The Guardian 28 September, 2005

ALP aiding
and abetting authoritarianism

The Labor state governments are aiding and abetting the Howard government in the introduction of new anti-democratic laws under cover of anti-terrorism. The laws are not about policing terrorism — they are about policing the general public. Everyone is now a suspect as far as the state apparatus is concerned.

And it is not only state Labor governments backing what amounts to the imposition of authoritarian rule. The leader of the federal Labor Party, Kim Beazley, is even going further than Howard, pushing for laws to allow for whole suburbs to be locked down.

In Victoria, the Bracks government intends to give the police unprecedented powers to stop and search people, seize goods and secretly enter and search people’s homes. These measures are already in place in NSW. Under the planned laws, interstate and federal police can be brought into Victoria as "special constables", specified areas may be locked down and police will be able to obtain closed-circuit television footage without a court order.

Under federal plans, the Howard government intends to introduce laws to give the federal police and ASIO more powers, including fitting "suspects" with tracking devices, detain them for up to 14 days without charge and make random bag searches in public areas. Similar laws are planned for WA.

In addition the US’s internal criminal bureau, the FBI, is to set up a branch in Sydney. Famous the world over for violating the rights of US citizens, the FBI will be here officially to "exchange information" between Australian and US law enforcement agencies. "Global terrorism does not respect international boundaries", said NSW Premier Morris Iemma.

Indeed, the contradictions are rife. The most recent laws introduced in Britain include the outlawing of "glorifying of terrorism" — even as Bush, Blair and Howard continue to glorify their own terrorism, i.e. the criminal war against the people of Iraq.

The announcement of the FBI setting up shop came as the Wheeler report into Sydney airport noted the connection between terrorism and criminal activity.

But the FBI is not coming here to investigate organised crime activity in the main gateway to Australia: they are here to help Australian policing bodies deal with the unrest and opposition that is inevitable as social conditions in the country continue to break down.

It should be recalled that increased police powers introduced by the Blair government in Britain did not prevent the bombings in London in July.

Further evidence that the Howard government is heading down the path to dictatorial rule is in the fact that it continues to marginalising a section of the Australian community, demonising those who practice Islam in order to whip up fear so as to have the public accept their rights being taken away.

At a meeting last week of Australian Muslims in the Sydney suburb of Punchbowl, Agnes Chong of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network warned of the danger of the increased police powers to democratic rights. "We know of at least 18 people who have been questioned and detained under ASIO warrants", she said. "Do you want the same thing that is happening elsewhere in the world happening in Australia?

"We are not going to stand for this. We have to use every legitimate means to prevent unjust laws." Also at the meeting the President of Australian Muslim Students and Youth, Chaaban Omran stated, "As Australians we just want to be treated like everyone else. We don’t wish to have all these laws set out that will lead to us becoming targets."

Following Beazley’s call — which includes giving authorities search-and-seize powers and allowing police to lock down a suburb for 12 hours without court approval — Muslim civil liberties advocate Waleed Kadous recognised it for what it is, "a political game of one-upmanship to give away civil rights". Politically and ideologically, Beazley is the mirror image of John Howard.

Meanwhile, the report into Sydney airport warned that "terrorists may exploit weaknesses in airport security", but this is more likely because it has been privatised, making the people who run it unaccountable to the public.

It should also be recalled that crime and corruption went to the top of the security hierarchy at the airport, with its former security manager being exposed as having connections with international drug runners. Garry Lee-Rogers, a whistleblower in the Australian Protective Services — which has since been incorporated into the Australian Federal Police — was found dead in his home in October 2002.

Last May a finding by the coroner was unable to determine the cause of death. But according to his family and Whistleblowers Australia, he was murdered for uncovering corruption by APS officers. In emails to friends he predicted he would be killed and left a note saying if he was found dead it would not be by his own hand.

Now it appears, allegedly corrupt officers from the APS are members of the Federal Police, which has been given wide-ranging powers to secretly detain citizens — to "disappear" people along the lines of such fascist regimes as the one in Argentina in the 1970s and 80s. John Wheeler was spot on in that respect at least: crime and terrorism do overlap.

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