Police State : Australia leads the way


Richard Moore


When Terrorism Outlaws Democracy - Australians Lose 
Rights for Ten Years

By Wanda Fish*
Oct 3, 2005

On September 27, 2005, Australian democracy surrendered to
terrorism. On that day, a coalition of willing federal and
state leaders agreed to anti-terrorism legislation that will
enable police persecution of the Muslim community and threaten
dissidents with imprisonment. In a country without a Bill of
Rights, the prospect of more draconian Terror Laws delivers
ultimate control through fear. Australia, with its history of
penal colonies, racism and detention centers, is now set to
become a police state.

When Prime Minister Howard announced that he would meet with
the State premiers about the need for harsher
counter-terrorism measures, Labor state leaders were critical
of the proposal and called the proposed laws 'totalitarian'.

The secret briefing, given by ASIO, the Australian Security
and Intelligence Organisation, had the desired impact. Within
two hours, the Premiers had agreed to surrender our democratic
rights to fight a subjective noun, terrorism. Assuming the
state leaders were bribed with the promise of increased
funding for their police forces, all Premiers agreed
enthusiastically to use their own police to search, control,
and detain 'terror suspects'. The agreement gave John Howard
the ability to circumvent the Australian constitution and
enable detention of citizens for up two weeks without charge.
ASIO's reach into the community multiplies by 30 when state
police began to operate as secret police. Australians, who
have lost basic rights in the closed-door meeting, are
expected to 'trust' that the Howard Government is protecting
them from an invisible enemy in the American war on terror.
The one concession gained by state leaders was a ten-year
sunset clause on the new Terror Laws. This means citizens will
only have a decade of surveillance, control orders,
preventative detention, and thought police.

The new 'regime' of tougher laws <>that John Howard
presented [i] has alarmed Australian Muslims, journalists,
peace activists, and dissidents who fear they will be
victimized by ASIO raids and 'fishing expeditions'. Protestors
may be subjected to more police harassment, surveillance, and
detention without charge. It will become a crime to 'incite'
violence against the community, or against Australia's forces
overseas who fight in an unpopular war. It will also be a
crime to communicate messages that 'support' Australia's
enemies'. The new crimes carry seven-year prison terms.
Moreover the laws shift from a presumption of innocence to
presumption of guilt. Writers and activists will have to prove
that their articles or speeches did not 'incite violence.
Understandably, civil libertarians, constitutional lawyers,
Muslims, journalists, and anti-war campaigners are worried.

With the devil in the detail, it is important to be both alert
and alarmed [ii] about John Howard's and the State Premiers'
twelve-step plan to totalitarianism:

