Rights are a luxury in the age of national security



In this time of austerity I am pleased and proud that Our Glorious Leader has decided to curtail the luxuries which we had formerly enjoyed — for our own good, of course. I refer, of course, to our rapidly diminishing pool of civil liberties.

City street scene night visionThis is understandable and wise — the general lack of reaction by Australians to previous state intrusions such as the expansion of ASIO powers and terror laws, administrative removal of citizenship from certain criminal suspects, pre-trial detention expansion and curbs on reporting of ASIO abuses show that they weren't using their human rights anyway. There has certainly been no obvious appetite for a bill of rights which might put them on a slightly firmer footing.

Away then with pesky details such as rights to privacy (to not having one's photo ID shared with anyone, private company or government agency, who wishes to see it) and to freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention (the new proposed laws allow 14 days pre-charge detention — more than enough time, as Dr Haneef will tell you, to ensure police can work out something to charge you with).

These are so passé in an age of national security, where the citizen's first duty is to panic and surrender all to the state.

Our wise and benevolent rulers have also ensured that the new laws even come in family friendly versions — our justice minister has assured us that the new detention without charge provisions will apply to children as young as ten.

Undeterred by the campaigns of some social services agencies advocating to raise the age of criminal responsibility, the new laws ensure that tiny terrorists who seek to take away our freedoms (and thereby presumably compete with the state!) will be firmly put in their place.

Of course, it's not as though governments haven't been doing something similar in plain sight for quite a while. All those nasty queue-jumping asylum seekers have had all these rights taken from them and more over the last 30 years — both in onshore detention and, more recently, 'enjoying themselves outside ... by the beach and all the rest of it' in the offshore havens run for them by successive governments on Manus Island and Nauru.


"These rights are so passé in an age of national security, where the citizen's first duty is to panic and surrender all to the state."


In general, these policies have been quite popular with large portions of the Australian public — after all, they weren't affected and had no reason to question the official line.

Another positive feature of our wise leaders' decision-making is that, like the mistreatment of asylum seekers, the ongoing steps towards the restriction in civil liberties of the general public have all been refreshingly bipartisan. While the major parties may have screamed and snarled across the aisle about trade unions or negative gearing, on major issues like protection of the most basic human rights, whether of the citizen or the refugee, the two major packs of pollies have spoken with one voice — 'they have to go'.

Island camps, turning back refugee boats to torture, the military intervention in Aboriginal communities, expanded definitions of terror, citizenship revocation, more ASIO powers ... none of these have been questioned by either party.

After all, while terrorism might be a less common cause of death in Australia than suicide, liver disease, accidental drowning or falling in the bath, only a fool would fail to see that it is absolutely imperative to protect Australians and 'keep them safe' (as the COAG communiqué says) from these dastardly acts.

Since September 2001 and the horrific attacks on the US, it is bad optics to appear to be weak on terror — even if what is being proposed has very little to do with terror at all. Also, it is a cast iron rule of politics that once a government has given itself more power, a successor — whoever that may be — is unlikely to give up its powers. And, of course, once you have a power, it would be a crying shame not to use it ...

All of that said, one can't be too cynical. In a way, the incessant focus on national security and terrorism is a vestigial version of the social contract. Once you have abandoned all pretence at an ideology, left the provision of services to the market and signed up for all the foreign wars you have to to keep your allies happy, about the only thing you can promise the proles is 'security'.

And all of this, of course, to protect your freedoms, dear public. After all, as Vladimir Lenin (who knew a thing or two about state repression and its uses) is supposed to have said, 'Liberty is so precious that it must be carefully rationed.'



Justin GlynFr Justin Glyn SJ is studying canon law in Canada. Previously he practised law in South Africa and New Zealand and has a PhD in administrative and international law.

