In late 2018, eighty-one thousand people petitioned the Department of Home Affairs to stop U.S.-based fascist, Gavin McInnes, from entering Australia. The petition cited McInnes’ calls for violence against women and people of colour and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s listing of Proud Boys, the group he formed, as a hate group. Home Affairs refused McInnes a visa on character grounds. Many celebrated this as a victory. It’s not.
Last year Chelsea Manning, international cause célèbre persecuted by the U.S. government for exposing its war atrocities in Iraq, also failed Home Affairs’ character test. Despite a petition of nearly 20,000 to grant her a visa, the department didn’t let her in. On the same September night that people piled into the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre to see Manning speak via video hookup, a different audience arrived at the Sofitel hotel, just blocks away, to hear far-right Nigel Farage. Canberra sees this fascist-friendly politician and former leader of the über-right UK Independence Party as no “risk.” This reveals a lot about how the powers-that-be view “community safety.” It’s not lost on those attacked by police every time we organise to stop fascists and the far right.
Nothing neutral about the state or its “character test.” Home Affairs uses “good character” as a criterion to grant or deny visas or deport foreign-born people, and it has huge scope for this. According to Section 501 of the Migration Act, the minister only needs to conclude that a person “is or may be, or would or might be, a risk … to the health, safety or good order of the Australian community or a segment of the community … or the health or safety of an individual or individuals.”
Since 2014, when the law was amended to expand ministerial discretion, deportations of residents without Australian citizenship have increased. It doesn’t matter if they have lived in Australia for many years, or most of their lives, and their networks are here. New Zealanders have felt the brunt of this. In the past two years, more than 1,000 have been forcibly deported, more than 60% being Maori or Pacific Islander.
Many of those expatriated were convicted of a crime with a prison sentence, or cumulative sentences, of a year or more — usually for petty offences. A North Korean refugee in Australia since 1993 is being deported, based merely on drug-related crimes and despite the department knowing he will face certain execution or forced labour on his return.
“Character” vetting is an instrument of border control, to keep order at home. It is part of Australia’s internationally condemned treatment of refugees, ongoing White Australia policy, police racial profiling and intensifying crackdown on civil liberties. We should not be appealing to authorities to exercise it, ever.
Growing repressive powers. The shocking attack on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers on 11 September 2001 diverted public attention away from the real danger for most of us — the collapsing global economy. From Washington DC to London and Canberra, “terrorists” have been the easy excuse for stripping away people’s rights — to “protect the community.” Australia legislated control orders against individuals, detention without charge or trial and searches without warrants. Now children can be detained without charge for up to 14 days. In the last couple of years, Victoria passed laws to define “affray” and “violent behaviour” as crimes with heavy prison sentences. Policing is increasingly militarised and its powers expanded. In Victoria, the Andrews government is funding more than $2 billion for new weaponry, a state-of-the-art surveillance centre and a data intelligence program that will merge databases and enable predictive tracking. In December 2018, federal Parliament rushed through legislation obligating technology companies to give police and security agencies access to encrypted messages.
How to deal with fascists. All of the above are part of the well-oiled machinery operated by the capitalist élite to exploit, oppress and control the working class. It uses this power to protect itself from the example of those like Chelsea Manning, who courageously stand up to it and show us what we’re capable of. Self-defence is the protective weapon of the oppressed. When we unite and organise ourselves, we not only shut down the McInneses, we disrupt the machine.