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Towards Police State Australia

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Towards Police State Australia in the Post-Liberal Era

At least since 9/11 almost all western countries have been involved in a gradual slide to post-liberal, more authoritarian states. Some are gradually becoming outright police states. Australia is no exception, and is in fact in the vanguard of these developments in many respects.


Australia is the only democracy without a national Bill of Rights. This is also because there is almost no grassroots revolutionary tradition of autonomy in Australia at all. As a settler nation in which the government was responsible for much development, Australians in general are historically used to everything coming from above, from the government. Now this government executive is also becoming ever more authoritarian and powerful vis-à-vis the judiciary, and is actively eroding civil liberties, the moral cornerstone of liberal democracies.  We are rapidly moving into a post-liberal and authoritarian police state.


Basic liberal civil liberties and human rights are increasingly under threat: the universal rule of law, the presumption of innocence, habeas corpus, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to apply for asylum from persecution. As there is almost no resistance to such authoritarian developments, one may conclude that most Australians are either willingly ignorant of such developments, could not care less or else, like most Germans in 1933, are quite willing to trade in freedoms for the state promise of order and security.


Consider some of the details. In Australia Federal ministers are given extraordinary powers in areas such as immigration and national security. Without a Bill of Rights, the Australian system depends on these same ministers exercising self-restraint in the use of these extraordinary powers and on the quality of the people in the security agencies.


The following classic features of a police state are now in operation in Australia. The Federal Attorney-General can permit ASIO to ‘legally’ operate outside the law by conducting so-called ‘special intelligence operations’. Any journalist disclosing wrongdoing or that power has been used illegitimately in such ASIO operations may be jailed for up to 10 years. ASIO has the power to detain and question innocent people for up to a week. People can be jailed for up to 10 years for entering any area declared by the government to be a no-go zone. The government collects data on the location and activities of every Australian resident.


Since 9/11 the Australian government has enacted 66 anti-terrorism laws, a figure unrivalled by any comparable nation. These laws have transferred enormous power to the executive arm of government. Many of these measures cannot be found in the US because they would be struck down under the Bill of Rights.


According to the government’s own national security monitor, Roger Gyles, these laws are “the sorts of powers one would expect to find in a police state in which people can be detained without trail and journalists jailed for reporting on government activity. […]  Australia has laws that contain ‘the potential for oppression’”.


As there is no Bill of Rights as in the US, an authoritarian Australian Trump and Bannon could rapidly change things, using these autocratic powers for their own oppressive purposes.


As Chief Justice Sir Owen Dixon said: “History, and not only ancient history, shows that in countries where democratic institutions have been unconstitutionally superseded, it has been done not seldom by those holding the executive power.”


A proposal by the Attorney-General in 2010 for Australia to adopt a national bill of rights which would still have given the final say to politicians was vehemently rejected by both the government and the opposition because it had the potential to shift some power from the executive to the judiciary. The proposal had been formulated after public hearings across the country and 35,014 written submissions (27,888 for a bill of rights, 4203 against).


The erosion of basic civil rights and the increased power of the executive also pertain at a state level. Last year the Chief Justice of the state of New South Wales himself stated that there were now at least 397 legislative encroachments on three basic common law rights, including the presumption of innocence and the privilege against self-incrimination. 52 of these specifically encroached on the presumption of innocence ranging from reversing or altering the onus of proof [on the prosecution] for an element of an offence to removing the presumption of innocence for an entire offence altogether. Section 685 of the Local Government Act even renders someone guilty of a criminal offence by virtue of mere accusation by a local council.


George Williams, the dean of law at the University of NSW, also concludes:


“It has simply become common to treat a person as being guilty unless they can show otherwise. The consequences are enormous. It means that people can be imprisoned where once they would have been set free. Bail laws have been tightened, and prisons filled to overcrowding, on the basis that accusations should more readily allow a person to be detained before trial. […] we are losing something fundamental and important from our system of justice. A long-standing principle protective of individuals and the truth is giving way to a regime based increasingly upon assumptions and premature judgement.”


The increased authoritarian powers of the national and state executives are also expressed in the increase in police powers and decrease in judicial powers on a state level. In 2015 legislation in the Northern Territory gave police the powers to arrest people for minor offences (such as ‘failing to keep a front yard clean’ or ‘playing a musical instrument as to annoy’) without a warrant. The law even allows the police to arrest someone if they believe that person is about to commit the offence, i.e. essentially punish people on the mere suspicion of committing an offence.  The arrested person may not even have the right to apply for bail or contact a lawyer.  Of the 731 arrests made under the law in first three months of 2015, 525 were of indigenous people.


