Yesterday in Crikey, Bernard Keane made a rational case for accountability from state counter-terrorism agencies. Peter Dutton makes the irrational case for these agencies that they faced “difficult circumstances to stop”. Home Affairs looks to many of us in November much as it did to state auditors in June: underperforming. Perhaps itself a set of circumstances now so convoluted, Home Affairs no longer has the capacity to stop unpatriotic tweets before they happen, much less murders.

It took years of racist Cold War 2.0 propaganda to build this mega-ministry. Without our consent, counter-terrorism could not be so powerfully preached to intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Without our fear, our sacrifice of civil liberties and tax dollars would appear, as they are, too great.

My sense is that the life taken on Melbourne’s Bourke Street shook the faith of ordinary people. My sense is that we will not worship at the church of counter-terrorism as we have done for 18 years. My sensible prediction is that parliamentary faithful will not be shaken into demanding immediate review.

Legacy politicians never choose anything but their legacy of bipartisan cowardice where the “enemy” is involved. Last month, Shorten vowed himself to Home Affairs and on Friday renewed his vows to counter-terrorism. The leader did not condemn homicidal violence per se but the “sort of violence in whatever twisted, perverse definition of ideology or religion makes them do this.”  

Oh. Come on. You declare that violence produced by “ideology or religion” the worst then expect me to believe this is not just another Claytons ALP deceit? Spare me The Politically Expedient Islamophobia You Have When You’re Not Having Another Electoral Defeat.

And, spare Anne Aly. News Corp has called the MP “cloth-eared” and “irritating”. Shorten is bound to follow Dutton’s advice and pull his girl “into line”. Nonetheless, Aly, usually an unsurprising moderate and once a beneficiary of “countering violent extremism”(CVE) — weaponised platitudes from a science-y and unfalsifiable counter-terrorism industry niche—made more sense than any politician with her sustained refusal to uphold rot. The Aly “backlash” feels manufactured to me. The Cold War backlash feels a little more real.

Let’s leave the religious war waged so coldly by the West for and consider just Home Affairs alone. Inasmuch as any national security operation can be made transparent to a supervising body, it must be for the department whose record for keeping records is an official disgrace.

Per this year’s Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) assessment, Home Affairs: “did not maintain adequate records of the integration process” that led to its 2017 creation; recognised but did not adequately address the risk of lost records; itself acknowledges “its records and information management” to be “in a critically poor state”. Just a few highlights from a report that visits a department to find that its “record keeping continues to be poor”. Poor enough that without “urgent and significant action…taken to address the record keeping problems…repeatedly identified” its core functions could be compromised.

“Ideology and religion” is one form of power. The now dead once lively keeper of what could be the nation’s first espresso machine is another. White Australia has long accepted racist law-and-order politics — played by Victoria’s Labor premier Daniel Andrews last Friday as it has been so often before — but may not accept it so readily after the murder of a barista original.

Cold War is an invention. Good, hot coffee is a fact. Forget the tepid latte humour of pissweak politicians. Remember a white latte population far prouder of its taste for migrant cuisine than it is for importing the counter-terrorist US mess.

The life of Sisto will be appropriately honoured by the state. The death of Sisto must be explained by the state.

Did Home Affairs keep meticulous record of its raison d’être: the Islamic terrorist threat? Or, did Home Affairs misplace the file marked “people whose passports we cancelled because they seemed to be pretty keen on fighting with ISIS in 2015”? Should we be worried that 2015 is the year auditors pinpoint as the beginning of the end of a department’s “corporate memory” loss? Should we be worried that the fresh new privatisation that began erasing old memories in 2015 continues apace?

Dutton has overseen 1415 private sector shadow hires in his mission-critical temple. That not one among the highly paid counter-terrorist elite thought to investigate a man with a cancelled passport is very widely unbelievable. The department that publishes 193 lucrative “business opportunities” before its first birthday is the department that fails to consult a suspected terrorist’s Imam. The counter-terrorist leader who implies that Imams and other Muslim leaders “look away” from terrorists leads cannot face his own government’s failure to counter terrorism.

The Dutton-Morrison-Dutton era-ASIO has interviewed an Australian Muslim comic known by millions for his network TV appearances, including that in which he cried for the victims of the Lindt café attack. The Dutton-Morrison-Dutton-era ASIO does not interview an estranged Australian Muslim known to have terrorist sympathies.

But, it’s not just Home Affairs that is a dud. It’s an entire counter-terrorist fundamentalist cult. And it’s entire generations of politicians and journalists too damn craven and/or stupid to see things half as clearly as we do or as a Republican president did: an industrial military complex. Counter-terrorism is no more real, effective or honourable than any other rationale for accumulating wealth or political power.

Surely, the bipartisan political violence of the present is as twisted, religious and ideological as any sort in little Bill’s top ten.

Peter Fray

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