    1. Control orders: 'People who pose a terrorist risk' will
    have year-long control orders placed on them. Tracking
    devices, travel restrictions, and 'association restrictions'
    are included. While the Government has argued that similar
    control orders already exist with Apprehended Violence Orders
    (AVO), legal critics have pointed out that the new terror
    control orders are significantly more restrictive and can be
    imposed with no public accountability because of secrecy
    restrictions that hide ASIO's activities from public scrutiny.
    2. Preventative detention: 'suspects' can be detained for up
    to two weeks without charge. This step by-passes the judicial
    system and would have been unconstitutional if enforced by the
    Australian Federal Police. State police will be able to detain
    'suspects' who might have information or might be intending to
    commit a terrorist act. Less than 2,000 Federal Police will no
    longer limit ASIO's invasiveness. The intelligence
    organisation will be able to use 45,000 police from the states
    and territories to detain suspects for up to two weeks without
    charge. This extraordinary power runs the risk of being used
    in criminal cases and the harassment of activists and protest
    3. Notice to produce: The AFP may request and obtain virtually
    any information on any citizen under the banner of 'national
    4. Access to passenger information: Provide access to airline
    passenger information for ASIO and the AFP. If John Howard
    follows the American example, Australians can expect 'no-fly'
    lists that will be used to disrupt the activities and restrict
    travel options for known activists and dissidents.
    5. Extensive stop, search and question powers: Federal police
    will have the power to stop, search and question any citizen
    whom they believe 'might have just committed, might be
    committing, or might be about to commit a terrorism offense'.
    The subjective judgment of police will determine what someone
    might be thinking of doing. The loose definition of terrorism
    makes this particular power easy to abuse.
    6. Extending search and interrogation powers to state police
    at transport hubs: People at bus stops, taxi ranks, railway
    stations, and airports can and will be subjected to random
    searches and the subjective judgment of police.
    7. ASIO warrants regime: ASIO search warrants will be extended
    from 28 days to three months, while mail and delivery service
    warrants extend from 90 days to six months. Moreover, ASIO
    will be able to remove and keep anything they take from
    premises that have been searched ' for as long as needed' for
    purposes of security. Organisations opposing the Government on
    issues such as industrial relations or student rights are
    aware of the potential for this power to be used to spy on
    them, disrupt activity and remove records. Lawyers have argued
    that the extended warrants enable ASIO to go on 'fishing
    expeditions' that will see innocent Australians being watched.
    8. Create new offences: The existing sedition offence will be
    scrapped, and replaced with the broader, new crime of
    'inciting violence against the community'. Journalists and
    internet writers who 'communicate inciting messages directed
    against Australia's forces overseas and groups who 'support
    Australia's enemies' could face up to seven years in prison.
    The new warrants regime combined with ASIO's unfettered access
    to private emails, computer searches, on-line forums, may
    impact on cyber-journalism's resolve to report the truth.
    9. Strengthen offences for financing terrorism or providing
    false or misleading information under an ASIO questioning
    warrant. The right to remain silent is removed, and anyone
    refusing to answer questions can be imprisoned. Former Liberal
    Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, publicly opposed this regime
    when he spoke at a symposium addressing global leaderships and
    ethics, 'The legislation is contrary to the Rule of Law. It is
    contrary to Due Process, to Habeas Corpus, to the basic rights
    which we have come to understand are central to a free and
    open society.'<> [iii] Lawyers have also asked what
    'strengthens' means in relation to financing terrorism, given
    that under the Criminal Code this offense already incurs life
    10. Criteria for listing terrorist organizations will be
    extended. Organisations that 'advocate terrorism' can be
    banned. <>
    Community lawyers, policy workers, advocates and legal
    academics have argued [iv] that 'the extension of the
    unprecedented powers to ban terrorist organisations …poses the
    danger that many organisations that publicly support
    independence movements like Fretilin and the ANC will be
    vulnerable to proscription.' The potential for this list to
    grow to include organizations that oppose the Government is
    11. Citizenship: The Government will extend the waiting period
    for citizenship from two to three years and will refuse
    citizenship on 'security grounds'. As a critical electorate
    and organizations such as Amnesty International draw unwanted
    attention to the Government's inhumane treatment of refugees,
    the Immigration Department will be able to make secret
    decisions based on 'national security'. The recent case of
    Scott Parkin demonstrated how joint exercises between ASIO and
    the Department of Immigration can quickly and legally expel
    dissidents or unwanted refugees. The only explanation that
    needs to be given is 'for reasons of national security'.
    12. Terrorist financing: More invasive processes to ensure
    that charities are not used to fund 'terrorist organisations'
    will be extended to institutions and couriers involved in the
    process. What ASIO will deem to be a terrorist organisation is
    as open-ended as the definition of terrorism itself. Similar
    legislation in the UK has already resulted in legitimate Iraqi
    orphanage charities being banned and having their funds

Civil libertarians have argued in numerous media debates and
talkback radio shows that Adolph Hitler introduced similar
legislation for Gestapo police to detain, interrogate, monitor
and imprison Jews who were considered 'potential enemies of
the German people'. Counter-terrorism measures adopted by the
United States, Britain and Australia have unfairly persecuted
innocent Muslims with home raids, interrogation, and prolonged
detention. In response, some Australian lawyers established a
<http://amcran.org/> website <>[v]offering free advice to the
Muslim community, who have been profiled as a consequence of
the war on terror. Bypassing anti-discrimination laws, senior
government officials have made public statements like 'not all
Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims'.
Despite the clear danger of this generalization, the NSW
Police Commissioner has gone on public record requesting
indemnity for his police officers: 'The reality is that we
will stop and search people of middle eastern appearance, not
65 year old Caucasian women.' he said in several media
interviews after the Terror Summit.

