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Issue #1824      May 30, 2018

“Dangerous times”

Police state powers

We live in “dangerous times”, Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull declared, when announcing plans for new “counter-terrorism” powers for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) at Australia’s airports. Police will have the power to approach anyone in an airport in Australia and demand to see their ID, all without cause or suspicion.

Turnbull is correct in that we do live in “dangerous times”, but the main danger in Australia is not posed by terrorism but by creeping fascism, by the ongoing erosion of democratic rights.

New police powers

“There’s certain conditions that need to be met at the moment before police can ask for ... identification. Which is an absurdity and it’s an issue that the police have raised with us. So we’re addressing an anomaly and a deficiency in the law at the moment.” (Peter Dutton – minister for repression and torture, see Editorial for his job description – at a joint press conference with the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, May 15, 2018.)

So, it’s an “absurdity” that police have to follow a law which protects people from being intimidated and stood over by law enforcement officers based on the whim of an ASIO/Australian Federal Police/Border Force operative. Regardless of whether they suspect you have committed or are planning to commit a crime they could randomly pick you out and demand to see your ID.

In practice it is much more likely to be based on racial or religious profiling. The fact that no justification is required is a measure to absolve police of any accountability for their actions and indicates how wide a net these persecution laws have.

Leading barrister and human rights advocate Julian Burnside, referring to Dutton’s remarks, said: “His attitude reveals a remarkable ignorance of basic legal and social precepts; ignorance which is all the more alarming given that he is arguably the most powerful person in the country.”

Big Brother

The 2018-19 budget includes the purchase of new equipment such as used for body scanning, facial recognition and 3D imaging of luggage. Facial recognition technology, already in use at major airports and linked to “smart” passports, is particularly disturbing.

The aim is to link these images to other images of people such as from CCTV cameras and police and intelligence agency cameras at rallies and other protest actions. They will also be able to link this information with drivers’ licences.

Bit by bit large data banks will be built up of personal information on citizens. These gross infringements of privacy are the stuff of Big Brother, not a democracy.

“The next step, almost certainly, will be the compulsory state-issued ID cards. After that, it’s downhill all the way to an Orwellian nightmare,” Burnside warned.

With this loss of privacy and democratic rights there is also a loss of public accountability.

The budget provided an additional $294 million towards the “enhancement and expansion” of so-called airport security. Over $100 million of this will be used to employ and train 190 new personnel.

One hundred and forty of these will be AFP officers focused on first response to terrorism, as well as having been trained in improvised explosive device appraisal and detection. The other 50 AFP employees will focus on intelligence gathering and appraisal of that intelligence.

Burnside quoted the Zelman Cowen-hosted Boyer Lectures on ABC Radio from 1969, in which Cowen said: “A man without privacy is a man without dignity. The fear that Big Brother is watching and listening threatens the individual no less than the prison bars”.

“He argued for the importance of the right to be left alone,” Burnside said.

“That right is more urgently important now than it was in 1969, and more under threat if Dutton gets his way.” (Lawyers Weekly, 17-05-2018)

Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs, and the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, is proving to be one of the most politically right-wing and dangerous politicians ever to gain a position of power in Australia.

He acts with impunity, abusing his powers, showing little or no respect for tribunals and the judicial system and increasingly grabbing additional, arbitrary powers. He runs roughshod over the rule of law, including international laws that Australia is a signatory to.

This behaviour is not limited to Dutton; other Ministers on the extreme right are just as complicit and Turnbull who is beholden to the right to hold onto his job, runs with them.

Anti-terrorism laws threaten to criminalise social dissent and pave the way for the introduction of increasingly anti-democratic legislation and must be opposed.

This latest development continues a pattern which emerged in the former Howard government’s anti-terror legislation when ASIO’s powers were extended. In fact it goes further, in breaching fundamental legal principles and also raises questions of constitutionality. This pattern includes:

  • reversal of onus of proof
  • retrospective issuing of search warrants
  • bypassing the judicial system
  • curbing basic freedoms of association and travel
  • arbitrary detention
  • no right of appeal
  • no public unaccountability
  • punishment far outweighs the nature of the alleged offence.

Next article – Editorial – Killed by malignant neglect

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