The Australian Government Respects Goebbels’ Propaganda Principles More Than International Law


Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull may well make you feel ashamed to be Australian, but their use of propaganda would have made Joseph Goebbels proud.

“The Fuehrer once more expressed his determination to clean up the Jews in Europe pitilessly. There must be no squeamish sentimentalism about it… We shall thereby render an inestimable service to a humanity tormented for thousands of years by the Jews. This uncompromising anti-Semitic attitude must prevail among our own people despite all objectors.”

– Joseph Goebbels, 14th February 1942

“Effective border protection is not for the squeamish, but it is absolutely necessary to save lives and to preserve nations.”

– Tony Abbott, 17th September 2016

For human rights advocates, the 28th July 1951 was a momentous occasion. This was the day the global community promised to learn from refusing Jewish refugees during World War II. This was the day for international political leaders to stand up for the rights of the displaced and commit to legal obligations which would protect refugees long into the future. This was the day delegates from around the world gathered in Geneva to approve the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.

For human rights sceptics like Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott, 1950 was a more significant year. This was the year Professor of Psychology Leonard W. Doob codified Joseph Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda in The Public Opinion Quarterly.

The description of 19 principles used by Goebbels in his capacity as Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda is an inestimable boon for Australian propagandists practising their craft 66 years later, really streamlining the process of justifying torture in island prisons.

Those who care about protecting the rights of innocent people admire the UN Refugee Convention for its keystone principle of non-refoulement. They stress that refugees must not be returned to a country where they face threats to their life or freedom and emphasise that this is considered a rule of international customary law. They care deeply that by turning back boats or returning refugees to their country of origin, Australia contravenes this principle.

Those who care more deeply about protecting their seats at the next election admire Goebbels’ 14th Principle, which reads:

Propaganda must label events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.

Goebbels stressed the value of particular phrases to characterise events. These phrases “must make use of painting in black-and-white, since otherwise it cannot be convincing to people”. For example, to portray English unrest in 1942, he used the phrase ‘schleichende Krise’ [creeping crisis]as widely as possible in German propaganda”, both domestically and internationally.

Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels.
Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels.

We’ve been swamped by such phrases in the domestic immigration context over recent years; we have to “stop the boats”, we need “border protection”, we must repel the “illegals” and “unauthorised arrivals” so we can ensure “secure borders”. The Coalition government fear mongers about “losing control of our borders”, an audacious propagandistic translation of “letting refugees flee to safety”.

You can’t help thinking there would have been fewer signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Treaty had it been called the “Losing Control of Your Borders Convention”.

Now that Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull are touring their Little Shop of Immigration Horrors to New York, we’re seeing such phrases contaminate the world stage.

Human rights lawyers revere the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As such, they condemn Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers as torture. In March 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture ruled “Australia’s indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island, the harsh conditions, the frequent violence inside the centre and the failure to protect certain individuals” all violated the Convention. The Nauru Files show torture is not limited to Manus.

Human rights pariahs instead revere Principle 16 of Goebbels’s propaganda strategy, stating:

Propaganda on the home front must create an optimum anxiety level.

Goebbels understood that support from the German public depended on reinforcing anxiety about the consequences of defeat. He wrote in his diary, “The German people must remain convinced – as indeed the facts warrant – that this war strikes at their very lives and their national possibilities of development, and they must fight it with their entire strength”.

The Turnbull government knows the public will only tolerate torture of innocent people if they sufficiently fear the alternative. This explains the frame that either we torture a few thousand brown people in the Pacific and have “secure borders”, or we set them free and face threats to our national security, our borders, and our sovereignty.

It also explains why Peter Dutton talks about refugees taking jobs and occupying welfare queues – he is trying to persuade Australians that an influx of refugees “strikes at their very lives and their national possibilities of development, and they must fight it with their entire strength”. Malcolm Turnbull links refugees with terrorism for similar reasons.

Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton.
Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton.

As part of Principle 16, Goebbels also warned that the Germans were vulnerable to peace propaganda. He feared that American propaganda would be directed “not… against the German people but against Nazism”. The Coalition is similarly aware of the “vulnerability” of Australians to refugee movement activism. It’s why Peter Dutton takes every opportunity to smear refugee advocates and claims they coach asylum seekers to self-harm.

There are many who believe by upholding international law, governments defend human rights and help maintain a fragile peace in the global community. Such people point to the UN Convention on The Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as examples. They then highlight the multiple ways Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers violates these laws and call for the government to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court.

There are others who believe by breaking international law, governments defend marginal seats and help maintain a fragile peace in their own political party. According to their myopic political horizon, international legal principles of protection mean little in comparison to Principle 18 of Goebbels’ handbook:

Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.

The German Propaganda Minister’s goal was to stir up suspicion, distrust and hatred of designated out-groups, usually Jews or Bolsheviks.

People smugglers, refugee advocates and refugees themselves are the current government’s out-groups of choice. They would have you believe people smugglers are the lowest form of human. According to Peter Dutton, “they’re involved in running prostitutes, running drugs, other criminal activities”. According to Malcolm Turnbull, “the reality of people smuggling is one of profit from and exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people on Earth”. Replace “people smuggling” with “Australia’s immigration regime” and you could congratulate Turnbull for his self-awareness. The reality is, in fact, that people smugglers are often refugees themselves.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: Veni, Flickr).
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: Veni, Flickr).

Refugee advocates are another object of hate. According to government propaganda, these advocates are responsible for shocking levels of self-harm on Nauru and Manus. Peter Dutton tells the Australian public it is these human rights campaigners, not the torturous conditions, which are “encouraging these people to behave in a certain way”.

The Coalition also displaces aggression onto refugees themselves and has done so for many years.

In John Howard’s era, refugees were either queue-jumpers who came in the back door or callous parents who threw their children into the sea. Now they’re illegals, job stealers who also drain welfare, fraudsters and racketeers who try to blackmail the government and “take them for mugs”. Some of them could even be terrorists, but at the very least, many of them are Muslim.

In an era when Senator Pauline Hanson tells Parliament that Australia is “at risk of being swamped by Muslims” and the government “respects her views”, following the religion of Islam might just be the refugees’ greatest crime.

Like the UN, the Human Rights Commission, the Greens, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Law Centre, and 110 countries around the world, you might criticise the Australian government for violating the most basic principles of international human rights law. Fair enough, but at least give them some credit for assiduously upholding Joseph Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda.

After all, executing an internationally condemned immigration system which imprisons babies, sexually abuses children, rapes women and murders men isn’t for the squeamish.

It’s only for those who can enforce such a sickening system without feeling a thing.

Liam McLoughlin teaches English, politics, and media, and writes a bit. You can find his stuff at Situation Theatre or on Facebook and Twitter. He still can’t decide which quote is more profound: Karl Marx’s “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” or Stewart Lee’s “David Cameron and Ed Milliband are about as different as two rats fighting over a courgette that has fallen into a urinal. The main difference being that the David Cameron rat is wearing chinos, in an attempt to win over the youth voter”.