The people smuggler bribery scandal has exposed a massive divide between the government’s overheated rhetoric on asylum seekers and legal fact. When he launched Operation Sovereign Borders, Scott Morrison said Australia was engaged in a “war” with people smugglers. This “war” required a militarisation of our response, complete with military-style secrecy to prevent Parliament from bringing the most basic scrutiny to the activities of Australian officials and service personnel.

Except, it’s not really a “war” when you bribe the enemy, is it? Giving material support to the enemy during wartime is, by any normal understanding, treason. Yet Australian officials have reportedly provided support to people smugglers to do what we want them to do, which is take asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

If it’s not a real war, the sort of war where providing aid to the enemy gets you life in jail, then the militarisation makes no sense, and the secrecy that has attached to the government’s efforts to turn back the boats is wholly unjustified.

Instead, what we’re left with is yet another example of how this government wants more and more unfettered and unscrutinised executive power. Power to bribe people smugglers. Power to strip alleged (not convicted) terrorists of their citizenship, without judicial review. Power to allow ASIO to break the law and jail anyone revealing it. Power to cover up ASIS breaking the law under the Howard government. Power to engage in mass surveillance without a warrant.

This is a government that hates scrutiny of any kind — from the media, from parliament, and most especially from the courts. The Abbott government is “big government” in every way, including in the balance between the executive and anyone who might provide a counterbalance to the unfettered exercise of power.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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