The Terrible AA Bill
In amongst the craziness of the final sitting week of Parliament, we had the rushing through of a bill designed to force tech companies to allow Government agencies to monitor communications via phones. The Coalition rushed the bill through, and Labor decided to vote for it, despite its flaws. This by Paul Karp in the Guardian outlines exactly why the bill is bad and has many serious implications. Labor has decided that this issue is for them a Non Core Issue and therefore they needed to neutralise it.
Cue Twitter outrage ever since. More specifically, cue outrage from tech experts, who know about the dangers of this ham fisted, clumsily assembled bill. It’s an understandable response. This is, after all, a government that told us all to “wait until other nations act” about climate change – and then didn’t when those other nations did act. Yet on this bill, we are now a guinea pig in cracking encryption, a nation others are looking towards. There’s no guarantee that our phones would be secure from attacks allowed by the forced creation of security backdoors. A New Coalition motto could be – Hard on climate, soft on giving into law enforcement agencies with crazy ideas. But the main focus in the discourse afterwards has been on Labor’s capitulation, as captured so beautifully by Dave Pope.
Labor’s Sophie’s Choice and the Media
Yes, it was a craven crumbling in the face of a terrible policy – but the question remains – what choice did Labor have?
One thing that has been consistent since the Tampa incident in 2001 is that the Coalition have been very good at grasping the high road when it comes to triggering moral panic around the abstract concept of toughening “National Security”. That machine is well oiled, as even the mild mannered Christopher Pyne was keen to make this absurd suggestion, which was deleted afterwards, but still, the tactic is again revealed :
The reaction from tech experts Labor is vulnerable on this, especially if a random “terrorist” attack occurs over Christmas. Mainstream media outlets – Channels 7 and 9, to a lesser extent 10, News Limited, Fairfax and even the ABC would be easily swayed by Coalition politicians and by various media commentators to connect such an attack to the “need” for ways of monitoring the communication tools used.
Imagine, in such a scenario, Bill Shorten having to explain to Kochie why it is Labor is opposed to “checking the phone of a terrorist”.
Not that this notion has much currency in the discourse on Twitter about this bill. The discussion has been surrounding the concept that people must not vote Labor first because of their capitulation, just as with offshore asylum seeker detention and the human tragedy that is ongoing on Nauru. As such, there are some who claim that Labor would suffer a huge backlash. That might be too large a claim, however, because while this issue is big on Twitter and amongst tech experts, there’s little evidence of it hitting the mainstream – ie. popular commercial media – unless, as the last comment here suggests that iPhones and Facebook are directly affected. Even then, there has been so much suspicion and dislike cast on Apple, Google and Facebook that perhaps it would be difficult to whip up sympathy for multi-billion dollar companies.
Core and Non Core Priorities
The idea of voting Green or other parties that oppose ridiculous capitulations like this is a reasonable idea, but it’s not going to change Labor policy on things like this bill at this stage. The reason it won’t is because Labor has shown over the years that they have core and non core priorities. Its core priorities have not changed much over the decades – workers’ rights, pay, providing public services such as transport, schools and hospitals. They are the Labor Party – their core is about people who work and providing a better life for them. They have added some issues to their roster, such as marriage equality and injecting rooms – but usually only due to pressure brought to bear by the Greens vote, such as in Melbourne. Those policies, however, are only adopted when the electoral calculus shows that they won’t lose many votes, but would gain votes for taking such a stand.
There are, however, the Non Core issues where the ALP realise that they gain no votes by having an alternative policy to the Other Major Party – and would only lose votes. This is supported by multiple polls that show voters have been sucked in my mainstream (ie. widely read) media’s representations of National Security. That the two parties need to be in lockstep. That the ALP must neutralise these Non Core issues, in order to have clear air on that same media in regards their Core issues. We have seen that with asylum seekers, we have seen that in Victoria, where the Andrews Government is pretty “tough on crime”, as outlined in this pre-election piece.
The AA Bill, right now, seems to have deemed to be a Non Core Priority. After all, Labor can afford to abandon those people who may now vote Green or Pirate due to such an action – but they know those people will most likely vote Labor via preferences anyway.
To suggest that Labor abandon such a Core / Non Core approach to the next election is to deny the dangers that could occur if they do. Yes, the current Liberal Government is possibly in a death spiral and the last week, and the last week looked a mess to those who closely watch politics. But to DIDO media users – those who dip in and dip out, stuff like that means little to them. They may be confused as who the PM is, but by next year, the election will focus on jobs, the economy, infrastructure, hospitals, schools, like they always do.
The election next year may well be closer than people on Twitter may think. Labor can’t afford to take risks. It sucks, and their support on this issue is bad. It’s difficult to see how we can get out of such a cycle.