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Australia's low road to the Security State


bound handsImmediately after the 9/11 attacks I was struck by a journalist's remark that we were now entering a new and enduringly harsh world. At the time I thought it pessimistic, but the subsequent changes and the general acquiescence in them now suggest he may have been right.

Who then, for example, would have thought that the immigration department would now be the department for border security? Or that the military would be placed in control of Indigenous settlements? Or that people would be deprived of the protection of the law? Or that employees of transnationals would be given impunity for violence against people in their charge? Or that governments invade others' privacy freely, and have them jailed for letting others know? Or that these changes would be introduced with the support of both major parties?

Back then we might have imagined we were hearing of the first stages in states like Apartheid South Africa or Chile. It is worth reflecting on the process by which such changes, many of which were inspired by the threat of terrorism, come to be introduced and accepted without demur.

The shift is best seen in the case of people who seek protection by boat. At first refugees were welcomed. But because Australia is in a position to insist that people can enter only with valid visas, those who came by boat were seen as problematic. Their needs for protection as human beings were assessed and met initially, but they themselves came to be spoken of in terms that defined them not as people with problems, but as themselves problems.

Terms like economic migrants, queue jumpers, dark skinned people and illegals defined them as different, and undesirably different.

Because they were seen as problems it became easy to ignore their humanity and to treat them as means to policy ends. This was the crucial step towards illiberal governance. It was generally seen as acceptable that they should be detained, deprived of support, and generally mistreated in order to deter others from coming.

From regarding them as problems rather than as human beings with problems, it was a short step to see and treat them as enemies. They were a threat to Australian security, to the security of our borders, the pawns of hostile people smugglers, perhaps the fifth column of terrorism.

If they were enemies with whom Australia was in a covert war, it then became seen as acceptable for the Australian Government to roll out a military response. Australian resources were no longer deployed to rescue them and review their claims but to repel them and defend the borders against them.

If they made their way to Australian soil, they could be treated as prisoners of war and detained, although without many of the protections enjoyed by prisoners of war. It also seemed reasonable that the actions launched against them and the treatment dealt out to them should be protected by the operational secrecy proper to military operations.

Other changes naturally followed. Detention centres, once legal only for administrative purposes, became seen as places of punishment and deterrence for enemies, and became increasingly indistinguishable from prisons. It was natural to seek impunity for those guarding them.

The same logic suggests that the secrecy proper to military operations will be progressively extended to more aspects of their treatment, and that breaches of it will be criminalised. And that government ministers and opinion makers will assure us that each new turn of the screw is humane and that we can trust them to implement it justly.

In South Africa this logic led to the development of a department of homeland security, to pass laws, identity checks, preventative detention and the like. And all the while the Government and its compliant media insisted that it could be trusted to act humanely.

Australia, however, differs from South Africa in one crucial respect. The war against asylum seekers here is waged against foreigners, not against people settled in Australia. It would be a large step to treat resident Australians as enemies.

It is not unimaginable, of course. Muslims in Australia, for example, are already seen as problems by some Australians. Each atrocity abroad and each person acting out alienation at home reinforces the prejudices of those who believe that the communities and their religion and ethnicity are a problem. Mercifully, these opinions are rebutted by responsible and informed Australians.

Only extremists regard Muslims as enemies. But if a populist and incompetent government were to scapegoat them and declare them to be enemies, as was done to asylum seekers, it would be a short step to build on the laws already introduced and harry them through further discriminatory legislation. That in turn would lessen the protections under the law that other groups would enjoy.

Of course, this could never happen in Australia. But that is what they once said in Germany, Chile and South Africa.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street. 

Image: Shutterstock

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, September 11, Germany, Chile, South Africa, Apartheid, asylum seekers



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Existing comments

What a scary scenario. And how easily we could be manipulated into accepting it as inevitable. A lot of soul searching needs to be done at all levels, from individuals, communities, religions, nations, and international bodies, if we are to lay down a 'yellow brick road' that will lead to a better world for our children, and theirs.

