The Guardian August 30, 2000


Extreme danger: military's new powers

by Marcus Browning

As The Guardian went to press the Howard Government's legislation to 
allow Australia's military to be used against civilian protesters was still 
before the Senate but was likely to be passed with some inadequate, 
ineffectual amendments from the ALP.

Opposition to the legislation, which allows troops in cooperation with 
police forces, to take control of city blocks, search and detain citizens 
and shoot to kill with impunity, is gathering momentum, including the 
formation of Stop the Defence Legislation, a coalition of union, political 
and community groups.

There has also been opposition from some police forces and from some State 
Governments concerned that their powers over police are being overridden.

The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Bill, was 
introduced by the Government in June, but the groundwork for integrated 
police-military powers has been laid for some years through periodic joint 
exercises.

It surfaced in Queensland in 1996, with state police and the military 
combining to attack a peaceful gathering in Brisbane's Musgrave Park.

In October 1996 Community Radio 4ZZZ was holding a fund raising festival in 
Musgrave Park when the Queensland police riot squad, armed with riot gear, 
batons and shields arrived and began arresting members of the crowd.

When some in the crowd responded by pelting the police with cans  
including six military police dressed in camouflage fatigues  they moved 
in and began assaulting people. Together they formed a line and swept the 
park, batonning people and knocking them down using police on horseback.

This was despite the festival organisers liaising with the local police. At 
the time the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties called for a State and 
Federal Government inquiry into the use of the military at the festival.

ALP backs Bill

The ALP basically has no disagreement with the proposed legislation. 
Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown noted that Labor Party amendments to 
the Legislation fail to ensure that troops are not used against strikes or 
political protests.

"Labor's amendments, which simply require a commander who is sending in the 
troops to believe a `protest, dissent, assembly or industrial action' posed 
a threat of serious injury or death to someone, fail the public interest", 
said Senator Brown.

"Labor is saying that, like the politicians who sent the armed troops in, 
the commander only has to conjure up a vision of violence occurring before 
acting."

Senator Brown, who opposed the Bill outright, called on Labor to at least 
support the Greens' amendments which include:

* A Sunset Clause which would see the Bill cease to be operational after 
the Sydney Olympics and Paralympics;

* Ban the use of troops against people who are engaging in peaceful protest 
or civil disobedience;

* Ban the use of troops against workers taking industrial action;

* Define the term "Domestic Violence" in the Bill. The Greens' amendments 
define domestic violence as "significant armed violence";

* State and Territory Governments to be consulted before any troop call-
out;

* The military to be subject to judicial approval for certain specified 
activities.

The ALP has rejected the Greens' amendments which would have substantially 
weakened the legislation.

Commenting to The Guardian Peter Symon, CPA General Secretary, said 
that "the amendments supported by the ALP, do not effectively eliminate the 
danger to civil rights that the Howard Government legislation poses. It is 
clear that the legislation has long-range objectives beyond the Olympic 
Games.

"The Government anticipates that the economic and political effects of 
their `economic rationalist' policies are going to create an ever stronger 
opposition and resistance and that there will be more S11 actions (see page 
12) in the future which challenge the government and the big corporations.

"The amended legislation still leaves it open for the military to be 
involved when someone decides that there is a possibility of violence  
before any violence has taken place. Furthermore, there is always the 
possibility of provocations being organised to provide a justification for 
military involvement.

"As one commentator asked: `Will the heroes of East Timor become those to 
shoot their own people on the streets of Sydney or Melbourne'?

"The passage of the legislation in any form is a giant step towards the 
militarisation of Australia's political life and is an extremely dangerous 
attack on rights to demonstrate, take strike action and generally protest 
against unacceptable government policies", concluded Peter Symon.

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