In the wake of the Paris attacks, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull returned from a series of international summits to deliver a major parliamentary statement on national security yesterday, ramping up the “war on terror.”
While the style was slicker than his predecessor Tony Abbott, the reactionary message was the same: the continued commitment to the predatory US-led war in Iraq and Syria, along with the build-up of a police-state apparatus and anti-democratic measures at home.
Turnbull took a barely disguised shot at Abbott, declaring that now was “not the time for gestures and machismo” but rather a response that was “calm, clinical, professional, effective.” Behind the urbane exterior, Turnbull is just as ruthless, calculated and determined in the prosecution of the interests of Australian imperialism.
Turnbull boasted that “Australia’s contribution to coalition forces on the ground in Iraq is second only to that of the United States and large relative to our population and proximity to the conflict.” He noted the presence of six FA-18 fighter-bombers, 240 Air Force personnel, 300 army trainers and 90 special forces advisers attached to Iraq’s notorious counter-terrorism service.
Referring to his discussions last week at the G20 and two Asian summits, Turnbull declared that there was “no support currently for a large US-led Western army” to try to conquer territory controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He dismissed any unilateral Australian steps in that direction as “not feasible or practical.”
While calling for a “political solution” in Syria, Turnbull did not rule out joining a large US-led army in the future should Washington’s demands change. While no request for greater military commitment has been sought, he said, “if one were [made] we would of course carefully consider it.”
Turnbull’s statement was riddled with lies and hypocrisy, which went unchallenged by the opposition Labor Party and Greens. The renewed US-led military intervention in the Middle East is not seeking to “defeat terrorism” but to ensure Washington’s domination of the energy-rich region. The Obama administration’s main objective in Syria is the ousting of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, not the destruction of ISIS and other extreme Islamist groups, which have been funded and armed by the US and its allies.
Turnbull is able to posture as a statesman on “national security” only due to the lack of any criticism in the political establishment, as well as the fawning support of the media. Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten pledged ongoing bipartisan support for the “war on terror” and echoed Turnbull by expressing concern about “an escalated presence of Western troops.” Greens leader Richard Di Natale said Turnbull’s speech was a welcome departure from Abbott’s “divisive and aggressive language.” He called for a halt to air strikes, not because of their criminal character, but because “they didn’t make Australia safer.”
Both the Murdoch- and Fairfax-owned media hailed Turnbull’s speech. An editorial in today’s Australian headlined, “Turnbull is solid on security,” noted “some change in tone and style,” then commended Turnbull’s stance for “its continuity with that of his predecessor.” The Sydney Morning Herald editorial focussed on need for a so-called political solution in Syria. It welcomed Turnbull’s “calm, clear, professional, effective” approach “in contrast to the sometimes hawkishly overblown rhetoric of his predecessor.”
These comments highlight the fact that Turnbull’s “change of tone” is bound up with consolidating the broad consensus across the official political spectrum for the bogus “war on terror.” It is aimed at stifling and intimidating any criticism and opposition to the war abroad and attacks on democratic rights at home.
Turnbull emphasised a new focus on the increased “threat environment in South East Asia,” which he discussed “in depth with the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.” He announced even closer collaboration, particularly with Malaysia and Indonesia, in intelligence and counter-terrorism—in line with the broader US strategy at the Asian summits to strengthen regional security ties, not to defeat terrorism, but to prepare for war against China.
Turnbull declared that there were no plans to boost Australia’s military presence in the Middle East as the government was “mindful that Australia has a range of security priorities across the globe and in our own region.” The Australian military is closely integrated into the US military build-up in Asia which over the past month has included provocative forays close to Chinese-controlled islands in the South China Sea.
On the domestic front, Turnbull reaffirmed all Abbott’s policies:
* He bragged about the government’s militarised “border protection” policies that have condemned thousands of refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat to indefinite detention. “Unlike the Europeans, we are in control of our borders,” he declared. “The people smugglers’ business model has been broken. The boats have been stopped.”
* Turnbull justified the huge build-up of the intelligence and police apparatus, claiming that “a terrorist incident on our soil remains likely.” Pointing to a further expansion, he said the government was “examining closely the implications of the Paris attacks for our own domestic arrangements.”
* He announced that a new National Terrorism Threat Advisory System would be rolled out this week, accompanied by discussions on closer anti-terrorism collaboration with state governments, and called on police and other agencies to test their response to “a mass casualty attack.” This week, with the support of the Labor opposition, the government is pushing through draconian new “counter-terrorism” legislation to strip individuals of their citizenship.
* Turnbull boasted of the government’s “investment in Countering Violent Extremism program which has tripled over the past four years to more than $40 million.” These measures include highly intrusive interventions into schools, educational institutions and other organisations to identify not only those susceptible to Islamist propaganda, but any individual hostile to government policies.
In particular, Turnbull urged the cooperation of Muslim leaders and groups “in denouncing violent extremism and teaching unity in diversity, mutual respect instead of hatred.” This cooperation, however, is within very definite bounds. When the Grand Mufti in Australia, Ibrabim Abu Mohammed, issued a statement last week highlighting the “causative factors” of terrorism—military interventions, the curtailing of democratic rights and the promotion of Islamophobia—he was widely condemned throughout the political and media establishment. Any hint of criticism of the “war on terror” is treated as illegitimate.
Like their counterparts in other imperialist countries, Turnbull and his government have seized on the Paris attacks to press ahead with their agenda of war and austerity, as well as the suppression of the opposition and resistance of workers and youth.