Topic tags: Justin Glyn, civil liberties, terrorism, asylum seekers



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Existing comments

The extent to which a right can reasonably be exercised depends on the environment of peace and prosperity surrounding the holder of the right. The extent to which a liberty can reasonably be characterised as a right depends on the environment of intellectual rigour surrounding the characteriser of the liberty.
Roy Chen Yee | 07 October 2017

I think you can be too cynical actually Justin. It is particularly the job of goo government to protect us from external threat, but it also does a great deal to protect our community from liver disease, suicide, drowning etcetc...where it can without offending our civil liberties too much!
Eugene | 09 October 2017

Many of us surrender our private selves to commercial organisations with nary a thought. Do I care that Amazon.com knows that I enjoy the novels of Nevil Shute? It annoys me a bit that, as I purchased one such book, they keep sending me offers of more - as if I want to own his life's work! But at least I GAVE this info to Amazon. And I can block their emails if I want. But on the topic of reduction of our civil rights, by what authority does our Glorious Leader propose to shred our civil rights. He governs in the name of people - you know - government of the people, by the people, for the people. As far as I know neither he, nor his government, nor any other government have asked, "Can I trash your civil rights? I know they don't belong to me, but I'd just like to bin them anyway. National security you know. And, no, I can't tell you any more - national security you know"! Dear Glorious Leader, please be aware that in future, any document I may be forced by duress or self interest to submit to the Commonwealth will probably be full of errors or omissions. You play your game, and I'll play mine. Sir Vincenzo Vittorio
Vincent Victory | 09 October 2017

Justin, You have hit the nail squarely on the head. I remember the failed Australia Card of the 1980's .It seems that this will be version 2.0. Sadly we are surrendering our rights in the name of security from some thing called 'terrorism'. I also remember National Service, arguably to protect the country from 'Asian Communism' ( I was called up and sent to Vietnam). I learnt then that I had no right to reject the call up . I a and thousands of other 'Nashos' like me paid the price big time heath wise! Maybe you can see why I feels about this issue so strongly.
Gavin | 09 October 2017

Of course, it is not the first time that conservative leaders in this country use the threat of terrorism as a "valid" reason to cut back our civil rights. Our leaders should also be considering the way they conduct our international policies. Why should they continue to mindlessly follow US policies. The events of September 2001 in the US were indeed horrific, but came about largely because of US war-mongering policies since the end of World War 2. Why should our young people be sent off to fight in the large number of wars started by the US to steal resources from other peoples, to maximise the profits of US corporations (especially those in the armaments industries) and to further US political and military power around the world. It would be much more positive for our leaders to declare that Australia will be an independent, non-aligned republic that works for international peace, social justice, human rights and care for the environment. We might then find that we can play a more positive and humane role in world affairs and that Australia is less likely to face terrorist attacks.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 10 October 2017

Interesting that some posters don't appear to see that the tone of your piece is ironic, albeit spot on in the main Justin. One of the problems we have these days with politicians at both state and especially federal level is that, in the main, they started training as political hacks (and nothing else) quite early as against politicians of yore such as Menzies, Tom Uren, Mick Young etc. who had real jobs and had forged their character and morals outside the amoral world of party politics where the end always justifies the means. The likes of Sam Daystari do little to inspire me. I wonder how many parliamentarians, a huge proportion of whom are lawyers, know of how our precious system of government and civil liberties grew up in the UK and here against tyrants and autocratic colonial governors? Whatever the reason for the rise of Isis, its leaders would certainly be rejoicing at any diminution of 'corrupt' liberties in our 'corrupt' Western, specifically British origin, democratic society. Americans revolted against the British Crown because they expected the liberties of Englishmen which their ancestors had fought for.
Edward Fido | 11 October 2017

I, as a Christian (protestant, *note the capitals and respectivity), find it refreshing to read salient cynicism like this, and rekindle my doubts about secularity and faith having common goals and futures. Chuffed to see Catholicism and the Jesuits standing loyal.
Reinder Zeilstra | 13 October 2017


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