In NSW the liberal-conservative government in 2014 even simply axed the state law officer’s, i.e. the Attorney-General’s, Department and brought it under the control of the police minister, thus essentially making the police responsible for the formulation of criminal law policy rather than its mere enforcers.


The police minister then introduced a new bill for ‘serious crime prevention orders’ which further eroded the judicial powers of the criminal justice system (trial by jury) and extended and cemented police powers by allowing the Police Commissioner or the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to a court for new orders restricting the movements or freedom of association even of people not convicted of, or even charged with, a serious crime for up to five years.  


A second bill introduced by the same NSW police minister would allow a senior police officer, rather than a court,  to make a ‘public safety order’ banning a person he/she deemed a serious risk from a public place or event for 72 hours.


This authoritarian shift in power to the executive is also advanced by stimulating fear and paranoia in the general population under the guise of Orwellian counter-terrorism policies. For example, in 2016 the Federal ‘Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism’ (sic) released counter-terrorism guidelines for businesses and staff operating in what they call PMGs (‘places of mass gathering’).


Recommending staff training in spotting potential terrorists, the guidelines point to suspicious behaviours to look out for. If you have ever engaged in any of the following in a ‘PMG’, you might have to really watch your step next time:


‘continuous scanning of an area, unusual perspiration,  heavy breathing, fidgeting, rubbing hands, pacing, clock watching, exaggerated yawning, avoiding security/uniformed officers […] unusual video recording or photography, working in groups, taking notes/drawing diagrams, taking measurements (pacing steps out), avoiding eye contact, […] revisiting the same location, observing but not using a public transport system.’ 


That such paranoia and social trust destruction from above is having an effect on the general population can also be gauged by the increase in Australia in popular self-surveillance, a notorious characteristic of Communist police states everywhere . The number of calls to the so-called National Security Hotline doubled from 9,274 in 2013 to 19,192 in 2014, while referrals to counter-terrorism police from the National Security Hotline grew by 548 percent between 2014 and 2015, one year after the government raised the terrorism alert level to ‘high’ and more than 800 NSW police officers carried out sweeping pre-dawn raids on 27 homes in Sydney and charged one person with plotting a beheading.


When Hitler took over power in 1933 he also retained most of the existing laws and judicial system. All Australia would need is a right-wing Trump, Bannon, Duterte or Marine le Pen figure to do the same in order for Australia to move from a post-liberal police state with some important remaining safeguards and freedoms to some post-modern form of outright fascism.  Any remaining dissidents could then perhaps be shipped to the hell-hole gulags on Nauru or Manus where asylum seekers are, with majority popular support, currently deprived of their human rights and severely abused.






[All information taken from the following articles in the Sydney Morning Herald: George Williams, ‘With no bill of rights, Australia is ill-prepared for a Down Under version of Trump’, SMH 13/2/2017, p. 16; G. Williams, ‘Australia’s problem with innocent until proven guilty’, SMH 16/3/2016, p. 19; P. Coorey, ‘Bill of rights looks dead in the water,’ SMH 17/2/2010; M. Whitbourn, ‘Basic legal rights are at risk: chief justice’, SMH 5/2/2016, p. 19; ‘Paperless arrests ‘unprecedented’’, SMH 13/7/2015, p. 10; M. Whitbourn, ‘Lawyers sound alarm over ‘erosion of powers’’, SMH 15/4/2016, p. 3; H. Aston, ‘ Security advice plants ideas to limit damage’, SMH 14/4/2016, p. 5; R. Olding, ‘Massive increase in calls to national terror hotline’, SMH 20/9/2015, p. 2]


Discussion 11 Comments

  • Bat Chainpuller 21st Feb 2017

    Now this is an excellent blog. As I do not read newspapers at all I am grateful to my fellow countryman for this essay, which is really a piece of excellent journalism, a profession whose quality itself is being eroded and fading swiftly, which in turn aids those in power to continue to eat away at citizen's rights...in this case the right to truthful and meaningful information, essential for the democratic process.

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 23rd Feb 2017

      Thanks cobber. I think you raise an important issue re the erosion of quality journalism and how this eradication or dumbing down of critical information may suit a few in power.

      Guess this is part of the severe ambiguities of 'democratised' online life and social media starting to replace mass media and newspapers. With more and more people getting their info and news via Fakebook, Twitterama, crap websites, personally streamed TV etc, there's the danger of filter bubbles and a general lack of well-informed and critical voices to help sift out the important and connect-the-dots stuff from the white noise and confusionism that passes for public discourse.

