The Abbott Government’s gradual destruction of our civil liberties is not something we should be taking lightly, writes Daniel Ellery.
Almost 20 years ago, the President of the United States of America at the time, Bill Clinton, signed an act that has had considerable ramifications around the globe; The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Act, which effectively rendered the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 all but useless. The Posse Comitatus Act was created to limit the powers of the Federal Government in using its military personnel to act as domestic law enforcement personnel. It ensured that the Government could not use military personnel or military force to police domestic matters in their own country, essentially prohibiting a state of Martial Law.
In 1993, the FBI in conjunction with the U.S Military stormed into a compound owned by an Evangelical Christian group in Waco, Texas and killed 76 innocent people. Among the casualties were over 20 children.
There have been ominous signs supposing our fragile civil liberties have been increasingly at risk both in the United States and to a lesser extent, here in Australia, for a number of years. A popular type of Government has emerged in the last few decades which at the forefront are represented as a sort of Draconian fear campaign. Tony Abbott is quite fond of often using the Argument that Terrorists are lurking in our own backyard. Again using our Western neighbour and ally as an example, a November 1995 CNN Time Poll found that 55% of surveyed American citizens believed that the Federal Government had become so powerful that it posed a threat to ordinary citizens. 10 years later, we are seeing ever increasing evidence to support that current civil liberties have to be scrutinised very closely here in Australia.
Abbott stated in a speech in September 2014:
“Regrettably, for some time to come, Australians will have to endure more security than we are used to and more inconvenience than we would like. Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others. After all, the most basic freedom of all is the freedom to walk the streets unharmed and to sleep safe in our beds at night.”
Another seemingly ‘hyped-up’ speech made about National Security in February 2014 can be seen here. The Prime Minister claims that “the threat to Australia is worsening” and that “the number of potential home grown terrorists is rising.” Claims that back the Government’s decision to raise the threat level to high, suggests that “a terrorist attack is likely.”
In speeches to the Australian Nation in 2003, Prime Minister John Howard and Prime Minister Stephen Harper both made incredibly similar presentations. These speeches were regarding the United States’ constant harping about Saddam’s so-called ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. These speeches, spoken by two different leaders said, at stages, word for word the exact same thing. One could blame an incredibly lazy Public Relations team that felt a quick copy and paste address to the nation would either go unnoticed, or that people would not care or see any issue in this. However the issue here is that these were two leaders of different countries saying the same thing, and both bowing to another country’s Foreign Policy issues (U.S.A). In short, this excerpt shows just how serious this address was:
“It is inherently dangerous to allow a country such as Iraq to retain Weapons of Mass Destruction, particularly in the light of its past aggressive behaviour. If the world community fails to disarm Iraq, we fear that other rogue states will be encouraged to believe that they too can have these most deadly of weapons and that the world will do nothing to stop them.”
“We should not leave it to the United States to do all the heavy lifting just because it is the world’s only superpower. To do so, I believe, will inevitably undermine one of the most important relationships that we have.”
We now know that the speech to invade Iraq was based on lies the United States had told about Saddam Hussein and Bush’s foreign policy is one that the vast majority of Americans now reject. Howard admitted in an interview that he felt pressured by the force of the language in the 2002 American National Intelligence Report, and was “embarrassed” to have acted on the ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ intelligence. One politician, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, even went so far to say “that Howard should consider himself quite lucky that, conceivably, he hasn’t been tried for conspiracy to commit mass murder.”
A book aptly named Perpetual Peace for Perpetual War highlights a ghastly resemblance between a speech from a ‘Pre Osama’ text to a speech made by Adolf Hitler in 1933, which enabled an act for the protection of the People and the State, The speech was made after the infamous Reichstag fire which the Germans had secretly lit. Hitler’s act reads:
“Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and associations; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.”
Adolf Hitler had a nation of people following his every word; he was the greatest salesman and marketer of the century. His was by far the most influential and repressive propaganda campaign in history. When fear is used by a Government, it is used as a form of control and repression and in turn causes anxiety within society. This creates a willingness to listen and obey anything to make that fear, worry and anxiety cease. People go to great lengths to manage anxiety. The Government of the United States has used fear campaigns extremely well to control the masses in the wake of terrorist attacks, and we are seeing it again in 2015.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minster Tony Abbott has used the phrase ‘Death Cult’ over 346 times when mentioning the Islamic State. By using fear campaigns and scare tactics, he has stirred parts of the Australian public into an irrational frenzy, turning closed-minded bigots into blind racists and confusing the minds of the young and old alike. The Government has created a sense of division we can’t help but feel, with the Abbott party’s acts described as an “unprecedented power grab” by Greens Senator Penny Wright:
“Peter Dutton’s proposal that he alone should have the power to strip away a person’s citizenship on suspicion alone is preposterous, unworkable and only goes to show how extreme this government really is.”
