Down boy - no more whistling to tune of terror
Has anyone else noticed there was something missing from the reaction to last week’s failed terrorism plot to stage a Last Stand at Holsworthy?
I pricked up my ears and sniffed the air but try as I might I could no longer detect a dog whistle, that barely audible call to channel justified fear into something altogether more ugly.
In a sign that the Howard era is finally over, both the Prime Minister and the besieged Opposition Leader exhibited a fundamental decency in playing the men and not the race.
Their words on fighting terror were appropriately strong, but there were none of the sly hooks about ‘not in our country’ nor the craven calls to review refugee intakes, those kernels of division that for too long had been part and parcel of our global security debate.
You could argue that Rudd is too much the diplomat wonk to play these games and that Turnbull was too busy being hit by a runaway ute, but the effect was the same: to manage fear and not inflame it.
For those of us who like to whinge about how little there is between the parties it is a moment worth noting; proof positive that when you change a government you do change a country.
And it was interesting to watch the way the media followed our leaders’ example. We were more likely to read stories about lapsed children of migrants than rants against their community leaders.
All of which leaves me wondering whether we are entering a new and more mature stage in our engagement with global security, where our leaders attempt to understand our enemies rather than demonise them.
It’s not as if the situation wasn’t ripe for blowing the whistle. According to The Punch’s Three-Step Plan for Propagating Fear and Loathing, things were lining up nicely.
First requirement for Propagating Fear and Loathing: the threat needs to be realistic, and while the home-grown terror plot caught many in the media by surprise, but not the general public, according to a recent Essential Report.
In late July we asked the public to name Australia’s top security threat and were somewhat surprised to see Local Extremists (23 per cent) coming in just behind Terror attacks in Indonesia (35 per cent) as our number one fear.
Significantly the local threat was seen as far graver than the war on Afghanistan (eight per cent), the war in Iraq (four per cent) and Iranian nuclear capability (three per cent).
These figures are interesting because it shows the grounds to sow fear and still fertile – even before the attacks people saw a real and present danger in their own backyard.
And the Second Requirement for Propagating Fear and Loathing, economic insecurity, is also present, with more than a third of the public currently expecting their economic conditions to deteriorate over the next 12 months.
Indeed, the combination of economic insecurity and defined group of immigrants was the real hook behind the Tampa crisis.
Back in 2000, EMC started packing up rising insecurity amongst Australian workers in focus groups, with concern focussed on off-shoring of jobs and cheap foreign inputs.
We channelled these concerns into the “Fair Trade not Free Trade’ campaign for Doug Cameron and the AWMU, arguing (to little success) that neo-Liberal policies were hurting Australian workers.
The champion of free markets, John Howard, (with help from Mark Textor) took the same information and turned it into a moral panic about boat-people that led to the show down on the Tampa and the election-winning call that we would decide who would come into this country.
Which brings me to the Third Requirement for Propagating Fear and Loathing – political will. Leaders decide whether they want to unlock our better angels or allow fear to reign.
Political parties do not have a mortgage on this.
Labor under the White Australia Policy championed fear; Malcolm Fraser turned his back on it allowing a generation of Vietnamese boat-people to rebuild their lives.
The take-out from the last week, is that whatever else you think of them, we now have two leaders who take their responsibilities seriously – and that’s a great step forward for the entire nation.
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