Australians have two new things to worry about this week.
One is that researchers have found that crocodiles can climb trees. They studied croc behaviour in Africa, North America and Australia and it seems they can climb at least 6 feet, maybe as high as 30, if anecdotal accounts are to be believed.
They may climb very slowly but it may be wise when in crocodile country to look up as well as around.
The other great danger to Australians is the steady creep of the political right out on to a branch that looks like fascism. This may seem startling but there are certain signs that on their own signal a warning but collectively constitute danger.
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The first has been the move by the Abbott Government to accuse the publicly-funded ABC of bias in their reporting of events relating to turning back refugee boats. Prime Minister Tony Abbott felt that as the national broadcaster they should be "for Australia not against it". In other words, it should only report what the Government wants it to report and not what is happening. In a country that considers itself a democracy, this threat to a publicly-owned media outlet is a warning.
The second factor is the blatant political meddling with the way history is portrayed in the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, particularly the attempts to reframe the way colonial history and the Aboriginal resistance story is told. It seems it would be preferable to see the colonisation of Australia glossed over.
In tandem with this has come the call from the Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, for a review of the education curriculum. He feels "it does not do enough to talk about the benefits of Western civilisation" (I guess he means the civilisation that stole Aboriginal land and then a generation of children from their families). He wants the curriculum to "celebrate Australia and to know where we have come from as a nation". If he wasn't so serious you could laugh it off as jingoism but he has set up a review board and seems as determined as Abbott to make a nation see itself through rose-tinted glasses that filter out the "sorry" bits.
The other ominous warning signs are in the events around the government policy to stop the arrival of refugees by boat. They have labelled asylum seekers as illegals even though this not actually correct in law and have surrounded the related border control activity in secrecy. They are using the armed forces to enforce government immigration policy, creating an enemy where there is none and putting the integrity and safety of the nation's sailors in jeopardy by entering foreign waters and ordering them to breach the laws of the sea by not making any real attempt to rescue those crossing the treacherous waters to Australia in unseaworthy vessels. The refugee camps are run by contracted multinationals who are profiting from the miserable conditions that those interned (some of them children and expectant mothers) must tolerate for a long time. The recent sacking of the Sovereign Borders Health Panel should have all Australians worried. The stated reason is concern over leaks that might undermine the secrecy surrounding the Government's approach to "Stopping the Boats". The 12- member panel of psychiatrists, trauma experts, nurses and GPs had been providing independent policy advice to the Government. It would seem this advice was not what the Government wanted to hear so they have been replaced by one military adviser. I suspect the panel of health experts were having their professional ethics tested by the harshness of the Government's strategy and that they could not, in good conscience, ignore the mental and physical health consequences of the current refugee policy.
If you go through this list of government tactics and tick the boxes that define the way totalitarian regimes act, it may cause some concern among all those Australians who remember with pride those who died fighting against fascism.
Terry Sarten is a NZ writer/columnist at large in Australia. Feedback: email@example.com