Prove your humanity

It’s been an eventful week for uni students and young people planning their degree. Changes to the way the Federal Government funds universities are set to double the cost of humanities degrees, while also increasing costs for degrees in commerce and law.

The changes announced on June 19 were instantly called out as hypocritical by journalists and other people in humanities, who pointed out that not only did they get jobs after studying humanities, but so did Education Minister Dan Tehan and a bunch of other political heavy weights like former PM Malcolm Turnbull.

However, before the controversy could work up a head of steam, the big story of the day changed as PM Scott Morrison called a press conference.

Team Australia is under attack! A foreign government is attacking our cyber security!

But who’s attacking? Morrison couldn’t (or wouldn’t) say.

How long has this been going on? Ages apparently.

Why tell us now? Just thought we should raise awareness, it’s important for the people to know, Morrison said.

Cybersecurity is important, but the timing of the press conference was odd given the major announcement about uni fees just hours before.

Journos quickly took to Twitter and asked, could the government be trying to cover their tracks? Could they be trying to distract us with vague international threats?

Charlie Lewis is a political journalist at Crikey and has worked in various union and government roles. He says this distraction is called ‘taking out the trash’, and it happens when a government makes a controversial announcement while something major is going on to distract us.

“When a massive story drops in one direction and everyone’s attention is towards that they’ll try and quietly get rid of some difficult or unpopular policy,” he says.

Taking out the trash also happens when an announcement gets made on a Friday, usually in the afternoon, so it doesn’t get the same level of criticism and scrutiny over the weekend.

The changes to uni fees were announced on a Friday.

Charlie says taking out the trash is a common political tactic at all levels of government.

“It’s too well established for it not to be a deliberate and knowing thing,” he says.

“You just have to watch for what gets released on a Friday afternoon.”

He says the timing of the cyber-attack announcement, which was later confirmed to be about China, was especially interesting because the government had to provide their own distraction from the new uni fees.

“It’s interesting that this happened now, with the threat of COVID starting to die down in Australia,” he says.

“It’s interesting that they can’t rely on everyone’s focus being elsewhere because of COVID they have to create their own taking out the trash moments themselves.”

“I guess what’s interesting about that in particular is that’s a case of sort of proactive taking out the trash”

Cybersecurity is important, but it’s worth knowing Australia’s own cyber record is not good. As for the original announcement, it contained such tiny details, Charlie says it was clearly an attempt at distraction.

“There was so little content in that announcement it sounded very big but if you poked at it, it kind of collapsed.”