Lawyers fear that the terror laws will also target
high-profile dissidents, peace activists, trade unionists,
student leaders, and protestors…virtually anyone who loudly
and effectively opposes the Government. Howard's intention to
use these powers to silence protest is clear, as he has
consistently followed both Tony Blair and George Bush as role
models. Journalists have suggested that London's public
disgrace of seeing an 82 year-old pensioner manhandled and
interrogated under the British Terror Laws is likely to be
repeated in Australia. The pensioner's 'crime' was that he
shouted 'not true' as Jack Straw was defending Britain's
involvement in Iraq. Even conservative media say that the new
Terror Laws go too far with the sacrifice of basic democratic
rights. The Sydney Morning Herald, traditionally an
establishment newspaper, warned,

'The war on terrorism has gone a step too far. The offence of
supporting terrorism raises very serious problems. Many
political dissenters could fall within the operation of such a
law. Just what will be considered support for violence will be
a most difficult question. In 2003, 500,000 people marched in
Sydney to oppose Australia's pending invasion of Iraq. Were
they supporting an enemy?'<>[vi]

The brutal police killing of an innocent Brazilian on his way
to work in London was a dramatic reminder to Australians of
the ultimate consequence of fighting terrorism with terror
powers. These powers have compelled lawyers like Professor
George Williams, a law lecturer at the University of New South
Wales, to speak out. In his March 2005 submission<>[vii] to
Government, Professor Williams expressed concerns

'about both the need for these special powers and the nature
of the powers themselves. Three years after their adoption,
there is a danger that these exceptional, emergency powers,
adopted in response to a specific threat, may become
regularised or normalised as a permanent feature of
Australia's legal landscape. It is vital to view these powers
as temporary, exceptional measures so that they do not serve
as a precedent for the adoption of more invasive powers in the
future, or make it easier to justify other exceptional powers
in less exceptional circumstances.'

When the first round of Terror Laws were hurriedly introduced
in 2002, John Howard did not control the Senate which was able
to 'tone down' the laws to exclude children and shorten
detention times. The laws were heatedly debated in the public
arena with public protests making it clear that Australians
condemned the laws as an over-reaction to unknown terrorist
threats. In his Foreword to Jenny Hocking's book 'Terror
Laws'<>[viii] , Professor Williams warned, 'Terrorism was part
of Australian life before September 11, and will continue to
be so even after the current 'war against terrorism' has been
waged. Today, however, we can only hope that our new terror
laws do not do more damage to our democratic rights than the
threat of terrorism itself'.

A basic flaw with both the 2002 legislation and the proposed
'greater' powers lies with the difficulty of defining
terrorism, and therefore a terrorist act. Last month, the
United Nations was unable to agree on an acceptable definition
of terrorism. The ASIO Anti-Terrorism Act actually defines
'terrorism' by specifying what is not classified as 'terrorist
acts'. The exception of 'legal and non-violent protest' within
the Act gives little comfort to protest groups who have been
involved in peaceful protests that have become violent
following police intervention or harassment as happened with
recent student protests in Sydney and Melbourne. While the
public debate heats up about the potential and real impact of
ASIO terror laws, the focus of terrorism has shifted from
Muslim extremists, who have yet to commit a terrorist act
within Australia, to Government extremists who have
surrendered basic democratic rights in their war on a
subjective noun.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock admitted <>[ix] that in the
past year ASIO made 44,000 assessments of 'persons who are
potential security risks'. ASIO's well-documented history of
keeping files on peace activists, trade unionists, and Labor
MPs suggests that a few thousand assessments would include
people who have expressed strong views opposing the Howard
Government's policies. The numbers of dissenters swell as the
list of issues angering Australians grows: the unpopular war
on terror, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the mandatory
detention of refugees seeking asylum, the new industrial
relations legislation that removes workers' rights, and the
privatization of Telstra.

The burgeoning of dissent and the move to give ASIO stronger
powers has compelled the Victorian Law Foundation and the
Fitzroy Legal Service to establish the informative
Rights website <>[x]. This time the lawyers didn't couch their
warnings in careful legalese. 'Danger! New laws criminalise
protestors…The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
(ASIO) now has unprecedented powers to compulsorily question
and detain persons suspected of having information related to
a 'terrorism' offence. Furthermore, the exercise of such
powers by ASIO is now virtually cloaked with secrecy, with the
law now making it illegal to disclose information relating to
most of ASIO's activities.' The site gives practical and
detailed advice on what to do if ASIO comes calling.