Robert Liddy | 30 April 2015  

thanks, Andrew. There might be some argument that policy and prejudice already treat "people settled in Australia" as enemies. Indigenous communities come to mind. Related to your opening paragraphs...With increasingly stringent legislation, daily deceit and obfuscation from governments, the rapid and widespread installation of security cameras, the lack of any vision in this country, and the general passivity of Australians who would rather shop than think, we are all coming to live in a maximum security prison of our own making.

phil | 30 April 2015  

Military in charge of indigenous settlements? I didn't know that. Governments invading privacy - obviously the Victorian police should have allowed themselves to be attacked on Anzac Day. Valid visas? Surely they are not new. If I were your teacher, Andrew, I would ask "did you write this yourself?" And speak to the class about people drawing long bows, before giving you C-minus.

Frank | 30 April 2015  

Bravo! A wonderful article that I will be sharing

Patrick Jurd | 30 April 2015  

Great analysis. It is as if the Abbott government has read and taken too heart Richard Evans` second volume on the Third Reich, the account of how the Nazis in power transformed and ground a decent people into passive and not-so passive ideologues and racists.Scary stuff.

Eugene | 30 April 2015  

9/11 .....We fell into the trap. I well remember going to my University class that day and predicting what was to come and that no one wanted to hear. Sadly it's all fallen into place and we make our world evermore divided fearful and unsafe. I wonder if or when a leader will come forward and remind us of the message from Jesus that blessed are the peacemakers, they shall inherit the earth.

john | 30 April 2015  

Andrew. You have made me stop and wonder today. You have made me wonder: What the Aboriginal children who were being abused from a very young age and their brutalised mothers thought of the intervention which is what I presume you refer to as the "military control of indigenous settlements; What the hundreds of thousands of Christians driven from their homes who have watched their families and friends slaughtered by radical Islamists think of this militant aspect of conservative Muslimism; Why I have missed the reference to refugees as "dark skinned people" despite keeping up with the refugee problems for some years; What the refugees who waste their lives away without hope in UN refugee centres awaiting placement (not in a queue or on a waiting list?)while others pay criminals large amounts of money to enter countries of their choice contrary to international conventions (some would legitimately say "illegally"); What do these same refugees think of those un-persecuted beings who use this form of entry into a country of their choice simply to enjoy greater economic benefits; Are such practices corrupt? Or should we welcome even more corruption (in the name of social justice) than we have already instituted ourselves as an art form in this country; Why are we obliged in the name of inclusivity and social justice to accept and understand the terrifying treat of militant Islam to the Christian world, a far greater threat to our children and grandchildren than any other perceived possible future threat (such as climate change, for example)

john frawley | 30 April 2015  

Frank: " If I were your teacher, Andrew, I would ask "did you write this yourself?" And speak to the class about people drawing long bows, before giving you C-minus."....... If you were motoring on a mountain road, and you saw someone putting up a notice: "Slippery black ice ahead" ,Would you ask 'Did you write this yourself?', and claim that it was drawing a long bow? If we don't take heed of warnings and tendencies, we are asking for trouble.

Robert Liddy | 30 April 2015  

Thank you again Andrew, Could we please get this piece into the daily popular press. It is critical that ALL Australians make these connections.

Peter Bugden | 30 April 2015  

First they come for the Muslims, then they will come for all of you. People are so blinded by their hate of Muslims that they are surrendering all their rights. One morning they will wake up and it will be too late !!! We will all be Muslims!!!

Babylonian | 30 April 2015  

Thank you John Frawley.

Jane | 30 April 2015  

In reply to Frank's ignorance relating to military intervention in Aboriginal communities we need only look at the Emergency Response initiated by Mal Brough and John Howard which became The Intervention into Aborignal communities in the Northern Territory. Based on a disturbing report about child abuse in the NT undertaken by the NT government under Claire Martin the Federal Government decided that the NT was incompetent to govern its own cistizens and sent in the troops. Claire Martin recently interviewed Mirian Rose Ungemeer and was dismayed to hear from her that this was the beginning of the end for her community at Daly River. She outlined the effects of disempowerment that this invasion produced eventuating in reduced school attendance and falling reading and maths standards in her Catholic School. It is clear that the intentions of the Intervention were good - to address the widely reported child abuse found in the report, but the marginalisation of the local Indigenous people as well as being hurtful was actually harmful since it is only when a community has a sense of integrity and self-determination that it can address these issues which are fundamentally beyond the reach of external authorities.

