Gordon Campbell on Labour prematurely declaring victory over the SIS law

The use of cute labels to market bad ideas is what you do when running the country seems like a process similar to selling soap powder. So we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the Key government seems willing to drape its deployment in Iraq in the spirit of Anzac. If you can’t explain why this deployment is in the national interest, what you aim to achieve, how long you’d be there, what would constitutes success or what your exit strategy would be, then at least you can evoke the feelgood spirit of Anzac on the eve of the Gallipolli centenary, right? ‘Cos feelgood beats thinkgood in the polls, every time.

Only killjoys would point out that one disaster at the bidding of our old imperial allies is more than enough, thanks. Not to mention that in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Australia has been entirely too willing to engage in combat at the bidding of Washington. Waving the Anzac banner – in any sense of a joint mission – would therefore increase the chances that our forces would become drawn into a combat role, and would certainly justify any terrorist treating Australia and New Zealand as a single, unified target zone. The “Anzac” banner only raises the risk to New Zealand, over there and at home – to no discernible national advantage. And regardless of the label, a training deployment would remain a purely token gesture, and would not make one iota of difference to the fate of the Islamic State. “Training” is beside the point, at this stage.

Cute labels, part two. When you want to expand the surveillance powers of the state, and limit the civil freedoms available under the Bill of Rights, what do you call it? The Because We Can Bill? The Mega-State Big Eyes Expansion Bill? The Spies Are Us Bill? None of those sound quite right. What the government came up with is the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill, a name that entirely begs the questions that need to be answered. It assumes that “terrorist fighters” can be safely identified, and that the SIS will not flex its fine new powers against all and sundry that it considers just might have a teeny bit of a “terrorist” inclination.

The attempts mooted so far to amend the legislation show the same tendency to arrive at a rushed “ compromise” for purely political reasons. Tinkering with this or that timeframe – 24 hours without a warrant instead of 48 hours? – or trying to devise wording that will allegedly limit the targeting to the Really Bad People and to no one else, is a mistake that plays into the government’s intention – which is to draw Labour into endorsing its framework.

How can Labour mount an effective, broadly alternative response to the major security services review due next year if it has already signed on to this melange this year ? It needs to keep its powder dry, to denounce the process, to hold out for proper consideration of these serious matters, and to underline the lack of any immediate risk. There are already sufficient powers to revoke passports and to limit support for terrorist groups – such as Islamic State – that are on the United Nations banned list. Labour should know. It devised and passed the legislation back then. It cannot be accused of being soft on terrorism. If it has any interest in the issues at stake – rather than a desire to fold its tent and claim a limited victory for Andrew Little – Labour should maintain a principled opposition. Winston Peters has seen the trap, even if Little hasn’t.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said any watering down of the bill did not hide the fact that the Government was rushing through what he described as very substantial changes. He said New Zealand First’s support was for the bill to go to the select committee and be put under scrutiny by the public. “I’ve never seen such a rush through of legislation that had such a long range projection as it were in the political management of the issue.” Mr Peters was also critical of the Prime Minister signalling further changes next year. He said politicians and the public were being softened up again for something else. “This is a slippery path down which that we should be very very scared about going.”


Playing Possum
Even for long time, paid up members of the Mark Kozelek cult, there has been a renaissance, of late. After 20 years of making some of the most pungently melancholy, memory-soaked music imaginable – e.g. “Alesund” “Moorestown, “San Geronimo,” “Admiral Fell Promises,” “Salvador Sanchez” “New Jersey (Bridge Version)” etc etc – Kozelek has recently embraced a new form of confessional speak-singing. It began on the Among The Leaves album in 2012 and culminated with this year’s big best-selling Benji album.

Along the way, Kozelek seems to have all but ditched his songwriterly artfulness and sculpting of melody. These days, he conveys his thoughts and petty grievances – all of them, with no filtering – via the concrete, mundane details of everyday life. I’ve chosen two tracks. “Tavoris Cloud” is yet another Kozelek song named after a boxer, and comes from his collaboration last year with Desertshore. I love the way it spins its wheels, while inching its way to minor epiphanies. The ambitious new single “The Possum” is more in the spirit of the Benji songs, but goes beyond them. As the song says, it was inspired by a cat-wounded possum that ended up dying under Kozelek’s air conditioner. Another mundane event that opens a door onto…well, the entire fucking universe. He’s a Godflesh fan, apparently. Who knew? The ending is astonishing. Be warned, though; even within the Koz compound, opinion has been sharply divided on this one.