The Guardian 20 July, 2005


Driving towards dictatorship

As the crimes against humanity by the occupation forces continue in Iraq and Afghanistan, here in Australia the Howard government is spending more taxpayers' money on another fear campaign. A $2.2 million three-week advertising blitz telling Australians to be vigilant but not alarmed about terrorism began on Monday this week with a full page ad in The Australian Financial Review. Readers are urged to call a hotline if they see any warning signs. Warning signs include photographing official buildings, energy installations and important sites or the use of garages and other accommodation "at odd times of the day or night". The three weeks' time frame indicates that Australians are to be swamped with propaganda in an effort to stampede them into supporting the government's fear campaign.

PM Howard cynically stood on the bodies of the London bomb victims to cry "it can happen here" and to seize the chance to introduce more anti-democratic measures under cover of counter-terrorism. His proposals to introduce a national ID card and to give ASIO immunity from being accountable to parliament.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock wants to increase ASIO's already draconian powers to arrest and detain people and end the process whereby a parliamentary review committee reassesses its powers on a regular basis. Ruddock wants to set them in stone beyond the reach of any future Australian parliament.

ASIO would be able under such a regime to detain, interrogate, torture and even kill with impunity and without being accountable. Immunity for ASIO would reinforce its role as the protector of the government's drive to dictatorship. Even the former head of ASIO Dennis Richardson has reservations about taking away all review powers. He told a parliamentary committee that "unless there was a process where there was consistent, strengthened parliamentary review at least on periodic occasions, the community would lose faith in these powers".

Dennis Richardson is right! The exercise of absolute power brings with it an inevitable contempt for the dictatorship.

ASIO already has the power to arrest people merely on a "suspicion" that they may have some information "helpful" to ASIO. They do not have to have committed any crime. People as young as 16 years can be removed from their homes, held indefinitely, and questioned for eight hours at time. Failure to answer a question can incur a five-year prison sentence.

The "war on terrorism" is also being used to justify the introduction of an ID card for all Australians. A similar proposal by the former Hawke Labor government was overwhelmingly rejected by the Australian people in the 1980s. It would become yet another means by which to regiment the Australian people. It would do next to nothing to limit the activities of terrorists should they be operating on Australian soil.

"We shouldn't complacently imagine that there aren't potentially suicide bombers in this country", said Howard, continuing this government's divide-and-rule tactic of encouraging fear of other peoples, cultures and religions. Media images and commentary in relation to terrorism constantly identify members of a Muslim community despite the attempts to suggest that the "campaign against terrorism" is not directed against the Muslim community. There is never any reference to the Israeli terror used regularly against Palestinians and the terror unleashed against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan by the wars and occupation of their countries. Cruise missiles and cluster bombs dropped by high-flying aircraft are also weapons of terror.

If there is an attack in Australia it will serve to confirm as the attacks in London confirmed in the case of the Blair government that Australia's role in the dirty war in Iraq is the cause, despite the government's continued denial.

The ALP has supported the return of SAS troops to Afghanistan a return ordered by the Bush administration tying Labor leaders unequivocally into the US war plans. In an attempt to appear even more macho than Howard, Labor's defence spokesman Robert McClelland said, "The Howard government should stand up and admit that they cut and ran prematurely in 2002".

The struggle for the maintenance of democratic rights in Australia is becoming yet another major issue confronting all progressive organisations. The steady slide to dictatorship which is being step by step pushed by the Howard government must be stopped before all means to resist it have been taken away.

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