It didn’t take long for the Islamophobia behind Abbott’s new terror scare to have its effect.
On Friday 12 September, on the advice of ASIO, Australia’s terror alert level was raised from medium to high, rating the risk of an attack as “likely”. Yet, both ASIO and Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there was “no specific intelligence” of a plot to mount a terrorist attack.
Less than a week later, more than 800 federal and state police launched dawn raids arresting 15 people. But only one person has been charged with preparing an attack, and police have been monitoring him for months. The media has been full of dire threats of beheadings, but the court documents say there was no mention of beheading in the single phone call that supposedly triggered the raids.
Outgoing ASIO Director-General David Irvine, who signed off on the increased terror alert level, said at the time he was concerned that the threat could include a bombing similar to the 2002 Bali bombing.
Yet the only person found with bomb-making materials in recent weeks, along with maps of Sydney, was an Australian using fake navy ID to rent a property in Brisbane.
The Islamophobia behind the raids quickly came into the open. One of those raided but not arrested reported being called a “piece of shit” and punched in the face, while another officer said, “Just don’t make him bleed.”
Only two days after the government announced the increase in the terror rating, anti-Muslim leaflets were thrown into the grounds of a Brisbane mosque at Logan.
Later that week, the Gold Coast Council ignored its own building committee’s approval and rejected an application to build a mosque.
Two councillors received death threats because of their support for the mosque, but there was little media about these threats from anti-Muslim extremists.
The raids come on the eve of new anti-terror laws that reverse the onus of proof and give unprecedented powers to ASIO including impunity to torture.
Abbott’s “Team Australia” is all about fostering Islamophobia while he goes to war in Iraq and wages war on jobs, health and education at home.
The government has fallen over itself in its rush to join military operations in Iraq. Well before it received any request for Australian military help, the government was declaring its willingness to be involved to anyone who would listen.
Bill Shorten has gone along with Abbott’s rhetoric, and his desire to join US bombing in Iraq, declaring that “national security is—and always will be—above politics” and that “the Prime Minister and I are partners”. Shorten even silenced Labor Senator Sue Lines when she dared to suggest that Abbott was “scaremongering” in order to distract attention from the budget.
If the unions, Labor and The Greens do not make the most of Abbott’s misery, and fight his terrorism scare, there is the danger that he can rebuild his support.
No relief for Abbott from budget nightmare
There remains every opportunity to throttle Abbott. The recent return to parliament brought him no relief, with none of the contentious budget measures yet passed. The government has now decided to pretend the failure to pass large swathes of its budget is no real problem, while resorting to threats and blackmail to get bits of it through.
Abbott declared that, “About 50 per cent of our budget savings have already passed smoothly through the Parliament.” But then Chris Pyne threatened to cut university research funding instead if the Senate failed to back his planned increase to university fees. “If the budget stays weak that means higher taxes, that comes out of your pockets”, Abbott said.
They have let slip that they might bundle up a range of new cuts in budget Appropriations Bills, the last lot of which Labor and The Greens agreed to pass earlier this year.
Clive Palmer’s pledge to oppose cuts has proven far less firm than he claimed. Palmer said he would never scrap the School Kids Bonus or the Low Income Super scheme. But in the end he agreed to their phasing out, by the end of December 2016 and mid-2017, as part of the deal to scrap the mining tax. In a surprise to no one, the mining billionaire was happy to put his profits, and his desire to pay less tax, ahead of families and low paid workers.
Fighting to make sure Abbott doesn’t get his way over the budget remains vital. It is still not out of the question that he could stitch up a deal to get attacks like a modified GP co-payment or university fee deregulation through. And if he fails, there are likely to be further cuts on the table in next year’s budget.
So far the unions have been unwilling to build a mass campaign of rallies and stopwork action like the Your Rights at Work campaign under Howard. This underscores the need to get organised and build up the campaigns to Save Medicare and against university fee increases, and put pressure on the unions to organise a campaign that can hit the government where it hurts.