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The politics of fear, terror and security

By Peter Lewis - posted Wednesday, 8 January 2003

The Politics of Security

Long before the Tampa lurched onto our political stage, politicians of all colours knew security was the hot issue in the electorate.

As a junior media officer with the Carr Government circa 1996 I remember it being drummed into me: "safety and security" - we had to put the words in every media release; industrial relations, transport, health and, of course, that hoary old chestnut law and order got the treatment.

They've been doing it up at Macquarie Street ever since: make people feel scared, then get them to thank you for getting tough on the things you fear.


This week, the police signalled they'd had enough of this politicising of law and order. I suspect most of the public has too; after all the fear has moved onto a much broader international stage.

It is insecurity that drives anti-globalisation and the Fair Trade movement, as well as the reactionary Hansonism that John Howard has absorbed into his own political doctrine.

And then security became terror as September 11 and October 12 shook us out of our insular complacency into an insular paranoia.

All of which is why John Howard is still in The Lodge and the Federal ALP is in disarray - a party seduced by the opinion polls and easy grab is now caught in a wedge between its conscience and the flaws in its modern modus operandi.

Labor is stuck in a phoney discourse that requires a 'tough government' digging in and defending us from our perceived and real vulnerability to the dangerous hordes; to the Other.

Labor will never win on this turf. As the Party of Change it needs to shift the debate to the broader stage about values. Values not fear.


The debate surrounding asylum seekers is a threshold because it reflects the broader dilemma facing the ALP.

Labor's values challenge it to take a position that will actually make it harder to win short-term political backing. But it is this long-termism and its necessary pain that Labor must conquer before it will win office federally again.

A dialogue based on Labor values of fairness, equity and, yes, compassion. As a movement we need more federal MPs like Carmen Lawrence, prepared to put values above expediency to give us a Party worth fighting for.

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About the Author

Peter Lewis is the director of Essential Media Communications, a company that runs strategic campaigns for unions, environmental groups and other “progressive” organisations.

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