The Guardian August 9, 2000

New Olympic powers:
Shoot to kill

With no media attention or public discussion the Howard Government is 
using the Olympics to justify sweeping new powers allowing the military to 
suppress domestic unrest in Australia.

The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civil Authorities) Bill seeks 
to establish the legal and political basis for using troops to suppress 
political disturbances, seriously undermining the centuries-old principle 
that the armed forces should not be mobilised against the civilian 

The Bill was passed through the House of Representatives in one day (June 
28) virtually unnoticed with the country in the grip of GST mania, and is 
due to be voted on in the Senate by the end of August in time for the 
Olympic Games.

Under the pretext of ensuring public safety during the Olympics, the 
Government and the Labor opposition have combined to rush through the 
legislation which will permanently and fundamentally change the military's 

The Bill authorises the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the 
Attorney-General to advise the Governor-General (the Commander-in-Chief of 
the armed forces under the Constitution) to call out military personnel to 
deal with "domestic violence" that is considered a threat to the nation or 
one of Australia's States or Territories.

The words "domestic violence" do not refer to violence against family 
members or in the home. It is a vague and undefined expression derived from 
s119 of the Constitution, which was intended to cover civilian disorder 
that the state police forces prove incapable of putting down.

Today, the term "domestic violence" is widely interpreted to mean more than 
just "terrorism" and can include strikes, political demonstrations or 

Already the term "terrorism" has been used by police and security forces to 
encompass protests such as those planned for the World Economic Forum in 
Melbourne in September.

It is possible that "domestic violence" will be interpreted to include 
protests at the Olympics or the World Economic Forum.

Section 119 of the Constitution provides that the Federal Government shall 
protect each State against domestic violence, but only on the application 
of the State's government. Section 51A of the Bill goes well beyond the 
existing s.51 of the Defence Act 1903 (Cth), which is based on s.119 of the 

The new section will allow a military call out where the three Ministers 
are satisfied that domestic violence is occurring "or is likely to occur" 
that will affect "Commonwealth interests" (also undefined) regardless of 
whether there is a request by any state or territory government.

Section 51B retains an existing proviso in s.51 that a state government 
cannot request reserve forces for use in an intervention to deal with an 
industrial dispute, but no such restriction applies to the use of the armed 
forces to protect Commonwealth interests.

Nor is there a restriction on the use of the permanent military when 
requested by a State.

Section 51G will prevent military personnel being utilised "to stop or 
restrict any lawful protest or dissent" but that limitation is for all 
practical purposes meaningless.

Almost any political demonstration can be rendered "unlawfull" by refusal 
of official permission (such as NSW's new Olympic security legislation).

Once deployed, the military forces will have wide-ranging powers under 
Sections 51I to 51Y to seize premises, places and means of transport; 
detain people; search premises; and seize things.

If the three Ministers declare a "general security area" these powers will 
be expanded to provide for wider searches, including personal searches; the 
erection of barriers; and the stopping of means of transport.

If a "designated area" is declared, the powers will increase further, to 
stop and control movement; and issue directions to people.

Shoot to kill

The most disturbing measures, however, are those contained in Section 51T 
on the use of "reasonable and necessary force". In essence, this section 
will allow military personnel to shoot to kill.

They will be permitted to cause death or grievous bodily harm where they 
believe "on reasonable grounds" that such action is necessary to protect 
the life, or prevent serious injury to, another person, including the 
military personnel.

Both the Government and the Labor Party have claimed that the Bill merely 
codifies the law that already exists. But the purpose of this section is to 
shield military personnel from actions or prosecution for assault, false 
imprisonment and homicide.

As legal commentators have warned, without such legal protection, soldiers 
could, for example, face murder charges if they kill someone in the course 
of quelling a civil disturbance, even if they were acting under superior 

In recent years, police killings of civilians have become commonplace in a 
number of States, with the police authorities invariably claiming that the 
killings were required for self-defence.

The Bill will see the same power extended to troops, armed with even more 
deadly weapons, operating under conditions of serious unrest.

There are significant questions about the constitutionality of aspects of 
the legislation.

More importantly, however, the Bill will be a further increase in the para-
militarisation of policing in Australia and a significant further step by 
the military into domestic politics.

In 1978 the Fraser Government used the pretext of the Hilton bombing and 
counter-terrorism in constructing a new national security apparatus based 
on extensive intelligence-military-police cooperation.

Now the Olympics are being used as justification for the strengthening of 
this apparatus and its grip on civil society.

Already the Olympics have been the pretext for increased funding and 
resources for the military special forces, sweeping new phone tapping 
powers for ASIO and unprecedented powers for police and security in NSW.

This Bill, if passed, will be another significant erosion of our civil 


Write, phone, fax or email

John Howard, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2066, Tel 02 6277 7700, Fax 02 
6273 4100

Kim Beazley, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2066, Tel 02 6277 4022, Fax 02 
6277 8495, Email,

Meg Lees, Senate, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2066, Tel 02 6277 3991, 
Fax 02 6277 3996, Email,

Call media contacts, ring talk-back radio and make a noise about this 
fundamental threat to our civil liberties.

More information, Damien Lawson 0418 140 387

* * *
Abridged from forthcoming article in the Alternative Law Journal by Michaed Head.

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