Contributed by Ben Wilson
The threat is real. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton remains determined to force through amendments to the law and give free reign to ASIO, one of Australia’s spy organisations, to track, watch, and interrogate Australians.
Up to now, any of this has required a warrant from a judge. Dutton’s intended change will take this away.
Critics of ASIO have long said that its agents have often ignored the legal niceties supposed to be a check on their activity. But this has carried the risk of being caught out, and political damage to the government of the day.
Dutton’s intends to remove the inconvenience, and this will translate into an escalation of ASIO activity directed against Australians. It comes at a time, when the Morrison government is increasingly prepared to shift to less democratic means to impose its political agenda.
Dutton’s amendments are an attempt to impose more secretive government. Whistleblowers and journalists creating inconvenient news are special targets. This is a big part of the attempt to censor media. The government does not want the public to know what it is up to.
Australia’s political institutions have never been less respected. There is a perception that our political leaders are corrupt and for sale: That they make decisions to favour their big business backers and ignore the interests of the majority.
A series of scandals have lent credibility to this understanding. There are the current ones over dodgy deals and sexual impropriety. And there have been big business scandals the scandals, like those involving the banks, coal and gas company access to government funds, and the operation of private nursing homes. On op of this, there is the constant abuse of allowances by ministers.
The extent of negative perceptions of political institutions and political leaders, and their connection with big business, is a strong indication that Australians want much better than this.
Dutton’s attempt is designed to increase spying, to protect the government and its backers from the Australian population.
Immediate targets are those who are active in exposing what is going on and proposing alternatives. Lawyers are targets. The aim is to stop activity that the government does not want, and this ultimately affects the whole population.
Dutton’s effort adds to a series of laws and amendments restricting freedoms already in place. Examples are the so-called anti-terrorist laws, the law securing access to metadata, a shift from being presumed innocent until proven guilty, weakening of the right to appeal, less access to lawyers, challenge the testimony of witnesses, and enhanced ability to hold trials in secret.
A part of the new changes involves the militarisation of domestic affairs. Another gives the American CIA the same powers as ASIO to operate in Australia. And there is an intended new power, to give the government the right to invite a foreign military to back it up it during a vaguely defined emergency.
Australia is already reputed to have the most restrictive laws of this type in the developed world.
Much of this arsenal has not been used yet. This doesn’t mean that it won’t be in the future. and it is there for a reason.
There is no doubt that there is a move to increasing authoritarian government. It is important to resist this. Everything must be done to prevent the new measures form being adopted. This should be used as the springboard to roll back undemocratic measures that have already been put in place.