Military's war propaganda
by Andrew Jackson The Australian Defence Force is going to great lengths to raise its public profile: the (Australian of the Year' award for General Peter Cosgrove; a constant barrage of recruitment advertisements on television; and the very public and apologetic airing of its bastardisation dirty linen. But last week's revelations that the army is being used to spy on the public reveals a more sinister side, and is a very worrying development in the ongoing militarisation of Australian society. Desperate to preserve their glowing public reputation after the East Timor intervention, the entire armed forces of 50,000 personnel were stood down last Tuesday in a very public promotion of their new (kinder gentler) image. The personnel were required to attend video screenings and discussion groups to be educated against the traditions of bullying, assault and abasement that have long been used to engender the army culture of servility and aggressiveness in the new recruits. "Recent allegations of command-sanctioned brutality embarrasses the entire defence force", RAAF chief Air Marshal Errol John McCormack said. "The Australian Community deserves and expects more." No doubt, this public display is designed to assuage the fears of potential new recruits. An aggressive advertising campaign targeted at school leavers has been mounted to not only compensate for the large number of resignations but to also increase the size of the forces by 2500 over the next 10 years. While Federal Government has cut billions of dollars of funding from tertiary education and traineeships, the armed forces are offering school leavers a free education on full pay — a very appealing offer to working class youth who are facing 25 percent unemployment (Jan 2001). The advertisements, in youth magazines, as trailers for blockbuster movies, and on prime time television tell us that joining the armed forces is a humanitarian act. In your new career — as an electrician, a nurse, or computer programmer, you will be saving lives and acting as the agent of the Australian Government's benevolence. Spying on your own community is not one of the duties being advertised. But that's what our troops have been up to — in an illegal operation during the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Under direct orders from the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, Elite Special Air Service (SAS) troops were given a brief to: "conduct activities such as maintaining a discrete presence within the general public at key venues to report activities which may cause a change in the security situation". Fifteen teams of SAS troops were deployed throughout the Olympics, all dressed in plainclothes "to avoid exposure to the broader community". The briefing papers stated the troops were allowed to use force in self- defence, and use force to assist police under attack. Under the Defence Act, defence force troops may be used to assist police in non-emergency situations, but they are strictly required to wear uniforms, and can only be deployed as long as there is (no likelihood) that they will be required to use force. The Act requires that if the use of force is at all likely, procedures must be followed which require parliament to be informed. However, the Federal Government was not even told the troops were going to be deployed. Approval came at a meeting after the Olympics had already started, a government spokesperson stating that Admiral Barrie's neglect to inform the Government had been (an oversight)! Greens Senator Bob Brown reacted angrily to the revelation: "This is just not on. It is an encouragement to the military to increase its intervention in civil matters." Senator Brown raised similar alarm when the Federal Government, with the co-operation of the Labor opposition passed the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Bill in September last year. The Bill allows the military to be used against civilians involved in "protest, dissent, assembly or industrial actions), to (protect Commonwealth interests". Under the legislation military personnel are allowed to move, search and detain people, and are allowed to (shoot to kill) civilians if they believe a life is in danger, or if someone who has been detained is escaping. The Act was passed just prior to the Olympics and S11 protests in Melbourne. At the time, CPA General Secretary Peter Symon commented, "The passage of the legislation is a giant step towards the militarisation of Australia's political life". With John Howard's Defence 2000 White Paper pouring tens of billions of dollars of additional funding into the military over the next decade, we can expect that future governments will want to get value for their money. Using the Armed Forces to protect the interests of their friends in big business must then seem an increasingly viable option.