      Gets even scarier when you realise creeps with immense power to cause havoc like Trump are so dumbed down they get their main info and world framings from a mix of Murdoch-Fox news and conspiracy or loony-right websites...

  • Dave Jones 23rd Feb 2017

    "Playing a musical instrument as to annoy" can be a criminal act? Pretty much the end of country western music! Not to make light of a terrifying subject but...I guess I just did. This ruins my image of Australians, mostly gleaned from the movie Ballroom Dancing, but it seems people the world over prefer not to have any responsibility, to just let The Father have total control.

    • Bat Chainpuller 24th Feb 2017

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 26th Feb 2017

      Yep, big daddy will do it for us. We are still children, never experienced autonomy from school to factory/office. Most of the left has its big leader heteronomy and voluntary slavery too. Fear of freedom (Fromm)? Then again there's the spontaneous self-organisation and solidarity that often happens in social emergencies...Inner conflict between lower and higher selves?

      Yep, end of a lotta music I reckon...

    • Bat Chainpuller 27th Feb 2017

      Big Daddy White Geezer...


      Central Scrutinizer:

      This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER . . . it is my responsibility to enforce all the laws that haven't been passed yet. It is also my responsibility to alert each and every one of you to the potential consequences of various ordinary everyday activities you might be performing which could eventually lead to The Death Penalty (or affect your parent's credit rating). Our criminal institutions are full of little creeps like you who do wrong things . . . and many of them were driven to these crimes by a horrible force called MUSIC!

      Our studies have shown that this horrible force is so dangerous to society at large that laws are being drawn up at this very moment to stop it forever! Cruel and inhuman punishments are being carefully described in tiny paragraphs so they won't conflict with the Constitution (which, itself, is being modified in order to accommodate THE FUTURE)

      I bring you now a special presentation to show what can happen to you if you choose a career in MUSIC . . . The WHITE ZONE is for loading and unloading only . . . if you have to load or unload, go to the WHITE ZONE . . . you'll love it . . . it's a way of life

      Hi, it's me, I'm back. This is the CENTRAL SCRUUUUUUTINIZER . . . The WHITE ZONE is for loading and unloading only . . . if you gotta load or if you gotta unload, go to the WHITE ZONE . . . you'll love it . . . it's a way of life . . . that's right! You'll love it, it's a way of life, that's right, you'll love it, a way of life, right, love it . . . This is the CENTRAL SCRUTINIZER

    • Bat Chainpuller 27th Feb 2017

      "To the yay-sayers of the media circus, indicting the pleasures of the mass is not an honourable pastime. The practice is quickly ascribed to a partial psycho-social formation, the war page of critical militancy dismissed as te warpage of a sick mind. But defenders of popular taste actually harbour a more pernicious attitude: a view of the working class as infant children, to be mollycoddled with soft toys. They are the first to argue that a video needs banning. Transcendent, statist liberalism views the working classes as less than human: to be pleasured, manipulated or punished, but not through reason or invective, since these channels are only available to those who have mastered the 'educated' patter. The mass audience must be 'managed'. Who by? The managers. Materialist Esthetix calls for a driller-killer cannibal holocaust on the managerial mentality."

      "Marx noted a similar thing in his articles on censorship in Rheinische Zeitung in 1842:

      "In order to combat freedom of the press [freedom of the press should be italics], the thesis of the permanent immaturity [should be italics too] of the himan race has to be defended."

      The pop-studies consensus that decries any critique of mass culture 'elitist' could only arrive from such a top-down perspective. Down here in the cheap seats, we never stop scrapping.

      The avantgarde insistence on innovation, the refusal to admire art manoeuvres that depend for their effect on the ignorance of the punter, is condemned as 'elitism' by those who adopt the patrician model of culture - civilisation as a beleaguered set of values that need to be gradually disseminated to the barbarians without. This 'percolation' theory of culture pretends to ge in favour of 'improvement', but is actually a last-ditch defence of privilege." (Ben Watson - Art, Class and Cleavage pp4-6)

      For further examples of the art of privilege or the privilege of art, see many or most musician/educators talk on the art of improvisation.