The Howard Government has continued to ignore the masses of
Australians who have loudly protested Australia's involvement
in the American 'war on terror'. Now John Howard is ignoring
public opposition to the Terror Laws, likely to be passed by a
Senate he controls. Angry Australians have flooded radio
talkback shows to the point where radio hosts have had to beg
for calls from supporters of the Terror Laws. The question
asked by every caller is why are we surrendering the same
democratic freedoms that those who wage the war on terror
claim to protect?

The Government's response to terrorism seems to have given
unknown terrorists their first victory. John Howard has
surrendered our basic democratic rights for the next decade.
However, there is one glimmer of hope – perhaps some smart
constitutional lawyer can mount a case against John Howard and
his Attorney General for 'supporting the enemy'.

Terrorism has finally outlawed democracy. If the new round of
Terror Laws passes through the Senate, Australians can look
forward to ten years of legal terror.

© Copyright 2005 by AxisofLogic.com

*Wanda Fish is an Australian freelance journalist who dedicates her research and
writing to the building of a more equitable and just world. Wanda has lived and 
worked in the United States, Southeast Asia, and Australia. After a 30-year 
career in corporate marketing and public relations, Wanda left the corporate 
world and began to campaign for humanitarian rights, peace, and the creation of 
a world where people of all races and religion are entitled to a free and 
dignified life. Wanda's articles are offered copyright free as part of her 
contribution towards a better world.

These articles are also available on <http://www.eftel.com/~cleverfish>

For more information about Australia's Terror Laws and your rights, please see 
these websites:

Civil Rights Network, Melbourne and Sydney

Council for Civil Liberties – links to Australian and international civil 
liberty groups

Activists Rights site with special section on Terror Laws

The <http://www.civilrightsnetwork.org/http://>
Civil Rights Network has published a two-page summary of Australia's 
anti-terrorism laws (current at December 2004), which provides a good overview 
of the laws.

The Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network (AMCRAN) has published a 
booklet called ASIO, The Police and You.

The University of Technology, Sydney Community Law Centre has produced a 
detailed information kit Be Informed: ASIO and Anti-Terrorism Laws.

Footnotes and References Article:

[i] Media Release from Prime Minister, 'Counter-Terrorism Laws
Strengthened', 8 September 2005.

[ii] ASIO advertising campaign for Terror Hot Line uses the
slogan, 'Be alert, but not alarmed'.

[iii] Malcolm Fraser, 'Responsibilities and Human Rights in
the Age of Terror', address given to InterAction Council
Symposium, Global Leadership and Ethics Program, Markkula
Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara

[iv] Laws for Insecurity? A Report on the Government's
Proposed Counter-Terrorism Measures, by Agnes Chong, Patrick
Emerton, Waleed Kadous, Annie Pettitt, Stephen Sempill, Vicki
Santas, Jane Stratton and Joo-Cheong Tham. Published on 23
September 2005 and sent to all State Premiers prior to the
Government summit on 27 September 2005.

[v] <http://amcran.org/>Australian Muslim Civil Rights
Advocacy Network

[vi] Daryl Melham, 'The war against terrorism goes a step too
far', published Sydney Morning Herald, September 15, 2005, and
later published on Online Opinion website.

[vii] Professor George Williams's submission to the
Parliamentary Secretary for the Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS,
and DSD. Review of Division 3 Part III of the ASIO Act 1979 –
Questioning and Detention Powers. Posted on Parliament Website
(see Parliamentary Reviews)

[viii] Jenny Hocking, Terror Laws: ASIO, Counter-Terrorism and
The Threat to Democracy, UNSW Press, 2004.

[ix] Interview broadcast on ABC Radio National morning show on
September 20, 2005,

[x] <http://www.activistrights.org.au/terror_laws.asp>Activist


    "I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's."
    William Blake
    "On Spaceship Earth, there are no passengers:  everyone is
    R. Buckminster Fuller



"Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World"

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