“The Abbott Government is seeking unprecedented power to bypass the courts, throwing out the most basic democratic right we have”.
One can’t help but feel a slight comparison of Tony Abbott’s speech to Hitler’s in the light of recently proposed and passed laws, including but not limited to the surveillance of telephone and internet data (through metadata collection of ordinary citizens), and other such legislation like the Border Force Act passed in May, which could see teachers, doctors and security staff jailed if they speak publicly about what they have witnessed. Outlaw motorcycle gangs have also been made the target of heavy raids recently, which suggests the scope of surveillance goes far beyond ‘terror’ suspects. The Government’s abandonment of Julian Assange in 2010 after the full scope of Wikileaks became apparent being yet another example of how these laws can be used to prosecute future whistle-blowers.
In June 2015, Tony Abbott publicly attacked the Australian Broadcasting Commission after the ABC aired an episode in which an Australian man convicted of threatening Commonwealth officials appeared on the popular Q&A program:
“I think many, many millions of Australians would feel betrayed by our national broadcaster right now, and I think that the ABC does have to have a long, hard look at itself, and to answer a question which I have posed before – whose side are you on? Whose side are you on here?”
Abbott seems to plant the idea into the heads of the Australian public that our National Broadcaster may not be ‘on our side,’ or somehow is a terrorist sympathiser by giving a platform for free speech to someone speaking out against recently proposed citizenship legislation. I’m reminded here, of George Orwell, who wrote, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.”
After the 1993 attack on the 76 innocents living peacefully in their commune in Waco, Texas, there was a retaliation attack, dubbed the Oklahoma City bombing in which Timothy McVeigh was found guilty of 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. In a statement to the court before the ruling passed, McVeigh quoted a section of Supreme Court Justice Brandeis’s dissent, “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teaches the whole people by its example.” Brandis goes on in his dissent to say “Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means, to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal, would bring terrible retribution”.
Abbott recently made a comment about the Australian court system regarding the Greens Party ‘win’ on the Carmicheal Coal mine. He argued that Australia has “a problem as a nation” if the courts could “be turned into a means of sabotaging” such projects. The president of the NSW Bar Association, Jane Needham, struck back at these claims with a scathing rebuttal expressing her concern that Abbott had criticised the Federal court system and had shown a clear lack of understanding as to how the system works. Needham stated:
“The courts are not the servant of the Executive – any such implication is inimical to the basic principle of the separation of powers, which is fundamental to our Westminster-style system of government.”
“The courts exist to make decisions according to the law, not to further the interests of particular individuals or organisations, including government. They are an independent arbiter of disputes, and politicians need to understand and respect their non-partisan role.”
The breakdown of civil liberties is something not to be taken lightly. Laws infringing on privacy like the collection of metadata sets a dangerous precedent in Australia. Laws passed after the terrorist attacks, of which were largely provoked by the U.S. have slowly hacked away at the rights and liberties of ordinary citizens in the Western world. This is an area that must be watched with careful attention, as laws are passed quietly every day. Not everything is published in the articles you read or the news you hear, especially in the large media outlets who choose what information they wish to disperse. The power is in the people’s hands, and our moral and ethical standards must be scrutinised.
We must be led by a Government that personifies moral strength in an increasingly morally bankrupt world. A Government must remember that in a democracy, the people’s voices must be heard justly, listened to, and acted upon; otherwise it is nothing but an oligarchy. With a current Government that many feel to be going backward rather than forward, one must ask what Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party really care about more. National net profit means nothing if we have nothing left to live on. If our beautiful landscapes fall to ruins in the hands of a few who hunger after nothing but power and money, then I can’t help but feel that the apathetic and nonchalant members of society will also have the proverbial blood of the land on their hands. The same can be said if we allow politicians to hold our civil liberties to ransom. Terrorism is not a joke subject, but neither is degradation of our right to a free, sustainable, and just world. We have to find a healthy balance between staying vigilant and seeing through the veil of government deception. The people need to fight for a democratic society and understand totalitarianism before it erodes our most basic human rights.
If Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party can be given one concession, it is that they have hopefully shaken the trappings of apathy and indifference from the Australian public.