Contributed by Adam Carlton
While in London, Malcolm Turnbull let out that Australia’s spy bodies will be re-organised and integrated under a single office.
It is possible that a new Home Office will be created, which would include ASIO, and the Australian Border Force and likely fall under the immigration portfolio. The idea is not new. It has come up a few times in the recent past, but never implemented. But the fact that it was mentioned overseas on a major platform, suggests that it might now be coming closer to being a fact.
The focus is to ratchet up the capacity to deal with the claimed terrorist threat. In doing this, Turnbull has compared Australia to Great Britain, which has been experiencing attacks. That country is more vulnerable, because of its history as a world power, former of colonies and an aggressive international policy stance. Although Australia shares in the political aggressiveness, we are not a power in the world and the comparison is foolish.
Even if this was not the case, relying too much on policing as the strategy for minimising attacks is not working anywhere and is therefore questionable. It is not hard to find the reason for this, so long as you want to.
Marginalising a section of the population and making them feel alienated, powerless and victims of a ruthless system, provides a steady stream of recruits. The crusade against Islam does this.
This has been going on in Australia as well.
Coupled with anti-terror laws that are in practice aimed at a specific population, not in terms of what the targets may have done, but on the accident of birth and faith, has contributed significantly to the problem. When Australia’s spy organisations are turned to the same use, it is worse still.
This is a good reason why the ratcheting up of Australia’s domestic spying is a bad thing.
Add Australia’s abysmal treatment of refugees. This involves the spies and activists are being targeted as well as the boat people. And here is a link that threatens the broad Australian community. Extend the quantity and level of spying and we are all the target.
The argument that if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear doesn’t wash, when the assessment is not based on carrying out illegal action, but on a perceived opinion.
Governments facing rising instability and uncertainty about their own future will resort to using the organisations at their disposal and laws, as a political weapon to safeguard political power against critics.
It is already happening. The new metadata law is one example. There are many other ways by which private information is being collected and used. Legal precedents are being laid down that take away the presumption of being innocent until proven guilty, the right towards legal representation restricted and openness in legal processes closed. Just consider the experience of the Australian Building Construction Commission. Turnbull and his government are working to bring it back.