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Issue #1799      October 18, 2017

Roll out of the police state

The Bali bombing on October 12, 2002, was opportunistically used by the government to defend its pursuit of anti-democratic ASIO and terrorism laws. The government warned Australians that they were at risk of a terrorist attack, and spent millions of dollars on a fear campaign, running television commercials and distributing an anti-terrorism kit (with the infamous fridge magnets) to all households. Just five months later the Howard government committed Australia to the illegal war on Iraq in collaboration with the US and Britain.


As for concrete arguments or evidence as to why Australia might be such a target, nothing was offered – although the World Trade Centre and Bali were often cited. When it was suggested that Australia’s role in the war on and occupation of Iraq may 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.

Both the Coalition and the ALP have combined to stifle public comment on proposed anti-terrorism laws that threaten to criminalise social dissent. Legislation introduced into Parliament has created new offences of terrorism, giving the government the power to ban organisations and gives ASIO the power to detain people incommunicado for 48 hours.

Organisations banned

Like the Menzies government’s Communist Party Dissolution Act, “the Security Legislation (Terrorism) Amendment Bill” gave government wide powers to outlaw organisations that it opposes.

The Attorney General can proscribe organisations “likely to endanger, the security or integrity of the Commonwealth or another country.” People who are members or assist banned organisations face up to 25 years imprisonment.

The phrase “or another country” is important. This allows a range of groups that support anti-colonial or national independence struggles to be proscribed. Under this law Nelson Mandela’s ANC or East Timor’s Fretilin could have been banned. Already the government has created a list of groups to be banned, which include Kurdish organisations, and Colombian guerrilla groups the ELN and FARC.

Secret Police

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.

Such powers would not be restricted to those suspected of terrorism, but anyone who might have information regarding politically motivated violence. This could include lawyers and journalists and children.

It is clear these laws will be used to further harass and intimidate the Islamic and Arab communities in Australia and as the “war on terrorism” continues this net has been widened to include anyone perceived as outside the establishment.

Terrorism or activism

Terrorism has replaced communism or subversion as the justification for the secret snooping of intelligence agencies and the development of powerful national security infrastructures.

Often these institutions have worked to shut down political dissent and criticism rather than pursue terrorism. Following the rise of global social movements challenging corporate globalisation, these institutions have scrambled to gain new powers and greater resources.

The attacks on September 11, 2001 in the US gave greater impetus to this process with police and intelligence agencies arguing that terrorism and activism are the same problem and need to be approached in the same manner.

Terrorist acts

The current laws that include terrorism offences have the potential to be used to criminalise militant unionism and direct action from social movements. The Criminal Code was amended to create a definition of “terrorist act”, which includes actions that are made with “with the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”.

Such actions are not restricted to harm to persons, but also include serious damage to property or something that places at risk the health and safety of a section of the public.

The scope of the definition has been broadened even further to include any act that “seriously interferes with, seriously disrupts, or destroys, an electronic system”.

An electronic system is defined broadly to include systems used in most areas of industry, such as information systems, telecommunications, financial systems, the delivery of essential government services, essential public utilities, and transport systems.

While there is an exemption for industrial action and lawful advocacy, protest or dissent, such an exemption does not cover a range of industrial actions such as the effective picketing of the MUA dispute or a range of civil disobedience.

It is easy to imagine that a picket line or civil disobedience could be labelled as terrorist and these laws used to criminalise political opposition to government policy.

Next article – Tax-avoiding parasite

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