Mike Bowden | 30 April 2015  

Fr Hamilton is guilty of intellectual laziness when he asserts that, “Only extremists regard Muslims as enemies.” Extremist is one of those words writers use when they want to shut down any further debate of, or investigation into, a proposition. The rational and good are forbidden from even entertaining such notions. While I may not regard Muslims as enemies, there is a sizeable enough number of Muslims who regard me as an enemy. Why? Basically, because I am a Christian, not a Muslim. On the shores of Libya, Isis hacks the heads of a Coptic Christians and quotes from the Quran, ‘I shall put terror into the hearts of the disbelievers. Strike above their necks and strike their finger tips (8:12).” They then point their blades, still wet with the blood of their victims, towards Italy. They quote a hadith “he (Mohammed) was asked, ‘Which of the two cities will be opened first, Constantinople or Rome?‘ He answered, ‘The city of Heraclius (Constantinople) will be opened first!’ Of course the unstated fact is Rome will be next. Isis has already stated they will send their men across the Mediterranean in the current tide of migrants. Of course, such violence could never happen in Australia. But that’s what they once said in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Armenia.

John Ryan | 30 April 2015  

I was in Chile in 1962. A more peaceable place one could not imagine. I felt it was just like Australia and Santiago reminded me so much of Melbourne, Within 10 years, Pinochet had seized power (possibly with FBI help) and we all know what happened in Chile after that time. Let us be warned. It could happen here.

JW | 30 April 2015  

Andrew, I could accept your argument until you started talking about Muslims. Non-Muslims are not their enemies. Our whole ethos in the West is tolerance of others. The problem is that the Muslim scriptures teach them that non-Muslims are their enemies, and encourage intolerance of non-Muslims. The explanation at the following link should be read by all here: http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/sina/call_to_muslims.htm

Frank S | 30 April 2015  

thank you for sounding the alarm bells Andrew. They need to ring loud and clear. The justification of fear for the introduction of oppressive measures appears to have gained momentum in Australia.

Ern Azzopardi | 01 May 2015  

I too believe we are headed for a police state, but for none of the reasons advanced by Fr Hamilton. Firstly, refusal to face runaway debt levels will lead to bankruptcy and societal collapse; Secondly, freedom of speech, the cornerstone of democracy, is under constant attack from the Left, as is freedom of the press, for instance when the ALP joined by the Greens set up the Finkelstein inquiry to try to muzzle the media; Thirdly, attacks on freedom of conscience and religious liberty—abortion advocates want governments to repeal conscience protection for medical workers who object; the US Supreme Court has been told that religious colleges that oppose same-sex marriage could lose their tax exempt status just as those who oppose interracial marriage do (Bob Jones case), effectively destroying them. “It’s going to be an issue” said counsel; Fourthly, defense force, police, firefighters, even school cadets are warned not to wear their uniforms in public lest they become terror targets; Fifth, the WHO estimates 40-50 million abortions every year—a level of sacrifices beyond the wildest dreams of Moloch. Blaise Pascal wrote that diversions hinder us from reflecting on ourselves which is why diversion “leads us unconsciously to death.”

Ross Howard | 01 May 2015  

Yes, Peter Bugden, I agree with you. Andrew Hamilton should release the above article to the daily press. Then we can read the response from the vast majority of Australians who voted for Tony Abbott at the last Federal election and will vote again for Tony Abbott at the next Federal election. I can't wait to read the response

Ron Cini | 01 May 2015  

You are quite right to mention all the wrongs you do Andrew as well as your quite legitimate fear that the gradual whittling away of our civil liberties and legal protection by politicians may lead us to become a security state. Like you and unlike some of your more trenchant critics I am not sure that the elevation of Muslims to the position of the Number One Enemy and All Purpose Scapegoat of our society would be a good thing. In fact I think it would be downright diabolical. It is easy at times like these to fan the flames of hatred. We emphatically do not need that.