      This is not one of those,

      "Free playing clashes with the identity of being a musician, a status above non-musicians, for it signifies that all are free to enter, as a human and not musician-bounded act ... When new players are welcomed the correct relation is immediate and conscious trust, rather than loyalty to the musician caste. This is not the trust given to the social order or the consumer's trust in the music world. It is the social foundation to playing with whatever the other does, responding only with sound, silence, movement, and speech released from prosaic effectiveness ... This yields the apparent paradox of the greatest musical intimacy possible and the greatest latitude of musical material." Jack Wright The Free Musics (2017) pp. 184-5

      Nor is Derek Bailey's Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music

  • Dave Jones 24th Feb 2017

    The prosecution rests its case. If you need a character witness, email me.

    I just watched one of those enlightening little videos that shows your chances of being harmed by a terrorist versus, say, a dog bite or bee sting, etc. Danger lurks around every corner! The latest bogeyman here is the "criminal illegal alien". Run for your life!

    • Bat Chainpuller 24th Feb 2017

      Then there are StrayAliens like me...see Robbie Thorpe http://treatyrepublic.net/

      There's a whole series of these...Free Association Music...anarchists generally don't like it!

  • Bat Chainpuller 24th Feb 2017

    You know, this is where good old popular ordinary people sports shows come in handy, or sports radio. Within these organisations, these private tyrannies, whose public face is represented by celebrity ex sports stars and sports journalists, who call a spade a spade and don't get too political about stuff, yet who all earn substantially more than your average Joe (for doing shite), one sees a kind of working class embrace, a sidling up to the working class hero. A kind of superficial and false friendship or comradery is created...first name basis talkback with regulars and comedy skits on TV sports shows, some out on the streets of less well off areas our cities, all delivered with regular normal like talking, bad grammar and all with the odd expletive thrown in for good measure, as if the, predominantly dudes, with the 6-7 figure salary media contracts, are actually living and hanging out there.

    "Hey, it's Andy from the Pakenham pub on the line...how are you Andy. I'm coming down one day to have a beer with ya mate!"

    This kind of pseudo friendship, pseudo type alining of class interests, provides a less difficult road to travel for someone like Trump or Pauline Hanson, feeding off the natural tendency of hatred towards the coordinator class of arrogant self satisfied overeducated smooth dressing professional shitheads, who the working classes actually see and hear from far more regularly than the actual capitalists who run the private tyrannies that employ the...a hatred transferred to greenies, global warming alarmists, pinkos and well dressed gays and lesbos with good jobs who the working classes often think, and rightly so, they know better than those beneath them.

    This kind of activity which can be seen on sports TV shows regularly if you watch them, and heard on talkback sports radio, if you listen to them, may even be genuine on behalf of the TV hosts and radio disc jockey celebrities (one shouldn't be too forgiving here)...but this does not matter to their bosses or their coordinator class management team lackeys...what matters is that they create this necessary paradoxical false consciousness within the minds of enough hard up working classers.

    A manipulation of sorts, a brain washing, via mass media and the reiteration of the same ideas over and over again, particularly on sports radio where ideas and thoughts, many with political, economic, sexist, classist, racist, community and cultural ramifications, are relentlessly repeated from show to show for days on end. And remember, more people read about and are more interested in sport than the business or the business section of a newspaper, or politics in general, so if you're going to get into their heads, sports media is a great place to do so. The last bastion of journalistic straight talking.

  • Bat Chainpuller 24th Feb 2017

    Perhaps the decimation of and growing distrust of mainstream unions over the last half of the twentieth century, the demise of the Wobblies etc., and a growing sense, or perhaps mainstream media painted picture of much radical activism coming from places outside of the working classes, with spokespeople often of a rather substantial academic and intellectual background, or who even just talk in a 'strange' way and read 'strange' 'important' books and shit, but usually not necessarily of or from genuine working class background, hasn't helped in this regard...that of growing right wing populism and the enabling of much of the above legislation being passed. I mean often, even if radical movements or spokespeople do have a genuine working class background it isn't often clear and the media can easily twist shit to misrepresent them. I mean, even Russell Brand, kind of ordinary in a sense and non-academic, a fucking comedian, comes across as a sort of narcissistic, well over paid long haired smarmy git, a jammy sod, or bourgeois twat, who gets far too much good sex than your average working classer with similar but socio-economically induced alcohol and drug problems. These things don't do much good in closing the divide between revolutionaries, radicals and progressives and those on the lower end of socio-economic ladder who vote for right wing fascist arseholes.

    But then, neither does playing music, like free association music, that nobody actually likes. But fuck it, it's what I do. Bruce Springsteen [for president?]...yuck and piss off...no sense at all of the revolutionary. Eugene Chadbourne...any day of the week.