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Issue #1786      July 19, 2017

Editorial

Military takeover

As preparations for conflict with near neighbours builds, more powers are being given to the military to play the leading role in incidents deemed terrorism, overriding state and territory police. This is a reflection of Australia’s unofficial war footing, along with increasingly invasive violations of democratic rights by police and spy authorities. That state and territory law enforcement have all the necessary means to deal with incidents affecting public safety, the stepping up of increased military powers in domestic affairs is a pointer to the ongoing imposition of police state powers.

The government is also introducing legislation to create a national security super-department bringing together ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force. This fascistic spy-secret police-border force body – to be headed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton – was under discussion in the Senate as the Guardian went to press.

The pretext for wider military involvement that overrides state authorities was the Martin Place siege in Sydney in 2014 when a lone gunman, Man Haron Monis, held hostage ten customers and eight employees of a Lindt chocolate café. The siege led to a 16-hour standoff. When officers from the Tactical Operations Unit stormed the café hostage Tori Johnson was killed by Monis and hostage Katrina Dawson was killed by a police bullet. Monis was also killed.

Criticism of the handling of the situation immediately led to the Turnbull government stating the need for military control over what are termed “terrorist incidents”, despite Monis being the archetypical siege perpetrator: a man with a history of mental illness and a criminal record and armed with a lethal weapon.

Almost all public incidents since that have involved violence or threats of violence are now first of all taken to be terrorism until decided otherwise.

The country’s secret police ASIO has been given increased powers during the past two decades, able to copy, delete or modify data held on any computer covered by a warrant; to use innocent third-party computers to gain access to a computer that are part of a network it has a warrant to monitor.

The introduction of legislation in the name of national security is now so wide ASIO could monitor the entire Australian social network – a network of networks – with just one warrant. It also allows for the spy network to store the content of communications – going well beyond the storage of metadata by internet providers.

The former Abbott government’s terror legislation was built on coercive, draconian ASIO and other terror laws passed by the Howard government, which makes reportage of ASIO or police actions on “security” matters illegal and punishable by 10 years in jail. This includes anyone taken in for questioning, informing anyone else (even their partner) they have been detained and questioned, sometimes for days or more.

Their detention, the questions, their answers, are all top secret security matters, even if the person is not under suspicion. This applies to anyone taken in for questioning, even on suspicion that the person might know something or might associate with a suspect, as well as be suspects themselves. Whistle blowers will be jailed.

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 expands the definition of terrorist organisations, lowers the threshold for arrest without warrant for “terrorism offences”, and extends existing measures that were due to expire, including control orders, preventative detention orders, police stop, search and seizure powers and ASIO questioning and detention powers.

These examples give just a taste of the huge increase of state powers over citizens in the guise of anti-terrorism measures.

This process continues the pattern established by the former Howard government when state powers were extended, including reversal of the onus of proof, bypassing the judicial system, curbing freedoms of association and travel, arbitrary detention and no public accountability.

These powers, introduced under the threat of the so-called Islamic State and accompanied by government-sanctioned and promoted anti-Muslim sentiments, are now at the verge of the end-game: war in concert with the US military force now occupying the north of the country.

Next article – Ocean-going political stoush

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