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Enter the new secret police

by Marcus Browning Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001 at 1:21 AM

Under cover of an anti-terrorist offensive, the Howard Government has signalled new laws to enhance and reinforce the right of law enforcement bodies and spy organisations to trample on the civil liberties and democratic rights of the Australian people. The new laws would add to the draconian powers given to the military in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics last year, and to the powers handed to law enforcement bodies and the military this year in the Border Protection Bill.

The Guardian October 10, 2001



The defence force's special counter terrorist and incidents response group, put in place during the Olympics, has been reinstated and "significantly enhanced" (doubled in size).

Actual details, such as the funding, location and nature of this enhanced capability, like the rest of the planned changes, have not been made public for "security reasons".

The spy organisation ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) has been given arrest and detention powers, allowing it to detain suspects for 48 hours without charge. The right to remain silent has been waived, with suspects facing up to five years jail for refusing to answer questions from ASIO officers.

According to Attorney-General Daryl Williams, ASIO will be allowed to question people not themselves suspected of terrorist activity, but "who may have information that may be relevant to ASIO's investigations into politically motivated violence".

The legislation "would also authorise the State or Federal Police, acting in conjunction with ASIO, to arrest a person and bring that person before the prescribed authority."

Although ASIO will have to go through the formality of obtaining a warrant from a federal magistrate, it has now ceased, even officially, to be solely a spy organisation used for collecting information and compiling data, albeit mostly on law abiding Australian citizens. For all intents and purposes ASIO is now the state secret police with broadly defined powers, such as the right to arrest "suspects linked to security incidents".

There is to be a special offence of terrorism, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Such an offence will include violent attacks or threatsof violent attacks.

The Government will have the power to seize and freeze terrorist assets using new terrorist-specific measures in the Crimes Act. There is no detail as to what can be considered "terrorist assets".

Plain clothed armed security officers will be placed on domestic and international flights and there is to be a more intense examination of airline baggage, including full x-ray and physical search of cabin luggage.

Repressive measures

It was 12 months ago when, using the Olympics as a pretext, the Government began putting wide-ranging measures for repression in place.

The September 11 attacks in the US have added to the momentum of a whole agenda that has little to do with terrorism and everything to do with clamping down on opposition to government policies at home, and coordinating those same repressive measures with the ruling circles in other countries.

In Australia this agenda involves the powers given to the military under three defence force projects: Bluefin, Bloodhound and Greenfin. Though labelled as counter-terrorist measures, they in fact have created military special forces with the means of carrying out urban warfare and crowd control measures that involve tear gas, stun grenades, short range portable missiles, lightweight mortars and rapid response vehicles armed with machine guns.

The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civil Authorities) Bill introduced last year 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".

This is a vague and undefined term from the Constitution which now is widely interpreted to mean more than "terrorism" and can include strikes, political demonstrations or riots.

The three Ministers can call the military out when they are satisfied that domestic violence is occurring "or is likely to occur" that will effect "Commonwealth interests" (also undefined). Almost any political demonstration can be rendered "unlawful".

Once deployed the military will have wide-ranging powers to seize premises, places and means of transport, search premises and detain people. Military forces will be permitted to cause death or grievous bodily harm where they believe "on reasonable grounds" that such action is necessary to protect another person, including military personnel. In essence, they are allowed to shoot to kill.

International

These powers to the military also include the use of electronic ID systems, a development that follows an international pattern. Parallel legislation under "counter-terrorist" measures has emerged in the US and the European Union (EU). Much of the new legislation proposed in the EU and Australia is based on the UK Terrorism Act.

EU proposals for the harmonisation of anti-terrorism legislation, reports the Belgian League of Human Rights, contains a broad scope of offenses defined as terrorism "that aims to seriously prejudice the political, economic and social structures of a country and could cover actions which have nothing to do with terrorism".

Many countries, including the US, Britain, the Philippines and the Netherlands are taking the opportunity to try and introduce a national ID card. In Britain, the Blair Government is pushing for a compulsory ID card which would contain a name, date of birth, photograph and possibly finger prints, criminal record and DNA.

The Statewatch organisation in Britain warns that the EU response to the terrorist attacks in the US, which is similar in scope to the UK Terrorism Act, is "drawn so wide as to endanger legitimate dissent".

Also that "there is a deliberate attempt to broaden the concept of terrorism to cover protests (such as those against the WEF, IMF and World Bank) what it calls `urban violence'.

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