Australia: Democracy, or tin-pot dictatorship?

By Antonia Feitz
web posted August 21, 2000

In some countries, especially Third World countries, governments use the army as a police force. On TV we see pictures of soldiers from various African, Asian and South American countries functioning as police: cordoning off areas, entering buildings and stopping transport to search, seize and detain people. These government troops frequently have no qualms about using force, even lethal force, against civilians to quell civil unrest.

Well believe it or not, but on the pretence of ensuring security for the Olympic Games and a meeting of the World Economic Forum in September this year, the Australian government is trying to obtain such powers. Yep, on the 28th of June 2000, the Australian government - with the support of a lame-duck, so-called Opposition - passed a bill which will give the government the power to use the army to suppress "domestic violence" - and they're not talking about spousal battery.

As the phrase, "domestic violence", isn't defined in the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civilian Authorities) Bill, many people have pointed out it could mean anything from real terrorism to legitimate political demonstrations, or maybe even strikes. That's not idle speculation either: Australia's current government is on record for encouraging a determined union-busting company to send in goons in balaclavas with savage dogs on leashes against striking wharfies (stevedores). It disgusted the nation.

The timing of the introduction of this bill was duplicitous in the extreme and cannot have been unplanned. A GST (goods and services tax) was introduced on July 1. So while people were totally distracted by the GST, the traitors who occupy our Parliament House quietly slipped the bill through on June the 28th. There was little if any media coverage.

Significantly, though the bill was introduced supposedly to cope with the extra security required for the September shenanigans of the Games and the Forum, there's no sunset clause. If it gets through the Senate, a triumvirate of the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Attorney-General will have the power to "advise" - ie, order - the Governor-General to call out the army to quell any "domestic violence" that exists, or even is "likely to occur" and which will affect "Commonwealth interests". That's government interests.

Ding, ding, ding! Let's start ringing warning bells loud and clear. Why should any genuinely democratic government have "interests" that are so at odds with the people that they need military backing? The answer is simple: all over the world governments govern for the benefit of multinational corporations, not their own people. Will the ever increasing objection to THAT constitute "domestic violence"? You betcha. Just think of Seattle.

Though demonized as turtle-loving nutters, the protesters' main objection was that unelected corporations with no social responsibilities are running the world, to the detriment of the majority of the world's people. You can't dismiss that as a conspiracy theory any more. In an address in Sydney last year, Jerry Jordan, who heads the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said that national governments are now subservient to markets and corporations and that consequently things would become unpleasant for many people. He has cred.

Formerly in Australia, as in any decent country, the police policed, and the army fought against foreign troops in wars. But lately there seems to be a worldwide trend to blur the distinction between the police and the military, and it's not boding well for the people of the world. The UN started it, using troops in policing roles as its 'peacekeepers'. Now in Australia, the other half is being introduced: using soldiers as police. It's not looking good.

Our state governments are not happy with this latest federal power grab. Under the Australian Constitution, THEY may call upon the federal government to call out the army to quell civil disturbance if their police can't. But under this new bill the federal government can unilaterally send in the troops, and their powers are formidable.

The first level is seizing and searching premises, seizing means of transport and detaining people. But if the triumvirate declare a "general security area" the soldiers will be empowered to conduct personal searches, erect barriers and stop transport. If the triumvirate declare a 'designated area', the soldiers may stop and control movement and issue directions to people. But what has alarmed Australians the most is the soldiers right to shoot to kill - "on reasonable grounds". Of course.

In an article with the amazing title, "Why the ADF [Australian Defence Force] must have a license to kill", Paul Barratt, a former Defence Secretary justified the bill as "a long overdue measure which is required both to protect the members of the ADF by spelling out what authority they have, and to enable the private citizen to know what are the limits of authority of ADF members under emergency situations such as a hostage crisis or a chemical attack." (Sydney Morning Herald, 15/8/00). "[H]ostage crisis or a chemical attack " - what rubbish! Existing police forces have trained personnel and special squads to deal with such things.

Proponents of the bill also claim with a straight face that under the bill the army may not "stop or restrict any lawful protest or dissent ..." What an insult to people's intelligence. A mere stroke of the pen can render any strike, sit-in or protest "unlawful", can't it. The authorities can simply refuse to give permission for a demonstration, no matter how passionate the people are.

The politicians can rationalize the bill till the cows come home but the truth is very simple: if this bill gets through the Senate, the so-called Australian government will have the power to use the army against the Australian people, even to the point of shooting to kill.

That's a recipe for tyranny in any man's language.

Antonia Feitz is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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