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Send in the Troops! Deploying the ADF against Rioters

Such moves should trouble any constructive dissenter and civil libertarian: the vesting of powers in a military force to be used against domestic disturbances. While the United States has a troubled history with it, posse comitatus still remains something of a letter restricting the deployment of the US armed forces on the streets of the country’s cities. That doctrine has effectively seen an expansion of the FBI’s role to occupy what might have been seen in the past to be traditional military roles.

In Australia, no such reining in powers and impediments exist, though States have been hamstrung by the requirement of making a request to the Commonwealth to initiate military action in the event that their police forces lack the means to protect themselves or the Commonwealth’s interests.

This has left the prospect of enlarging the army’s role in civilian life disturbingly possible in times of perceived crisis. Utterings since the 2014 Lind Café hostage taking by Man Haron Monis, absurdly described as a “siege” by the counter-terror fraternity, combined with other foreign terrorist incidents that call out powers be broadened have become regular.

Last week, the Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, who occupies a position where this sort of thing shouldn’t happen, announced that members of the Australian Defence Force would be vested with “shoot to kill” powers to be used only in “reasonable and necessary” circumstances to protect life.

Porter’s arguments give the impression that such military operations will be governed by the protocols of good sense and reason, notwithstanding that the ADF is a killing rather than justice machine. Matters of evidence matter less than those of expediency. “The use of force by the ADF in a battle situation off Australian soil in a war zone is somewhat different and this is a much higher and more stringent standard, and the same standard in effect the police have been operating under for many decades in our variety of jurisdictions.”

The ADF will also be given pre-authorised power to respond to threats on land, at sea and in the air, and given expanded powers to search, seize and control movement at the scenes featuring terrorist incidents. This power would also apply to quelling riots.

Porter also uses the creaky argument that changing security environments have warranted the move. “The terror threat we face today,” he says tediously, “is greater and more complex than that we faced when these laws were introduced almost 20 years ago.”

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin has felt besieged by a movement that can only be described as a militarisation of civil space. Pressed for comparisons between the effectual nature of a police operation against terrorism last year with its military analogue, Colvin made the following observation:

“Of course [the military] are in a better position to deal with some situations than us. But the concept that we aren’t trained or capable to deal with the domestic terrorism situations that we see, I think, needs to be challenged.”

Specific interest here is focused on Part IIIAAA of the Defence Act 1903, covering the “Utilisation of Defence Force to protect the Commonwealth Interests and States and Self-governing Territories.” Porter’s aim was to ensure “that law enforcement agencies around Australia can easily request ADF assistance to respond to these threats where necessary and are available to states and territories to assist with major incidents, such as geographically dispersed or otherwise widespread, coordinated acts of violence of other domestic incidents that threaten the security and lives of Australians.”

But critics of encouraging military deployments in local counter-terrorist situations have been sharp enough to note that the Lindt operation, which resulted in three deaths including the hostage taker was, in Allan Orr’s words, “not the NSW Tactical Operations Unit (TOU), it was the competitive and jealous quarantining of tactical skills, resources and budget entitlements by the ADF that left the frontline TOU without the training and equipment it needed to do its job properly.”

Orr’s sensible appraisal has been put to one side by such individuals as Neil James of the Australia Defence Association, who takes the line of Australian exceptionalism and creativeness with the historical record. “The whole concept of this goes back centuries back in the days when they didn’t have police forces and governments used to call on the military to do things that the police do now. All this is doing is putting in a statute what is a century-and-a-half of precedent.”

This blotching of the historical record ignores the fundamental wisdom of separating the functions of police and the functions of defending the realm in an industrial society. Muddling these merely serves to doom the security of citizens, rather than enhancing them. Such is the danger of amalgamating, rather than dispersing, forces.

As with matters affecting liberty, the bungling nature of proto-authoritarianism is what spares it. While the ADF might well have these new powers, police are still vested with the lion’s share of dealing with terrorism incidents. The powers in Canberra have also insisted that the military’s Tactical Assault Groups specialised in anti-terrorism activities can only be deployed nearer their bases in Sydney and Perth. Changing legislation, for all the aspiration of the drafters, does not necessarily change operational realities.


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  1. David Bruce

    Now that we have an all volunteer professional ADF, it begs the question of how will the “boots on the ground” respond when ordered to shoot fellow Australians? It is bad enough that the police and ADF are both issued with “dum dum” (hollow point) bullets, which expand on entry to the human body and cause horrendous exit wounds. These had previously been banned under the Geneva Convention for use in military combat. I remember when Senator “Biggles” Evans asked the RAAF to send reconnaissance F-111’s to send real-time images of the Franklin Dam protestors to Cabinet in Canberra. Just imagine sending F-35’s to use air to ground missiles to disrupt similar protests? Do I see pitchforks marching to Canberra?

  2. Stefano

    Thanks Binoy for highlighting this unnecessary and dangerous legislation.
    Well past time for a Bill of rights to be enshrined in legislation.
    When protesting can get you killed by the State, you don’t live in a democracy, you live under a dictatorship. Wake up Australia !

  3. New England Cocky

    Oh dear, this fascist RAbbott Morriscum Dutton Turdball NLP misgovernment is taking lessons from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) approach to the Palestinians. Still we should not be surprised at being betrayed by these NLP politicians intent upon stripping Australian citizens of their natural resources for the benefit of overseas shareholders in foreign multinational corporations.

    Australia under this NLP misgovernment has followed the Nazi policies of concentration camps for legal refugees and now we see further examples of oppression of anybody who questions the NLP self-given right to rule.

    So, the question becomes: “What is the difference between a Nazi stormtrooper with his jack-boot on the throat of a Jewish teenager in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 and an IDF trooper with his jack-boot on the throat of a Palestinian youth in Gaza or the West Bank in 2018?”

    Answer: 75 years.

  4. DrakeN

    Indeed, NECocky, the Zionists learned a lot from the Nazis and are putting it into use at every juncture.

  5. totaram

    Just a quick question: how did the libertarian Lyinhelm vote on this issue?

  6. Rob Darvall

    @David Bruce, They will pull the trigger. There may be some exceptions but both myself and the young men with whom I trained were not among them. We were all volunteers. I can only be thankful that we only ever trained for these scenarios or there would be many more atrocities up before the Hague. This legislation is not only bad for civil liberty, it is also bad for the ADF, removing them from a warfighting role and placing them into a civil policing role with a consequent dilution of their focus.
    Troops used as police enforcers rarely do well as combat soldiers.

  7. Adrianne Haddow

    Apart from articles in independent media, the Guardian and information from organisations such as Getup, this issue has had very little coverage.
    Thank you for raising this issue on this site, Binoy. I’m surprised by the scarcity of comment.

    Surely most Australians should be showing concern for this militarisation of our law enforcement.
    Those multinational companies and mining companies, and this complicit government, sure are serious about securing their interests and stifling dissent.

  8. jamesss

    They, [The Australian Government] is not a government. It is a corporation. The government is,[The Commonwealth of Australia} They have different crests.

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