US whistle blower Chelsea Manning’s speaking tour has been thwarted by the Department of Home Affairs. And the political right, which complains endlessly about the curtailment of freedom of speech, has been noticeably silent.
Manning was a US intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010, with reports and videos daily coming across her desk detailing the horrors of the United States’ war crimes in the country.
She risked a life in prison by leaking 750,000 pages of the documents and videos to the public. One of the more prominent pieces of footage showed the crew of a US Apache helicopter congratulating each other after slaughtering civilians in Baghdad, and calling them “dead bastards”.
After seven years of incarceration, her 35-year sentence was commuted by then president Barack Obama. She emerged from prison as an impressive activist, taking on the far right in the US and advocating for trans rights.
She was slated to speak in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in early September. Thousands bought tickets to hear her speak; an extra section of seating had to be added in Melbourne to cater for the numbers.
But the Department of Home Affairs issued a “notice of intention to consider refusal” of her visa, throwing her tour into uncertainty. The notice referred to the “character test” added to the Migration Act in 2014 by then immigration minister Peter Dutton. After the notice, her visa was never approved and the application withdrawn after she missed key tour dates.
Manning spoke about the decision at a phone-tree press conference last week, attended by Red Flag.
“The minister can make political decisions … I’ve repeatedly criticised Australian immigration policy in numerous public statements prior to this political decision”, she said. “So it should be unsurprising that there’s a difference in how the policy is applied based on those who are in unquestioning support of the national security establishment of any country versus, say, my opinion.”
This is a clear case of the state shutting down free speech – despite the government’s hollow claims to be its champion. In his first major speech as prime minister, Scott Morrison cited freedom of speech as one of the fundamental values of his government. That was just a week after Manning’s notice came through.
Manning poses absolutely no risk of violence. But she threatens to challenge the militarism and racist immigration policies of the Liberal government, so it’s no shock she was kept out.
Chelsea Manning’s original imprisonment is testament to the lengths that the right wing establishment will go to silence those who speak out.
And the right has plenty of arenas in which to spout hatred. Senator Fraser Anning, for example, has a national platform to call for a “final solution” to Muslim immigration. And those who squeal the loudest about their lack of free speech are usually paid hacks of the largest media conglomerate in the country, the Murdoch press.
It goes beyond ideology. The right can enact laws. They go further than just talking about refugees; they lock them up in concentration camps. They can instruct the cops to go on the rampage against young Sudanese migrants.
The conservatives clamp down on people threatening their own political goals. In Australia the targets usually are militant trade unionists or Muslims critical of Western imperialism.