mainstream media seems to project, in order for the ABC to be seen as “left-wing”, they only need to to the line right between the two ends of the spectrum. I’m sure we will see more in this space in the coming weeks.
“Shut up! Be happy!”
While the current situation is far from the totalitarian dystopia in Orwell’s “1984” or Biafra’s “Shut Up! Be Happy!”, the signs are there that the current government will do everything in its power to dismantle anything that gets in their way. Be it policy, cabinet or corporation, if it doesn’t serve to help the government, it is seen as an obstacle to be mowed down. They wish to control these aspects of our lives, and by doing so, blinkering our experience to a point where it seems nothing is wrong. And highest on the list of threats is access to information.