Government chipping away at our liberties


Chisel chipping away at 'freedom' stone

One of the sharpest thinkers behind the drafting of the US Constitution was James Madison. His warnings about the encroachments of government power are prescient.

'I believe,' he asserted before delegates at the Virginia Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution in 1788, 'there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.'

This points to the situation Australia finds itself in. There have been no violent usurpations. There has been no coup. There have been no acts of massive violence.

But data retention laws have been passed. National security legislation protecting ASIO from all operations short of murder while punishing the disclosure of material on secret intelligence operations has been enacted. Hundreds of police have been deployed in order to arrest a few teenagers. The stripping of citizenship of dual nationals is on the books. The noose around freedom, it would seem, is tightening.

Now, Australia has a newly appointed position – that of a counter-terrorism chief. It bears striking resemblance to moves made in the US to reflect the post-9/11 world, those involving the creation of such Orwellian departments as the Office of Homeland Security. New, upturned security environments require dramatic administrative responses – so we are told.

The language of a counter terrorism chief sounds like surfeit bureaucracy, an unnecessary encrustation on the security state. Australia has policed and combated internal threats for decades, treating such matters as issues, not of dramatic radicalisation, but of ordinary crime dealt with under conventional laws. This was particularly the case in the 1960s and 1970s, which saw a flurry of anti-Yugoslav activity at the hands of Croat nationalists, some of whom did have Australian citizenship.

It has fallen to the former ambassador to Iran and Indonesia, Greg Moriarty, to fill the boots of a position that will coordinate counter-terrorism efforts. 'There are many different departments, many different agencies,' explained Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, 'and we want to ensure that there’s a completely coordinated approach and that nothing slips through the cracks.'

Absolute security, the minister fails to understand, entails a form of corrosive despotism. Such cracks tend to be squires to the protection of liberties. Instead, Prime Minister Tony Abbott insists on a form of reactive evolution 'to meet an evolving terror threat'.

In the background to the announcement of this new counter-terrorist position has been the ongoing inquest into the Lindt Café hostage crisis that saw the loss of three lives, including that of the hostage taker, Man Haron Monis. Even as new counter-terrorism institutions are being forged, the coronial inquiry has heard stories of a man desperate to belong, to join the Rebels Motorcycle Club (unsuccessfully) and fail to get a 'following'.

The result of such an inquest has also provided fuel for the prime minister’s security laden enterprise – rather than seeing Monis as the exception, an aberration that resulted in tragedy, the lure of radicalisation hovers in the background, the road that should never have been taken. In the words of counsel assisting the inquest, Sophie Callan, 'His constant goal in life appears to have been achieving significance’.

There is no hiding from the fact that such appointments as those of Moriarty, and the recent passage of national security laws, point a dramatic, and clumsy finger, at various members of the Muslim community. It is the language of the 'A Team'; the language of suspicion and exclusion.  

The sentiment was reflected in anti-Islam rallies held across Australian cities in early April, ostensibly to 'Reclaim Australia'. Multiculturalism is singled out as the conspiratorial culprit, an accessory to Sharia law and halal cuisine.

While there have been counter protests from such groups as the left grouping No Room for Racism, the atmosphere reveals a veritable tinderbox. 'In terms of numbers,' Randa Kattan, CEO of the Arab Council of Australia, 'they might be insignificant, but in terms of damage, it is significant.' For Edward Solo, vice president of the Federation of African Communities Councils in Australia, such actions were 'hurtful to your efforts to rebuild your lives [which were] shattered back home'.

There is a constant sense that the Muslim community have to justify why they are of certain faith, and why there might be some who would choose to fight under the black flag. This ignores the uncomfortable reality for such multi-ethnic states as Australia that many citizens will, at stages, choose to fight for another country. That account is all but forgotten. Only selected fundamentalists matter.

These security measures do more than just nibble away at Australian liberties while singling out specific communities. They suggest a security neuroses at work, rendering the exceptional normal and urgent. They also ignore previous instances when Australia was peppered with terrorist activity. This will only encourage the object such measures seek to prevent, rather than dissuade. Madison will have, unfortunately, been proven right, and the gradual encroachments will even direr.

Binoy KampmarkBinoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who now lectures in law and politics at RMIT University.

Freedom chipping image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, civil liberties, national security, freedom, ASIO, democracy



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Existing comments

Well said Binoy. Concentration of unrestrained power in a handful of ministers of whatever political persuasion and their agencies is to be feared more than the acts of a handful of deranged or aggrieved individuals. The electorate realised that when it refused to give Menzies the power to outlaw the Communist Party of Australia in the midst of the Cold War.

Ginger Meggs | 28 May 2015  

So, the government’s new preventative security measures are “the noose around freedom…tightening” and evidences a “security neuroses at work”. This is the same type of dramatized language the progressive legal establishment used in 2007 when the government sought control orders. Freedom would be doomed they said. The High Court rejected this nonsense in the “Jihad” Jack Thomas case. The court was willing to expand the defense power in view of new threats to the Australian people, and to adapt the constitutional interpretation to the exigencies of the times. The control orders were to protect the public, not to punish Thomas.
But reading Dr Kampmark’s article, no one would suspect that since 9/11 there have been over 25,000 Islamic terrorist incidents worldwide, including several in Australia, as well as several terrorist plots [to bomb an AFL Grand Final, the Holsworthy Barracks, and the Sydney electricity grid] thwarted by effective counter-terrorism. Islamic leader Taj Din al-Hilali suggests there are in Australia potentially “thousands” of young Muslims willing to join IS.
Today, the greatest threat to freedom and democracy is the Left’s attempt to suppress freedom of the press, and to suppress open debate in forums such as universities.

