Ladies and Gentlemen Of Australia, We Have Entered Room 101


Australia’s ‘national security’ crackdown should make you afraid. That’s what it’s designed for, writes Joe Alizzi.

George Orwell’s words have been bouncing around a lot lately. His name was evoked just the other day by John Pilger in an address at the launch of The WikiLeaks Files. Room 101, in Orwell’s book ‘1984’ was the place where a free thinker would face the most powerful instrument, apart from death, that can stifle one’s thinking and silence one’s voice – one’s own fears.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Australian public, we are now in Room 101.

No, I hear you cry, we live in the ‘Lucky Country’, a land of ‘democratic’ freedom, the land of the ‘Fair go’. Tut-tut – you aren’t in Room 101 any longer. You have already left, my friend – and now you are a dribbling fool repeating the ideas of the Australian ‘Ministry of Truth’.

As an Australian would say, what am I banging on about? Let me start by asking a somewhat existential question of myself – am I Australian? I was born here, grew up here – Bronte Public then Sydney Boys’ High, I have lived here all my life apart from the occasional overseas jaunt. I love Vegemite, the surf, and nice cold beer. Hang on, though…

When I was about 20, I was heading off on my first big trip overseas to Europe. I was partly connecting with my roots, you see, because my parents were born in Italy. And I found out a great thing – I could get an Italian passport and still keep my Australian one. Yes, dual citizenship! How amazing in an increasingly border-controlled world. I felt free, I felt powerful, I felt like Jason Bourne…

But these days I suddenly feel…scared? Step into Room 101 with me just for a moment, if you dare.

My Room 101 is quite crowded. In here are the ASIO thugs who brought me here; Brandis is in here, about to step on an endangered slink and he’s holding a big book with METADATA on the cover. I think he plans to hit me with it.

There’s a guy with a brochure on preventing ‘radicalism’, he’s going to give me the death of a thousand paper cuts, I’m sure.

Someone is waving my passport in front of my eyes. Over in the corner they are beating up the ABC, who look like they are about to give in, but Gillian Triggs has a steely look in her eye even though they’ve pummelled her pretty good.

And guess who’s on a torture rack way in the back? Assange and Snowden, and Manning is lying listless on the floor, bleeding.

So let me explain. Yes, I dare to, even though they are watching, even though they are bringing out the rats to eat my eyes out…

I will work backwards to unravel the fear.

The other day John Key, New Zealand’s Prime Minister met Australian Foreign Minster, Julie Bishop, and he was cranky. New Zealanders, he said, one’s that had spent most of their lives in Australia from childhood, are being deported or facing deportation if they had served more than 12 months in prison thanks, to the new, heartless, immigration laws.

Just before then came the distribution of the ‘radicalisation awareness information kit’, distributed to schools, which links being left-wing and interested in environmental activism with being on a path to radicalism. Oh that reminds me of George Brandis and his ‘Lawfare’ doublespeak, trying to repeal section 487 (2) of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act – because how dare anyone interested in protecting Australia’s biodiverse environment speak out – it’s just criminal.

Attorney General George Brandis.
Attorney General George Brandis.

You know what, I’m sure I signed a petition against the Adani Carmichael coalmine. Hmmm, so… I’m a criminal? If they scan my metadata they might find out that I signed the petition. Uh-oh… METADATA – I gave some money to an activist/left-wing group, I signed other electronic petitions! With Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 my electronic communications can be accessed by more than 20 law enforcement agencies without a warrant, and without my knowledge; who knows what category I’ve been put it.

It sends a ‘chilling’ shiver up my spine, and all the journalists out there have been hit with the same ‘chilling effect’. You see, the Act’s protections for journalists are very dubious, they feel they are being watched, and there are penalties for disclosing or using information about the fact that a warrant has been issued, if you happen to know.

Welcome to Room 101 my friends. Reminds me of something… oh, yes, Manus island – any health professionals disclosing ‘protected information’ (abuse of asylum seekers) also face prison… it’s getting cramped in here.

But it’s because of Daesh – they’re coming to get us you know. They must be, because Border Force was out on Melbourne streets the other day, using the immigration laws to keep us safe.

Here’s the rub in my Room 101, the Citizenship laws – the plan to strip dual nationals of their Australian citizenship if they are ‘involved with terrorism’. Following the chain… I think I’m about to be deported.

No-one would know, mind you, because ASIO brought me here and the post-9/11 2003 ASIO Act permits ASIO to detain and question me for up to seven days, and I can’t even talk about it later if happen to get released.

The 2014 Act is even stronger, making anyone who discloses information about a “special intelligence operation” liable for up to 10 years jail.

Slowly, insidiously, even here in the so-called Lucky Country, we are losing our freedom, our free speech, our voice. It’s worse in the US with whistleblowers getting arrested, and anyone who speaks out gets vilified if they can’t be imprisoned (hey, Julian, how you doing over there, don’t let them get the best of you).

Even if it none of the above is likely to come about, it’s beside the point. The point of Room 101 is to use fear as a tool of oppression, to stifle, to make someone who might dissent heal. If a government wants to, it can turn one’s care for something loved into a criminal act.

In ‘1984’ it was Winston’s love for Julia; in Australia it is a journalist’s (citizen’s) love for transparency and free speech or an environmentalist’s (citizen’s) love for the environment.

Things governments do and say can cause one to even doubt one’s own identity, and can shape societies that are responsive and responsible into obsequious and unreflective masses. It can make honourable people who care frightened, cautious and inhibited from doing what is morally right.

Chomsky well describes in ‘Manufacturing Consent’ that when democracy began to take hold it was clear the powers that be could no longer use force to control populations, so they had to control their minds.

‘Propaganda’ was one way to do that. But even more powerful is fear.

Our own fears can silence us best because they reside within our very fibre and are present in whatever we do, and they can prevent us doing what we could or should do.

Ernest Becker showed how fear (of death and life) is ubiquitous, but denied, which makes it all the easier to use fear to control populations – it’s almost invisible.

The things I’ve listed above are just a few of the things that could be listed governments have rolled out, all in the name of ‘security’, all to ‘protect’ Australians.

Still, I hear you saying that it could be worse, that I should be glad that I live in such a society as free as ours. But when did we start trading off freedom by saying that things aren’t as bad as they could be?

Yes, it’s not Russia or China or Saudi Arabia – the government (probably) won’t send out a hit man to kill me, imprison me for years, or chop off a part of me.

But should I, we, be happy with that?

My friends, if you are happy with that, you have already left Room 101.

I’m sure everything will be alright, though, because you love Australia. If you didn’t know it before, you sure do now.

Joe is a doctoral candidate at UNSW, working on 'Action on climate change' incorporating several approaches with the aim of producing an interdisciplinary thesis on the dynamics of human action within the human space of relation.