Michael Danby

Letter to Sunday Age


With reports of the Foreign Minister fighting the PM’s chief-of-staff, the Treasurer fighting the Immigration Minister, the PM’s chief-of-staff coveting the Social Security Minister’s seat, and the Defence Minister being publicly attacked by several South Australian ministers, you’d think the Coalition had more splits than the Bolshoi ballet.

But it’s worse than even that series of train wrecks would suggest. A looming split between the increasingly strident, influential and fanatically anti-government libertarians and more mainstream conservatives threatens the unity of the Liberal Party on the issue of national security.

In my view, it is tremendously damaging for the Liberal Party to have the ideological right dominated by people who are on the fringe in the UK, Canada or the United States. Frankly, if I were a mainstream Liberal, I would be astonished that one of the chief young zealots of the IPA, Simon Breheny, was in January 2014 elected as President of the Victorian Young Liberals. He is about to win an uncontested election to the Presidency of Australian Young Liberals. Libertarian moons on the outer fringes of the exploding Liberal supernova do not occupy a comfortable position from which to recruit future leaders for life after Abbott, or to drive Liberals back into power in Victoria.

Anyhow, that’s their bad luck. But what will concern Australians who think it is the Government’s primary concern to preserve public safety is that the madcap libertarianism of the IPA is now being used in debates on national security—debates in which these young ideologues have no standing, little knowledge and make basic mistakes trying to fit their square ideological peg into a round policy hole. Chris Berg’s contribution to the Sunday Age is yet another example of libertarian extremism overlaying a most important debate on the primary concern of all serious policy makers—how to prevent a successful terrorist attack on mainland Australia.

Before addressing Berg’s arguments in the Sunday Age, I cite some background.

In December 2010, Berg infamously argued that the security services intercepting terrorist newsletters like al-Qaeda’s was wasted effort. Berg compared al-Qaeda’s advice on how to make a pressure cooker bomb to the antics of the laughable characters ‘Spy v Spy’ in the spoof comic Mad Magazine. Tragically, in April 2013, the Tsarnaev brothers used this very method to kill three and injure 264 at the conclusion of the Boston Marathon.

In the same December 2010 article, Berg described as “stupid” the suggestion that lone wolf terrorists use a car to mow down pedestrians. This tactic was ‘pioneered’ in Britain when jihadists ran down uniformed Royal Fusilier Lee Rigby and has since been used by Palestinian jihadists on Jerusalem streets, where they killed a three-month-old baby and a 22-year-old Uruguayan.

Berg’s Sunday Age article suggests Labor is ‘terrified of looking soft on national security’, and thereby offers nothing less than ‘uncritical support of government proposals’. The IPA spokesperson obviously doesn’t follow Parliament closely. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, after several intense party discussions, pointed out that Labor support for the three bills was contingent on the Government accepting certain amendments. The Government agreed to all 26 improvements suggested by a review undertaken by the bipartisan Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. The recent passage of the three bills is far from an example of ‘knee-jerk reaction’, but rather of a pragmatic and sensible display of bipartisanship from two parties concerned with Australian security. To the right of the Liberal Party, the IPA and the Greens to Labor’s left make for awkward bedfellows.

Wilful ignorance of security issues affecting all Australians is revealed in Berg’s second last paragraph, where he suggests Syria will become a less attractive jihadi destination once more wannabe fighters realise the likely result is ‘pointless death’. For a start, many jihadists paraphrase the line that we Westerners love life as they love death. Martyrdom, in their worldview, is not pointless. Or, to put it differently, disgruntled young men are unlikely to be phased by the prospect of an early arrival in Paradise and, per chance, an encounter with even one of the 72 promised virgins. But even if some do die there, surely Berg can understand that those that don’t learn war-fighting skills they can bring home and use against us Australian infidels. We want to know who they are before they do so. This requires what Berg characterises as intrusive powers.

Berg might be right that 20 Australian jihadis have already lost their lives as cannon fodder for Daesh in Syria, but the potential risk to our fellow Australians of his foolishness and the empty, value-less libertarian whinging about security measures is something that 90 per cent of Australians take seriously.

Both the ABC and Sky, bending over backwards to accommodate the Government’s desire for a balanced, conservative point of view, are endlessly parading these beardless libertarian fools in panel discussions. Surely, it is incumbent on presenters, when discussing issues as difficult and threatening as terrorism, to balance them with one of the many commentators who actually know something about national security and the potential danger of returning jihadists.

Michael Danby is the Member for Melbourne Ports.