“This group refused to accept police direction, forced a breach in police lines and ran towards the main front entrance of Parliament House.
“This group was supported by participants from the more general demonstration who were incited to join those involved in riotous conduct by a speaker from the official platform ... demonstrators used weapons, including a large hammer, a wheel brace, a steel trolley and a stanchion torn from the external doors to break open the internal doors ... so far about 90 personnel have reported injuries - including lacerations, sprains, and head and eye injuries. I understand one person required hospitalisation.”
This report was not of the events at the US Capitol last week. It is a statement by the President of the Australian Senate made on 20 August, 1996, the day after a mob of union and other activists stormed our Parliament House in protest against budget policies and industrial relations reforms. The footage is as shocking as last week’s storming of the US Capitol building (go to YouTube and search ‘1996 parliament house riots’).
Most Australians probably do not even remember this riot. Australian democracy survived because all sides of Australian politics condemned the riots. Labor MPs had earlier addressed the protestors. Then Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, worked up the crowd by claiming that the Howard government “hates workers, hates students, it hates Aboriginal people.” But in the aftermath of the violence, Mr Beazley and other Labor MPs condemned the rioters.
There was no Twitter then, but Kim Beazley was not banned from public life although the events hurt his political reputation. Likewise, in the United States, the violence of last week has and ought to hurt Mr Trump’s reputation, but the attempt now to ban him and his supporters risks making a martyr of him and others that would ironically only make them stronger politically.
That is why Twitter’s suspension of Donald Trump is, in the words of Talleyrand, “worse than a crime, it is a mistake”. It is a mistake because it guarantees a divided future for America. While America is distracted, Australia is less safe.
We continue to rely on America’s security blanket to keep our region peaceful. A distracted and divided America makes unrest in our region - perhaps China moving more aggressively on Taiwan - more likely.
So, the dysfunction in US politics means we have to focus more on our own industrial strength and defence. We should stop trying to cool the planet and instead build power stations and factories again. We must continue to increase investment in our defence forces.
We must also protect our own political independence, including from the US. Twitter’s ban of conservative voices raises the question of would they one day ban Australian politicians or commentators too? There are reports that US social media companies have banned accounts in Uganda associated with their elections. There is no way we should allow a US based corporation to have such a direct effect on our elections.
We have stringent rules governing foreign investment in traditional media, but social media operates outside that framework even though it is now having at least as big an impact on our politics as TV and newspapers. These laws must be reviewed now in light of the rise of social media.
We are lucky to have a vibrant and healthy democracy. To keep it we should make sure its safety is entrusted to Australians not others.