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In March, free expression was the victim

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Editorial By Alison Broinowski

On the Ides of March, the British Supreme Court refused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange permission to appeal against a decision to extradite him to the US to face charges of espionage. WikiLeaks had published American documents given to him in 2010 which embarrassed Washington. Australia said nothing to support him.

In March, two British women jailed in Iran for more than five years were released and repatriated, after the UK government paid $709 million it had owed to Iran since the time of the Iranian revolution. Australia has no such debt to Britain, but apart from Anthony Albanese saying ‘enough is enough’ for Assange, Australia did nothing to negotiate his release.

About MH17, even while the US withheld their satellite evidence of the 2014 shoot-down, Australia agreed with Ukraine, the UK, and the Netherlands that Russia did it, and in March our government sued Russia.

Throughout March, Russia and Ukraine revived a centuries-old territorial argument, whose latest inflammation was sparked by the American-supported Maidan revolution in 2014, and by the eastward expansion of NATO. Australia said whatever the US and UK said in favour of Ukraine.

Russia, the invader of Ukraine, is obviously guilty of aggression. So, arguably, were the Ukrainians who had repeatedly attacked the eastern, Russian-populated provinces for eight years. Both sides caused immense suffering and destruction, to no purpose. Russia bombed Ukrainian cities. Ukraine fired imported missiles. False narratives proliferated.

Australia sent $21 million in military equipment, $65 million in humanitarian aid, and 70 000 tonnes of coal to Ukraine. Our government sanctioned 41 Russian individuals and corporations but did nothing about two large investors in fossil fuels, until publicity forced it to do so.

More than five years ago, the US coalition in Iraq inflicted widespread destruction on Mosul, Fallujah, and Raqqa, while Russia and Syria bombed Aleppo. Israeli invaders of Syria and the Palestinian territories created mass casualties, then and since. Australia didn’t mention that, nor do anything to prevent it. We are doing nothing now.

President Biden said ‘the free world is coming together’ against President Putin, and the Australian MSM editorially agreed. The Russian invasion has returned the US to ‘the moral high ground’, the New York Times joyfully reported (SMH, 15 March 2022). Minister Simon Birmingham said we march ‘in lockstep’ with the US with the in opposing the invasion. Biden said Putin cannot remain in power, and our government didn’t disagree.

From this new moral high ground, what do we and our allies survey? An ‘arc of autocracy’, according to the Prime Minister, the revived Axis of Evil. Now, our present, remote enemy is Russia and our proximate, future one is China.

The Murdoch media’s Bernard Salt is convinced, like most Australians who rely on the MSM, that the war in Ukraine has made Russia a ‘global pariah’. Ukrainians, he wrote (Weekend Australian Magazine, 12-13 March 2022), have chosen freedom, fighting for their culture, way of life, and self-determination, using current communications technology to do so. But the West’s secret weapon, he claimed, is

our capacity for, and celebration of, dissenting voices. The Australian, let alone the American, political process, is a crucible of competing ideas…whose people enjoy the freedom to say and do as they wish (within the bounds of the law).

Dictators in the arc of autocracy, by contrast, said Salt, ‘suppress freedom, control and constrict dissenting opinion’.

But in Australia, there’s a lot of constriction of opinion going on in social media, on Q&A, in letters to editors, and in ‘freedom’ of information. Salt didn’t mention that. Meanwhile the Guardian reported that ADF personnel were ordered not to speak publicly about climate change, except through the Minister’s office (which later denied it).

Still facing court over his revelations from Afghanistan, Major David McBride was asked if the invasion of Ukraine is illegal. Recalling the invasion of Iraq, the former ADF lawyer said in a statement on Twitter:

‘If we don’t hold our own leaders to account, we can’t hold other leaders to account. If the law is not applied consistently, it is not the law. It is simply an excuse we use to target our enemies. We will pay a heavy price for our hubris of 2003 in the future.’

Constriction of dissenting opinion holds back mediation in Ukraine. This could not be more painfully obvious than in the long torment of Julian Assange, David Mc Bride, Witness K, and Bernard Collaery. They revealed the truth about wars of aggression and secretive acts of government to which we in AWPR have objected. Whoever controls the narrative controls the world, and that’s why those in authority want them to be silenced. We continue to seek accountability from our elected leaders for those wars, and before future wars happen.


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