Ross Howard | 28 May 2015  

Yes, indeed, I agree with you 100%, Ginger Meggs. Unless of course that handful of ministers is redistributing the wealth of rich to the deserving poor. Also no problem, if they are stopping us using fossil fuels, so that they can save the planet. Then again we also have to be sure that they ensure there is equal representation of all minority groups in the various professions where they are currently underrepresented. And then as well........

Marg | 28 May 2015  

I suppose Ross that control orders, detention without trial, cancellation of citizenship by executive fiat, interception and internment on the high seas, again by executive fiat, are fine so long as they are applied only to demonised others. But how would you feel if control orders were placed on priests on suspicion of conspiracy to abuse children, if members of religious orders were taken into detention without trial and prohibited from disclosing anything that happened during detention. The chipping away always starts with people who don't matter. By the time it affects you and me it's all too late.

Ginger Meggs | 29 May 2015  

So this is why I am feeling an increasing unease about the laws against terrorism on our own shores. The temperature of the water is being slowly raised but the frog does not blink.

Bob Fitzsimons | 29 May 2015  

For some decades now we have been tip-toing around the perceived offensiveness of any criticism of homosexuality. After the investment of multi-millions of dollars, that community has progressively won the destruction of the foundations of Christian Western society itself through the tyranny of political correctness. We now employ the same politically correct tip-toeing around the abuses and barbarism of militant Islam. The outcome of male homosexual practice in the modern world is well documented in scientific epidemiology to have introduced a retro virus from primates to the male human being through bestial sexual activity in Africa, and to have spread to the rest of the world through male homosexual practice. Africa as a result now has the most devastating death rate from incurable infectious disease in the history of humanity and the rest of the world struggles to control the virus (HIV) and the lethal acute immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) it produces. What will come from the politically correct gutlessness we apply to radical Islam?????

john frawley | 29 May 2015  

Thanks to Eureka St and the Author Binoy Kampmark for his important article highlighting the frightening reality of today in Australia. Frightening too that these security measures have been enacted so easily. As one of the respondents points out, so many restrictions on the freedom of the vulnerable in our society have been carried out without compunction, including the named Asylum seekers - and as well the First Peoples. The present rates of incarceration for Aboriginal peoples including youth and the deliberate stripping of self governance and now funds from Aboriginal communities have been achieved so easily. Time to move on to the community as a whole.

Michele Madigan | 29 May 2015  

"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact," said Sherlock Holmes in "The Bascombe Valley Mystery".

In the latest move destined (or intended) to further ratchet up the fear and paranoia levels of Team Australia, the Abbott Government has appointed an Anti-Terrorism Coordinator. Perhaps the shortcomings in information-sharing coming to light through the Lindt Café Inquest will justify this appointment. Or perhaps shedding light on mistakes made would solve these problems anyway. Surely it is not past the abilities of current jurisdictions to learn lessons and naturally improve their co-ordination without creating yet another security bureaucracy to watch over us all. (Not every institution is as slow and reluctant to reform its own malfunctioning practices as politicians are.) Only time will tell.

But, while casting absolutely no aspersions on the reputation or actual character of the new commissioner, a Holmesian contemplation might give rise to a quiet chuckle at the exquisite poetic irony that this government's new "counter-terrorism tsar", its "Napoleon of [anti-terror] crime', is called Moriarty.

PaulM | 29 May 2015  

"The liberal thinks other people have problems - the radical knows we're all in trouble". In this anyway, I'm a radical. We're all in trouble, not just evil Islamists with dual citizenship, or Islamists, or Muslims, or people with any dual citizenship. All of us. Yet, as Bob Fitzsimons rightly says, the frog isn't even blinking.....

Joan Seymour | 29 May 2015  

Australia is fighting a loosing battle against terrorism. Until we abandon the 1870's nonsense of "secular education" when "religion" was left to the churches. The State then taught the 3 R's in primary schools with churches allowed in to give scripture classes. The public at large still see "Religion" as a spare time hobby one can do without. We must have positive co-operation with the various ethnic communities and include in the curriculum s comprehensive studies that can warn students against "Brainwashing" on line whether it be religious,political or commercial.

john ozanne | 29 May 2015  

Clearly said. Thanks Binoy.

Anne Benjamin | 31 May 2015  

We are a complacent mob. Most of us don't notice our freedom being eroded until it directly affects us. What happened to due process, a fair trial and our rights? The way we are going, people will just start to disappear. Don't think it could never happen here. Governments love to play the fear card for more control.

Kate | 01 June 2015  

People already do disappear in this country Kate. The law already allows law enforcement agencies to take people into detention, to hold them incommunicado, and prohibits them from disclosing that they have been so detained. It's later than you think.

Ginger Meggs | 01 June 2015  

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