Red alert: Terror laws on the march!

Australia’s fear meter is ramped to red alert…mainly so scared citizens won’t become angry over new laws that further restrict civil liberties and invade our privacy.

Red alert: Terror laws on the march!

By Bill Rowlings*

brandis1The government has wound the fear meter to red. We should all be much more afraid!

The Australian Parliament is passing new terror laws. Every new clause reduces our civil liberties a little. The question is: when should we the people object to losing liberties?

Since September 11 2001, Australia has passed more anti-terror laws than other countries, says Prof George Williams, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow, who has explained how the proposed new laws comprise “the biggest expansion of Australia’s anti-terrorism laws” in a decade.

The Australian community has polarised views: some support anything police and “the authorities” do; others believe that we the citizens are the ultimate “authorities”, and we should pay more attention when our liberties and rights are being eroded, or fear is being ramped up for political reasons. There’s vigorous discourse within the civil liberties community also as we all try to find that elusive beast, Balance. Here’s an insight:

A CLA member writes:

 Sadly these laws are necessary to protect the 23 million Australians who would never for a moment contemplate cutting of the heads of helpless people, nor butchering them because they are the wrong sect or religion. Most people want to just do their jobs, live decent lives in their community and look after their families.  

 ISIL are terrorist/monsters who want to destroy us: we cannot reason with them. They do not think like us. They hate us. They want to destroy us. Our state needs the power to protect us. It needs to also be able to reach out to local home-grown Australians who may be influenced by their madness. It need a multi-pronged approach to address this problem. Strong laws and a strong defence force are an essential part of this mix.

 We live in scary times. Civil liberties is not about mindlessly opposing every deprivation of pure liberty. Its about a sensible approach to protect our real and vulnerable liberties in a time of crisis. The right of an ordinary citizen to life is the most fundamental liberty one can have. The right to expect your country to enact laws that protect this right is fundamental to this. On balance, we need laws like this at this time.

CLA’s CEO replies:

“On balance” is indeed the question. But a government does not inspire confidence when decisions and actions over its first 12 months in office mean it is probably the most imbalanced government in a lifetime.

People have trouble spotting the balance when dozens of new laws and regulations are purported to be necessary to cope with 60 people identified as travelling to the Middle East, and a possible 100 other stay-at-homes alleged to be newly dangerous.

When US President Obama says in a televised national address there is no immediate identified threat from the ISIL jihadists to America, why should Australians believe a retiring ASIO boss, David Irvine, when he demands Australia’s terror meter should go up to its highest level?

I have written before that Australian politicians are much less brave than the Australian people. We the people just want to get on with our lives, as the CLA member writes, and we expect the security, intelligence and police forces to do their job and keep us as safe as sensibly possible…without constantly making us afraid.

Where is the balance, even if there are 160 such people, in scaremongering by inferring that the supposed 160 are each going to foul their own nest by beheadings and bombings here, where they raise their children and their funds, when none of them have done so in the past? Where is the balance, if we change the fabric of our society and make repressive laws which target and affect everyone, on the basis that 160 particular Australians might commit a crime?

goeringWhy is it that Abbott and Brandis (and Morrison and other ministers) consistently raise our fears about threats that only they can know about because of secret briefings? Why do their statements have overtones of Hermann Goering (pictured), Hitler’s right hand man in World War Two, who said:

 “…the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Instead of ramping up the terrorist fear meter, why can’t criminals be treated like criminals? What’s wrong with our crime laws, which have coped with the Port Arthur, Milperra and Hoddle Street massacres, as well as the last “terrorist” attack in Australia, the Hilton “bombing” 36 years ago. By the way, when will ASIO explain its role in the Hilton bombing? Many people believe ASIO itself is a proven danger to the lives of innocent Australians, based on three people dying from the blast outside the Sydney Hilton in February 1978.

What about our existing terror laws, which apply on top of the normal criminal laws? Why did Coalition and Labor governments enact all those “anti-terror” laws over the past 13 years if they are now not good enough? Have the politicians left us relatively defenceless for the past decade, because the laws they rushed in were not harsh enough, or intrusive enough on our privacy, or weren’t draconian enough to create exactly the type of repressive regime that terrorists favour? Previous governments must have passed dud laws – that’s the only interpretation of the security, intelligence and police services now claiming they need massive new powers.

Why do we the citizens lose more and more civil liberties and privacy, about every three-to-five years, so that the spooks and police can do the jobs they are paid to do? What, precisely, is so hard about keeping watch on 160 known people and their contacts…when you have extraordinarily powers of surveillance, computer and message tapping, and 40,000 sworn police officers in Australia as well as 5000-6000 spooks and allied shadowy actors occupying the Mushrumoury, that twilight zone of fear and fantasy under, around and on Capitol Hill in Canberra?

Where is the balance, when about 80-plus new anti-terror laws have been enacted since “9/11”, and not one those laws has been taken off the statute book, even though it has never been used?

walkerThere isn’t much balance when the government for three years employs an Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM), Bret Walker SC (pictured), who recommends getting rid of some laws and beefing up others, but is ignored by both Labor and the Coalition. Then a photo of a child with a severed head emerges, whereupon the Coalition rush to do something re the jihadists that Walker warned about months earlier…but was ignored.