Edward Fido | 01 May 2015  

Thank you Fr Andrew for wading into these treacherous waters. We're in very confusing times, and expecting worse, as the worlds' economy is being propped up by notional money that will inevitably collapse. In this country the inexorable creep towards totalitarianism continues election by election. Simply Orwellian. Conspiracy Theorists don't all agree on the mechanisms at play, but could generally be said to agree that the trend is towards more disorder in society, countered by more draconian methods from nation states to control populations and institutions.
2,600 years ago Sun Tzu elaborated in The Art Of War, on how to win. Most of his points were around confounding the enemy. All over the world a confoundment process has been at work for some time. Evidence - the GFC. John Howard, Oct2001 Children Overboard; found by Senate Inquiry to be misleading. Seems some RAN personnel concerned considered the lies slandered their service. But mission accomplished, he won the election. A month earlier 911, NYC. WTC Building 7 also collapsed; 47 floors to 0 in 8.34 seconds after 9 hours of small (relatively) fires on just 2 floors. Building wasn't even mentioned in the Whitehouse terms of reference inquiry for the WTC tragedy.
Islam. Seems Muslims are drawn into this bun-fight through no machinations of their own. They are inextricably drawn into the confounding, and they deserve better. I recommend they we study them with a compassionate heart and get to know them as brothers and sisters because we all need to be united. For divided we fall. The victors will be a very small elite that year by year impressively gain , compared to all other people on the planet, wealth and power. For what? Perhaps they know what's better for us than we do?

MichCook | 01 May 2015  

To extrapolate from Asylum seekers horror to other hypothetical calamities is great media hype and scaremongering , but pollies do have scorching accountability at election time. [And we are nowhere near the post Versailles cess pit of fascists Nazism].. Mutatis mutandis, I have more confidence in Australian voters frankly!
In general they have a good nose for a fair go [not perfect but good!] And of course you have every right to your opinion

Father John George | 01 May 2015  

John Frawley, ISIS is not "conservative Islam" as it's form of extremist interpretation of Islam and jihad and sharia law is a modern phenomenon. Even the Ottoman Empire allowed Jews and Christians to live among them (albeit on the margins). ISIS is a brutal Sunni uprising. Even many Syrian Sunnis would rather be under the control of Bashar al-Assad's repressive regime than to have to live under ISIS.

AURELIUS | 01 May 2015  

Ayaan Hirsi Ali ...
"For more than thirteen years now, I have been making a simple argument in response to such acts of terrorism. My argument is that it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of radical Islamists can be divorced from the religious ideals that inspire them. Instead we must acknowledge that they are driven by a political ideology, an ideology embedded in Islam itself, in the holy book of the Qur’an as well as the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad contained in the hadith.
Let me make my point in the simplest possible terms: Islam is not a religion of peace."...
According to Fr H, Hirsi Ali must be an ill-informed extremist.

HH | 02 May 2015  

When we lived in Pakistan a few years ago, most of our household staff were Muslims, but some Christian. One day our wonderful driver (Muslim), spoke to my husband, of his concern about the way one of the guards was treating our housekeeper, and thought it might be because she was a Christian. So, asking around amongst the staff, my husband found that the guard was very unpopular with the staff, because of the way he treated our housekeeper. So he was immediately removed. The thing is, which is worse. To be intellectually lazy (whatever that means), or, to be ignorant about Muslims, and how well many different people live together in other parts of the world etc. And I mean, ignorance in the sense that we do have access to a limitless amount of information, being a First World country.

Intellectual Laziness (HFA) | 03 May 2015  

If we have learnt anything from the effectiveness of ISIS propaganda with the marginalized and disturbed, it is that the vilification and hatred directed at the Muslim community is one of the tools they use. The isolation and making into enemies of the community was used by Serbian extremists in Bosnia as a preliminary to that recent genocide. The Nazis made the Jewish community into an enemy before the Final Solution. An inclusive democracy is what we must build, not a fear based, discriminatory apartheid state.

