Do you think Australians have less freedom, less democracy, than 10 years ago when the planes crashed into New York’s Twin Towers? Have terrorists changed the way Australians live? PM Julia Gillard said those questions were how we should test our decade-long, multi-billion response to terrorism. CLA asked the PM to set up a public inquiry to get the answers to her own questions…but she has declined to do so. They’re important questions: what do you think?
Has 9/11 made us ‘live differently’?
Do you think Australians live differently than before 9/11?
Do we enjoy less freedom, less democracy, than before the Al Qaeda aircraft attacks on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001?
This basic question was posed by the Prime Minister herself in October 2011 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeeting (CHOGM) in Perth WA. Julia Gillard said:
“…the purpose of terrorism is to cause us to be afraid to live our lives and enjoy our freedoms. We shouldn’t, in any response to terrorism, effectively give terrorists what they were seeking in the first place, which is driving us to live differently, or with less democracy, or less freedom than we had initially.”
Despite the PM’s clear setting of a benchmark for analysis, her government is refusing to hold an inquiry into whether counter-terror measures in Australia have infringed our freedoms, curtailed our democracy and changed the way we live our lives.
Perhaps the government is refusing an inquiry because the PM is aware that careful analysis would show that terrorism has “succeeded” under her own test. She said the terrorists would have won if they “cause us to be afraid to live our lives and enjoy our freedoms”.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Senator Jan McLucas, claims there is no need to evaluate the fundamental question put on the public agenda by PM Gillard. “In light of the vast amount of work already done and continuing to be undertaken in relation to assessing, reviewing and evaluating the Government’s counter-terrorism measures, I do not believe there is a need for an inquiry at this time,” she wrote on behalf of the PM in response to a letter from Civil Liberties Australia on Australia Day 2012.
Senator McLucas is missing the point, CLA’s President, Dr Kristine Klugman, said. “None of the government’s assessing, reviewing and evaluating of anti-terror measures has ever – not even once in more than 10 years – been done from the perspective of the Australian people,” she said. “It has always been done from the perspective of those in power – the politicians, police and security services – afraid that something might happen on ‘their watch’.”
In other words, Dr Klugman said, all assessments have been done by those in authority in fear of possible, but implausible, worst-case scenarios. “They imagine Armageddon, then talk up the chances of it happening,” she said. “It is in the interest of authorities to talk up public fear, so people ‘behave’ the way the authorities want…it’s a well-known syndrome.
“But Australians have never traditionally lived our lives that way: we don’t go about our daily business on the basis of fear.
“The government’s answer is always to create more draconian laws and rules and procedures – things which affect all of us ordinary people, but would be totally ignored by terrorists – and to provide more big toys for the boys in uniforms at great cost to Australia.
“Money has been massively over-spent on counter-terrorism: you could argue cogently that Australia has been denied benefits like dental care and improved hospital services for more than a decade because of excess and wasteful spending on counter-terrorism amounting to tens of billions of dollars.
“It’s ironic that it took three months – until Anzac Day – for the government to reply to an Australia Day 2012 letter from CLA about personal freedoms and how we live our lives. But mandating new and over-the-top technology which causes us to ‘live differently’, like see-through airport scanners for example, can be done in an instant by Ministerial media release,” Dr Klugman said.
“Clearly, we have a lesser democracy if it takes three months to get a reply to a letter from the PM’s support staff.”
CLA’s Australia Day letter 2012 asked for a public inquiry. It said:
Until a detailed public inquiry is held into the issue, we do not know the answers to the questions the PM has put on the agenda:
- has the threat of terrorism caused Australians to be afraid to live our lives in any way?
- have counter/anti-terrorism measures taken over the past decade lessened the ability of Australians to enjoy our freedoms?
- has Australia’s response to the threat of terrorists in any way given terrorists what they were seeking in the first place?
- are Australians living differently than before the events of 9/11?
- does Australia, and do Australians, have less democracy than we had before 9/11?
- does Australia, and do Australians, have less freedom than we had before 9/11?
In her reply to CLA’s Australia Day letter to the PM, her Parliament Secretary McLucas says that Australia’s counter-terrorism legislation is scrutinized by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Senior Counsel Brett Walker. He was appointed in April 2011, and has handed down an interim report to end-June 2011, based on two months analysis of what he needs to do. Senator McLucas appears to be dumping the key questions that the PM indirectly – and CLA directly – asked on to the part-time Monitor person, Dr Klugman said.
“Mr Walker has a massive task in just trying to evaluate all the legislation that has been enacted, more than 50 separate pieces in a decade relating to terrorism,” CLA’s President said. “However, if the government thinks he should assess the questions the PM put on the public agenda, they had better give him more resources, more funding and more time.
“One way or another, the PM’s questions need to be answered,” Dr Klugman said.
“It is senseless for the Australian government to inject into even more funds into technology, surveillance, weapons and security people, and continue to pump up fear in the community, if the result is Australians living differently, with less democracy or less freedom than we used to have.
“Surely, the question the PM put on the agenda is the most fundamental one of all: are counter-terror laws and measures diminishing the quality of life of Australians? If the answer is yes, then we should change what we are doing so as to improve the lives of Australians, and restore the traditional rule of law and quality of life..”
- CLA’s letter to the PM
- Reply letter from Parliamentary Secretary to the PM, Senator Jan McLucas
- Independent National Security Legislation Monitor’s first (interim) report