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Issue #1798      October 11, 2017

Children as enemies of the state

The phenomenon of the “disappeared” is not a foreign experience, found only in such crimes by the ruling powers as the dirty war in Argentina in the 1970s. The stolen generations of Aboriginal children – a state crime – is still underway and lately intensified by the increased land grab by powerful vested interests, headed by the transnational mining corporations.

Photo: Anna Pha

The new laws, under cover of anti-terrorism mooted last week by the Turnbull government – with the support of state governments – that along with other punitive measures, allows the state to abduct and incarcerate children as young as ten, should be viewed as beyond the government’s narrative of public safety and terrorism and its deception that the state is a benign machine administering care and protection to citizens.

It should also be seen in the wider context of the government’s commitment to and preparations for a major conflict in the Asia-Pacific (see Editorial page 2). These preparations include the ramping up of the military industrial complex, turning Australia into a manufacturing hub for the production of weapons of mass destruction with its trillions in profits, and a missile shield, part of the interoperability and integration of the Australian military with that of the US.

Facial recognition technology will be deployed at airports and shopping centres. “Suspects” will be detained for 14 days without charge, including children.

Terrorist acts, even as so widely defined in Australia, have resulted in three deaths: two at a café in Sydney’s Martin Place perpetrated by an individual with known mental health issues and a criminal record who had been taken off a police watch list; and another of a police employee outside Parramatta Police Centre in Sydney’s west carried out by a 15-year-old boy.

These tragic events have been seen as an opportunity to be exploited by the government to introduce the oppressive powers of a police state.

Beginning in the late 1990s, legislation was introduced which made the definition of terrorism so wide, and the powers of ASIO so broad, that it is not just “terrorists” who have to worry about the laws. It is every Muslim, every activist, and every person who is concerned about civil rights.

Western world leaders claim that the September 11, 2001 attack in New York City has changed the world and, as a consequence, Australia is at risk of a terrorist attack.

These laws give ASIO, police and other authorities wide-ranging powers, which could be applied not only to terrorists or would-be terrorists, but to anyone who might possess some information that ASIO or other authorities believe might “assist” them in relation to suspected individuals or groups.

These powers remove many important democratic rights, bypass courts and may be executed in complete secrecy. The penalties for breaches include life imprisonment, and the fact is that the introduction of these laws began well in advance of September 11, 2001. The government has used the 2001 World Trade Centre bombing to justify passing further legislation.

The present “anti-terror” measures can be traced back to the pre-Olympic period, when the Howard government passed legislation (generally supported by the ALP) to give the military certain powers to be used against civilians where there is a possibility of violence. These powers include giving the military the right to shoot to kill civilians.

The NSW state government also introduced a number of bills increasing police powers. These laws subsequently became permanent.

In early 2002, the federal government introduced a number of bills, including the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 (ASIO Terrorism Bill). It was eventually passed in 2003 with the government forced to concede some relatively minor amendments to get it through the Senate. It became law in 2003.

The bill was strongly opposed by civil rights groups, left political parties, some ethnic and religious groups, and sections of the legal fraternity. Opposition to it never gained the momentum necessary to challenge and defeat the bill.

Using a broad definition of terrorism, the legislation creates a series of offences such as collecting or making documents connected with terrorist acts, possessing things connected with terrorist acts or financing terrorist acts. All offences can attract a penalty of life imprisonment.

People will be able to be held incommunicado with no right to a lawyer and no contact with family or the outside world. People could face up to five years in jail for refusing to answer questions, removing people’s right to silence.

When it was suggested that Australia’s role in the war on and occupation of Iraq might have created a real risk of a terrorist attack on Australians or in Australia, the government frantically denied any such link, to the point of gagging the Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty when he raised the possibility that Australia faced a bigger risk because of the war.

Objectively, the “war on terrorism” has resulted in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The stated reason for the invasion of Afghanistan was the pursuit and capture of Osama bin Laden, and for the invasion of Iraq that country’s alleged possession of “weapons of mass destruction”, both of which have been exposed as bogus.

Both the Coalition and the ALP have combined to stifle public comment on proposed anti-terrorism laws that threaten to criminalise social dissent.

Next article – The deep roots of the Catalan crisis

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