Bilal | 03 May 2015  

I wish everyone could read this. An intelligent, ethical and compassionate article, it is the best I have read on the present overall social, political and military situations in Australia. Government scare- tactics are a common method used to distract voters from the disenfranchisement of the increasing numbers of the poor and vulnerable. To cite Germany, Chile and South Africa in this context is so important, and needs to be shouted in the streets. Sadly, recent public protests in the light of media and political statements, heighten beliefs of a guilty and undeserving poor.There cannot be democracy when any government openly supports legal inequality of taxes and resources, and greed, hatred and bigotry are said to be good economics and necessary for national security! Let us all take note of Father Hamilton's timely warnings. Bring all our justifiable grievances together and bravely create the biggest moratorium Australia has ever seen against a growing police state.

Annabel | 03 May 2015  

The comment quoting Ayaan Hirsi Ali neglected to mention that this author is a progressive Muslim who says Islam needs a reformation. Seems ironic her liberal and critical views on Islam are seized on by conservative Catholics at odds with the reformist movements in their own church. I can see similarities with the persecution/suppression of the mystical Sufi Muslims in the same way the Jesuits' Spiritual Exercises and renewed focus on "finding God in all things" posed a threat to the powerful church hierarchy.

AURELIUS | 04 May 2015  

Not ironical at all, Aurelius, since the specific objections Hirsi Ali has to Islam are perfectly compatible with the beliefs of authentic, "traditional" Catholics. This makes sense if Catholicism is the One True Faith.

HH | 04 May 2015  

And likewise Hirsi Ali's challenge to Islam to be openly critical at how the Koran is interpreted (ie leading to sharia law and jihad) can be applied to Christian scriptures and doctrines, without fear of condemnation and threats of hellfire and damnation. Muslims already regard Jesus as a prophet, but they would be more inclined to believe in salvation through the cross if they saw Catholics living accordingly, rather than using divisive and exclusive terms like "One True Faith". I'm sure Coptic Christians have more right at the moment to consider themselves authentic and traditional people of the cross.

AURELIUS | 04 May 2015  

Hirsi Ali’s critical observations of Islam are pertinent and compatible with traditional Catholicism, regardless of the merits or otherwise of her take on other issues. The Bible is the book of the Church and definitively interpreted by Her, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Koran is not divinely inspired or interpreted. That’s my belief. Anyone who disagrees with me on this point, however they style themselves, worships on a different mountaintop.

HH | 04 May 2015  

@Intellectual laziness (HFA) I take it that your rhetorical question about what being intellectually lazy means was directed at my earlier post. Well, I would take your own post as an example of intellectual laziness. You cite one case where a few good Muslims show concern about the unkind behaviour of one of their co-religionists towards a Christians. From this you appear to conclude that every thing is therefore just hunky-dory for Christians right throughout Pakistan. With some intellectual endeavour or rigour, you might have hesitated before you generalised based on your own experience. Are you not aware of the draconian blasphemy laws that are part of Pakistan's penal code? "295-C: use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet: – who ever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation innuendo, or insinuation, directly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable for fine." Christians have been set upon by mobs and brutally murdered upon the mere word from a Muslim "neighbour" that they have blasphemed. No MP will try to repeal them for they fear for their lives. I hope this makes you somewhat better informed about Islam.

John Ryan | 04 May 2015  

What we believe and where we worship will be judged more by our actions than words.

AURELIUS | 05 May 2015  

For nearly 40 years I've been living and travelling in developing countries. Love it. Some of these include Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Oman and Indonesia. It has been to my absolute privilege to have been asked into many, many people's homes and given the most wonderful meals. The generosity over the period, has been truly moving. Far too many to remember every one. And these are people who didn't know me. I just happened to walk up their street, or be on a train with them etc. And always telling me, that I am their guest. I have mentioned some of these countries who are predominately Muslim, because each one has a different culture, tradition, way of dressing, food etc. Many of these generous people have been Muslims, but I guess I never gave it much thought. It never seemed particularly relevant to anything. So for me, watching the demonising of Muslims in Australia over the last several years, and progressively getting nastier and nastier, is absolutely horrendous. There is absolutely no excuse for this ignorance.

Intellectual Laziness | 06 May 2015  

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