“The problem is that we may be ignorant,
but we are becoming increasingly less blissful about it.”
IT IS NOW CLEAR that the underlying principle of the Abbott government is to be ignorance: not only are the masses to be kept as far as possible in the dark, but the government itself does not want to know.
Thus last week, in the wake of more disturbing pictures of the mistreatment of Australia’s live animal exports on ABC television, the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce declared that he had cancelled the previous government’s plans for an independent inspector of animal welfare to hear the facts from a qualified and impartial observer would only confuse him. After all, he already knew what he was going to do and he did not need any distractions.
This, of course, follows logically from the government’s approach to climate change. Having already ended funding for the Climate Commission headed by Tim Flannery in what was a blatant but unsuccessful attempt to kill the messenger (Flannery and the Commission are pressing on with the aid of private contributions) the Minister against the Environment, Greg Hunt, now dismisses the latest findings from the independent
Climate Institute as “the silliest report I’ve ever read.”
Hunt’s ostensible annoyance stemmed from the Institute’s unremarkable conclusion that Australia’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 was now clearly inadequate; in the interests of both science and equity it should be increased to at least 15 percent and preferably 25 percent. Given that all the economists say that Tony Abbott’s Direct Action plan has no hope of even reaching the five percent without a massive increase in funding, which Abbott has ruled out, this was not what Hunt wanted to hear.
Hence, the Climate Institute is now officially a “partisan organisation,” an enemy. So it can be, and will be, ignored, along with everyone else who fails to toe the line.
Of course, some realities cannot simply be wished out of existence; these just have to be hidden. Asylum seekers, or illegal arrivals, as they are now to be termed since Generalissimo Scott Morrison’s latest excursion into Newspeak, are the most obvious example; in his latest socalled briefing, the minister was prepared to boast that no boats had arrived in the previous week, but was unwilling to say whether any had been contacted or turned back. Such matters remain a military secret.
The Treasury’s Blue Book, the manual prepared for the incoming government, has, for the first time, been suppressed; if we knew what the ministers had been told, we would also know when they did perverse and stupid things about it, and this would undermine confidence, which would never do. Far better that we imagine that they do perverse and stupid things because they simply don’t know any better.
But the most telling example of the new regime of silence and perhaps the most risky, has been the handling of the negotiations surrounding the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, or TPP – initials which are rapidly acquiring a connotation as sinister as KKK. The TPP started in 2006 as a loose economic grouping of Brunei, New Zealand, Chile and Singapore, but the idea quickly caught on and in 2010 a proposal was made to expand it into a major free trade block to cover most of the Pacific rim nations, including Australia, the USA, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Malaysia and Vietnam – but not China. Indeed, the TPP was widely seen as an attempt to counter China’s growing economic clout in the region, although many of the participants have hedged their bets by attempting to negotiate separate free trade agreements with China.
Without China, the TPP will be dominated by the USA, creating fears that it could become just another vehicle for promoting American interests, because after all the Yanks have form; Australians are still smarting from Washington’s attempts, some of which were successful, to shaft us through the bilateral Free Trade agreement which we concluded in 2004. And the suggestion now is that where they failed with AUDFTA, they hope to succeed with TPP, particularly in the field of intellectual property rights.
And because the discussions have been held in strict secrecy, the suspicions have increased to the stage where they are approaching paranoia. There have been no less than 19 closed sessions since serious negotiations began in 2010. A deadline to finalise them had been set for this year, but it now appears to have failed. Nonetheless it is known that many of the participants are getting impatient: President Barack Obama has given orders that they be fast-tracked from here and a draft agreement has in fact been prepared. And of course we still don’t know what’s in it.
Last week Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offered to try and quell some of he anxiety by holding what was billed as a “public briefing.” It turned out to be nothing of the sort: the public and the media were rigorously excluded and those who were allowed in – presumably the stakeholders of industry, although the invitation list was also confidential – were sworn to vows of silence.
The conspiracy theorists are now having a field day, convinced that it is a plot by the new world order designed to exert totalitarian control over our minds and bodies through the restriction of all goods and services to maximise the profits of the corporations who really rule the world on behalf of their Jewish-Catholic-Masonic- Martian masters. Cooler heads consider this unlikely, but would still like to be told just what is being agreed to in their names.
The TPP may in the end turn out to be a good thing, benefitting rich and poor nations alike, but simply because the talks have been conducted behind an iron curtain, people will always worry that however bland the final wording appears, there is something sinister lurking in the small print.
Tony Abbott and his colleagues clearly believe that it is best for us to remain in blissful ignorance; the problem is that we may be ignorant but we are becoming increasingly less blissful about it. If what we don’t know isn’t hurting us yet, it is storing up hurt for the future. And what hurts the electorate will eventually hurt the government.