Liberal & Labor agree:
Troops on our streets
by Anna Pha It appears that the Federal Government's legislation to legalise and legitimise the use of Australian Defence Forces (ADF) against the civilian population to prevent or suppress political actions will become law in time for use during the S11 demonstrations against the World Economic Forum in Melbourne and during the Olympic Games. The Bill is scheduled to come before the Senate on Wednesday this week and has received the full support of the Labor Party. (See last week's Guardian for details of the Bill.) Support for the Bill is so bipartisan, that when I asked for more information the ALP spokesperson referred me to a press statement by the Coalition's Attorney General and Defence Minister! The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civil Authorities) Bill was passed through the House of Representatives in one day (June 28) virtually unnoticed on the eve of the introduction of the GST. The Bill provides for the call-out of military forces to be used against the civilian population: "to protect Commonwealth interests" or when a State Government makes a request for protection of the State "against domestic violence that is occurring or is likely to occur". ("Domestic violence" in this context does not mean family violence.) The Bill gives military personnel wide powers including the power to move, search and detain people. It permits the use by military personnel of "reasonable and necessary force" and allows the military to shoot to kill to prevent serious injury or if they feel their life or another person's life is in danger. Military personnel may also shoot to kill if someone attempts to escape being detained by fleeing, has been called to surrender and the military person "believes on reasonable grounds that the person cannot be apprehended by any other manner". The Government and ALP claim that the Bill does not change the circumstances under which the Defence Forces may be called out, it only codifies them and adds "safeguards" for the public where there are none now. The Bill specifies certain procedures and some paperwork but to suggest that these are adequate safeguards as do the Labor and Liberal parties is laughable. The Bill does not provide the sort of safeguards that are needed in a democratic society. There is one restriction on the use of the military: they must not "stop or restrict any lawful protest or dissent". In reality this restriction offers very little protection. It does not take much to render any action illegal by a police instruction, a court or commission order. Trade union pickets, which are generally regarded as illegal by employers, governments and courts could become a particular target. The media have already suggested that there could be violence during the S11 actions and at protests during the Olympics. The NSW Government has called on the military to become part of its security force during the Olympics. There will be 5000 state police, 3000 private police, 4000 military (Operation Gold) and several thousand others from the emergency services, in uniform with incredible powers to search, remove and detain people. "It is the security support that the ADF will provide to the games that is relevant to the bill we are discussing today", Liberal Member Joanna Gash told Parliament. Have the military also been asked to assist in Melbourne during the S11 protests? Labor Party spokespersons claim that the provisions are the same as existing police powers. Both Labor and the Government argue that the Bill provides greater accountability than existing law. But accountability only comes into operation AFTER the event — AFTER someone has been shot or some other "incident". The Minister of Defence is then required to report to Parliament on the use made of the Defence Forces. Even if the legislation added no new powers, its introduction signals an intent to use military forces more than in the past. The military has been used in the past — against the air pilots in an industrial dispute, against peace activists at Nurrungar, against the miners in 1949, and in flyovers of the Franklin River during the environmental campaign to prevent the building of the Franklin Dam. Labor's Shadow Attorney General, Bob McClelland, spoke in terms of the legislation and defence force powers as providing "part of our deterrence in sofar as anyone contemplating this sort of terrorist activity in Australia would be on notice as to the response that that activity would receive." Indicating that the legislation has a long-term objective and is not limited to the period of the Olympics, McClelland also spoke of training the military to be able to coordinate and cooperate with the state police forces in undertaking their duties. The Bill is a big step towards the involvement of military forces in the suppression of trade union struggles against corporations, against militant actions to protect the environment and protests against government policies.