Foreign interference and the TPP
A major function of the proposed new national security legislation on “espionage and foreign interference” is to “introduce new offences relating to foreign interference with Australia’s political, governmental or democratic processes” (Mike Seccombe, “Federal war on news, truth”, February 10–16). It seems odd that this measure to restrict foreign interference in Australia’s governmental affairs should be introduced as the government is preparing to sign up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This treaty explicitly allows a foreign corporation to take legal action against a government if it feels that government has implemented legislation that harms its commercial interests. That would be a pretty clear case of “foreign interference with Australia’s political, governmental or democratic processes” wouldn’t it?
– Baz Thrower, Valentine, NSW
Dissenters and media under attack
George Orwell’s Big Brother would have been proud: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” The government’s National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill, as originally proposed, would seek to criminalise “all steps of news reporting”, and would, in effect, prevent the media “from telling people what the government didn’t want them to hear”. Here is a blatant example of the first pillar of democracy (the executive) seeking to control the fourth (an independent press). Another recent example is the government’s foreign donations crackdown bill, which is an attempt to silence dissent from environmental and other groups that are critical of government policy. Freedom of the press is fundamental to democracy; but if people are fed half-truths, or if credible news is inaccurately maligned as “fake news”, they cannot make informed choices. Democracy is then at risk of degrading to authoritarian rule, and to facilitate this, rest assured the government will be on the lookout for an economic or military crisis.
– David Nash, Manly, NSW
The PM’s twisted words
Malcolm Turnbull has emulated Tony Abbott in making Bill Shorten look like a credible alternative prime minister. In his article Mike Seccombe showed how Turnbull has achieved this feat by his betrayal of causes, such as freedom of the press, for which he once strenuously fought. He compounded his betrayal by Orwellian doublespeak, claiming to protect what he was in the process of destroying.
– Mark Porter, New Lambton, NSW
Visits to detention centres made harder
Well said, Karen Middleton (“ASIO’s refugee warnings repealed”, February 3–9), that the recent revelations are proof of “political exploitation of security at the expense of people seeking protection”. The sudden changes on January 22 to visitor entry conditions and application to visit detention centres have successfully reduced the number of visitors and the opportunities for detainees to be exposed to external contact. Can’t Minister Dutton appreciate that having visitors to break the long days of boredom might assist in decreasing the probability of deteriorating mental health, which appears to be accompanying the indefinite detention he is promoting?
– Lorraine Broad, Gisborne, Vic
Playing on our fears
Mike Seccombe needs to be more cautious before celebrating recent wins by progressive ideas over the forces of conservatism (“A playbook for the culture wars”, February 3–9). Though right-wing political tactics often seem too spurious to work on higher primates, it must be remembered that they are largely fuelled by a portion of the hindbrain that has aeons of seniority over any developed cerebrum and which still plays a major role in human affairs today everywhere from Turkey and Hungary to Myanmar and the United States. Our own conservatives have scarcely begun to unlimber their big guns of xenophobia and terrified selfishness. As the tension grows, it can’t be long before “alarmed” joins “alert” in the official warnings.
– John Hayward, Weegena, Tas
A delicate condition
Patrick Hartigan, reviewing the Art Gallery of New South Wales’s exhibition of the Rijksmuseum’s Dutch masters (“Dutch treats”, February 10–16), says Vermeer’s Woman reading a letter shows “a possibly pregnant woman”. Having been to the exhibition, where I greatly enjoyed the Vermeer, I fail to understand how Hartigan could raise even the shadow of a doubt about the woman’s condition. Her advanced pregnancy, the letter she’s reading, and the map in the background give the viewer a clear narrative of a husband abroad. And who today could be unfamiliar with the body shape of pregnancy given very recent media coverage of national politics?
– Rob Wills, Point Lookout, Qld
No defence for arms export plans
While in London in 2006 we talked with protesters in Parliament Square who were deeply concerned that the then British PM, Tony Blair, had given permission for two 747s laden with arms from the US to land for refuelling on their way to Saudi Arabia. We have wondered since how many of those weapons have been used against Australian forces and humanitarian workers, to say nothing of civilians. And now we read the appalling news that our defence industry minister, with the wholehearted support of our PM and cabinet, considers there are insufficient weapons in that region (Hamish McDonald, “Pyne for Payne?”, February 3–9). At the same time as we cut foreign aid, we massively increase spending on killing people. Is there not even one voice in the Coalition and Opposition to plead reason in this appalling decision?
– Barbara Lyle, Tea Gardens, NSW
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 17, 2018. Subscribe here.