The Guardian August 16, 2000


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.

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