“Defence of the Soviet Union begins at Diego Garcia!”
— old Spartacist slogan
There’s nothing about Gillian Triggs in The Australian today. But there will be tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that. Triggs has been designated an official enemy by the Right, and this week’s flurry of attacks will continue. If there’s been a lull at the moment, it’s simply because they are digging up dirt, or trying to.
Triggs is in the cross-hairs for the recent report on children in detention on Manus Island — a story of horror, torture and psychological damage that is difficult to read at times. The report is meticulous and has taken time. The Abbott government accuses it of being a political bomb because it has landed halfway through their term — instead, presumably, of being released, half-done and perfunctory, in the dying days of Labor, which also imposed the policy.
Attacking Triggs’ report for being political because it tells the truth about refugee detention is grimly hilarious, like an eastern European Cold War era play about someone being tried for slandering socialism by telling stories about the Gulag. “But it’s true!” “Exactly, comrade. That’s what makes it such a serious slander.”
The ferocity of the attack, from Parliament and Newscrap, is an attack on the report, an attack on the Australian Human Rights Commission, and an attack on Triggs herself, and the sort of person she is — a woman-lawyer from the heart of the left-liberal rights project. The attack is strategic, but there’s a degree of anger and frustration within it. Triggs personifies aspects of the world — liberal, procedural, reasonable, professional, female — that drives men like Abbott and Brandis to conniptions. The male-menopausal chorus in the conservatoriat are happy to join in.
Triggs has already hit back, quite wisely, and shows no signs of being fazed by such attacks. But that doesn’t mean such attacks have no impact. Such attacks are designed as a form of psychological warfare, to get inside the head of the person under attack. The Australian specialises in this, because it’s run by bullies, and they hire bullies to do the petty work. They get off on contemplating the damage they’ll do to people — all the more, the more the Abbott government turns out to be a dud and a disaster.
That’s why defending Triggs in particular, and the position she speaks from in general, is now a vital and immediate task for the refugee movement. And I don’t think they’ve fully realised this yet. There’s an obvious reason — the conditions of people in Manus and elsewhere is so desperate that someone over here getting a bit of heat from the failing political Right appears to be somewhere down the list of urgent causes.
But that’s a big mistake, because that’s what the toxic Right rely on in conducting these wars. The Right will gather around a threatened personage — until, as with Abbott, they decide to more or less drop him — and they know the Left will parse degrees of suffering, and decide that they can’t, even for a short time, shift energy from the immediate task, the wretched of the earth in a de facto stateless island prison.
But for the moment, defending Triggs is the most necessary and immediate way of advancing the cause of people on Manus, and on the next half-dozen refugee hells we establish. The Spart slogan that begins this piece is an example of what’s known in the trade as an “angular” slogan — it shows how the whole is bodied forth in the part, Diego Garcia being the A-bomb raddled island group with a major Indian Ocean US base.
In that spirit, “attacking the mandatory detention regime begins with the defence of Gillian Triggs”. Because we have to defend the person and the process by which the truth about such things is laid bare, and hit back against such attacks with double the force. I don’t mean hashtags or angry tweets, I mean that the dominant refugee action groups need to divert some resources to a campaign in Triggs’ support. Some of that is the usual stuff, petitions, etc, but some of it needs to be more direct. And it wouldn’t take much.
For example, a leaflet drop in three Liberal marginal seats with a strong left-liberal component — the so-called doctors’ wives seats — would do the trick. You don’t even need to do the whole electorate, just find the half-dozen booths with the highest Green vote, and do it in those areas. Include a pre-paid postcard to the local member with the leaflet — about defending the AHRC and its head from political attack — and then retire to a safe distance.
It’s not going to take more than 50 such cards going to each marginal member — hanging on their seats for dear life, hoping Abbott gets hit by a tram in the Nullarbor before, say, September — to start concentrating the mind. Small cost, big hit. Especially if it were repeated in two or three states.
Or something like it anyway. Could be any one of half a dozen things, but that’s what’s needed. Quite aside from anything else, no matter how tough someone is and accustomed to the attacks, they have a chilling effect. Responding to them is about people being clear that there is an attack on, and that solidarity with one is solidarity with all.
And defence of the Soviet Union begins at Diego Garcia.