Is it “balance” when Australia’s laws are actually created by front page Sydney Daily Telegraph photos? How do we know such photos “created” the laws? Here’s a quote from a combined Prime Minister Abbott/Attorney-General Brandis media release on 26 August 2014:

 Recent images of brutal killings in Syria and the brazen presence of Australian citizens amongst the foreign fighters highlights the need for action to counter radicalisation.
– joint media release 26 August 2014

 There you go! The reason for the new laws, massive spending and increase surveillance on ordinary Australians is the images! How’s that for “balanced” lawmaking by a PM and an AG?

Where is the balance, when Minisiters crying broke can suddenly find $64m for the spooks and police, but a Centrelink customer with medically-certified incontinence is being forced to attend a job finder’s office with no toilets available close by? Where is the balance in making people write 40 job applications a month, just to keep the dole? How balanced do you think teachers and nurses consider the government’s allocating resources to be, when they carry out literally life-giving work on pittances, just so men in black can play with more toys for the boys…overwhelmingly boys…in the spook and police services.

The staffing and budgets of ASIO and the overseas spy agency, ASIS, have tripled since 2001: they have also not suffered the annual ‘dividend” cuts other agencies face. If relatively huge staffs with relatively huge budgets cannot keep track of 160 people, then they are not “balanced”, but incompetent.

It is known for a fact that ASIO staffing has risen from 660 to about 2000 over the past 10 years. What federal government services for the Australian people have had a similar staffing rise or, indeed, any rise over that period? Centrelink? No. Veterans Affairs? No. Medicare? No? Human Services and Health? No. Teachers? No. Nurses? No. All have suffered cuts.

Over the same period, the Australian Federal Police’s resources and budgets have more than tripled: within the AFP, terror-related groups have exploded. Now there’s to be another one, the Community Diversion and Monitoring Team. Is it lacking “balance” to say that the title of the new police team evokes a little fear? Here is a specialist national police team whose job is “monitoring” the community (for which, read Muslims) and “diverting” them. From what to what? Who decides why or how the Australian community, or sections of it, should be diverted? These are dangerous trends so far glibly glossed over by the government.

The media release announcing the new police “diverters” said:

As Team Australia, we need to support community efforts to prevent young Australians being radicalised…”

Doesn’t that mix of jingoism and social engineering ring alarm bells? This year, a dedicated “monitoring” team of national police will be “diverting” Muslims. Who will the government task them to ”divert” next? How many years before criticising the government becomes “radical”…so that citizens need to be “diverted” by expanded special police units which have been “monitoring” them? The language has the overtones of East Germany 20 years ago.

There are now a plethora of organisations operating in the spookish space, the Mushrumoury, in Canberra. And there may be more we don’t know about. For 20 years the Australian government kept secret from citizens that our foreign spooks, ASIS, existed. Even now you can’t know or reveal a thing about them. Like ASIO (apart from its chief PR shill, the retiring Irvine), they all use false names, are trained dissemblers, and lie full-time for a living…why would or should we believe anything they say in public, no matter how avuncular the spokesman ?

As commentator John Richardson put it recently:

 Bernard Keane is right on the money with his claims about the latest deceit being practised by western governments in hyping-up the threat of Islamic terrorism, so as to bolster their arguments in favour of even more stringent security measures at the expense of democratic liberties (‘The deceit at the heart of the terrorism hysteria’, Crikey, 9 Sept 2014). Malevolent fear-monger, outgoing ASIO Director-General, David Irvine, only last night was busy ‘crying wolf’on ABC TV, urgently spruiking the argument that Team Australia was confronting an ‘elevated terror threat’from radical Islam.

What do we have to fear? The fear artificially created by the out-of-control growth of the police, security and intelligence regime in this country. We have 13 years’proof that Australia’s civil liberties, privacy and personal freedoms have suffered, and that the secret elite have succeeded in ensuring their cell-division growth and dialling up the fear meter. These twilight operatives do it repeatedly. Whenever they want to escalate apprehension in the community, there’s a well-organised, made-for-television “raid”involving dozens of police and spooks in the shadows, sinister vehicles with numbers obliterated, black, padded riot gear and assault weapons, and one or two unfortunates woken at dawn to become the latest examples paraded as fodder for a later long court hearing. Somehow, miraculously, the media have all arrived quite by chance at this “secret”location before dawn, ready to perform at the orchestrated event.

In the old USSR and in parts of the Middle East, we democracy-loving people from the West used to say that similar abuses of the rule of law were staged arrests, leading to “show trials”. It would never happen in Australia, would it?

The puppetry performances have three clear outcomes, repeated time after time:

  • the spooks and police raise their own profile;
  • the raids lead to their securing more staffing and funds; and
  • they raise the level of fear in the community.

Our civil liberties member argues: ”Civil liberties is not about mindlessly opposing every deprivation of pure liberty”.  True. But for 13 years continuously since September 2001, we have had imposed an increasing number of laws which each deprived us of some aspect of an already-compromised set of civil liberties. Now we’re about to get another batch of anti-democratic, anti-civil liberty, anti-privacy laws.

Which deprivation of liberty is more –or less –important than the other? If, say, we had a bank of 100 “pure liberties”back in 2001, when it is the time to object? When we’ve lost the first one, or the 99th?

By any measure, all Australians should be complaining very loudly by now. Or, like boiled frogs, we’ll one day find we’re cooked.


* Bill Rowlings is CEO of Civil Liberties Australia.

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