Never get between a premier and a bucket of money, Paul Keating warned. Or a Premier and an anti-terror photo-opportunity, he might add, after Thursday’s huge COAG performance. Human rights and civil liberties alike are trampled in the rush by all premiers to be the PM’s dancing partner in a show-stealing anti-terror two step.
It’s all about “keeping us safe,” Turnbull says, announcing what MSM echo is “a suite of measures” in “a further toughening” of national security laws including the extension of detention without charge to 14 days.
It’s a big thing. No longer will Australians have to lie awake at night worrying lest the AFP runs out of time to interrogate terror suspects, including ten year olds. Police now have a good two weeks to come up with some charge or other. It’s a huge leap forward in public safety. So thoughtful of the community-minded AFP, too.
Imagine how much safer longer detention would have kept us last July with the Lakemba Muslim meat grinder plot terror crisis where an entire nation went into lockdown while AFP and a swag of other special forces clearly rushed against the clock to uncover a plot to use a kitchen mincer to blow up a plane and/or gas everyone on board with fart gas. No H2S gas was ever found, nor any gas dispersion device. Nor were explosives discovered.
Police can report, however, that the mincer was 7 kg too heavy to be allowed on the plane and that two of the four men arrested following an overseas tip-off have now been released.
In a sensational late update, AFP reveal that Lebanese authorities also allege a Barbie doll may also have been part of a plot to smuggle concealed explosives on-board an aircraft, not that any explosives had been found. Did the doll also fail the weigh-in check? The Barbie doll plot is not part of any AFP allegations before the Sydney court.
Effortlessly working the Lakemba Four (now two) into his terror shtick, PM Turnbull prepares for his 21st successive NewsPoll with yet another keep us safe routine at the special COAG. Lakemba shows how our security forces can disrupt a plot to bring down a plane, he says. You wouldn’t believe how many plots have been foiled.
What can possibly go wrong? David Marr, on ABC Insiders Sunday, cites the 2007 case of Dr Mohammed Haneef who was held 11 days in the Brisbane watch-house by the AFP under brand new powers that allowed terrorism suspects to be imprisoned without charge virtually indefinitely. Information was then leaked against Dr Haneef.
News Ltd newspapers reported police found “images of a Gold Coast building” and its foundations in a raid on Haneef’s apartment. Investigators were said to be looking at documents referring to the “destruction of structures”. Haneef was one of a group of doctors who had been learning to fly in Queensland, they said.
A year passed before The AFP dropped its case against Dr Haneef, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge Haneef with any criminal offence. In December 2010, Haneef receives “a substantial” compensation settlement in a defamation and wrongful detention case he brought against then Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.
Precedent counts for little in an era of the anti-terror cult, a time where politics runs in the continuous present. In June 2015, then PM Tony Abbott told the nation Islamic state group is coming after us.
Since Abbott, however, the threat of terror is hyped so successfully that according to an ANU poll, nearly half of us believe we or our families are in danger of a future terrorist attack and over half of us would like government to do so much more.
In reality, male partners and police constitute a far more serious danger.
“More Australians have died at the hands of police (lawfully or unlawfully) in 10 years (50 at least from 2006 to 2015) or from domestic violence in just two years (more than 318 in 2014 and 2015) than from terrorist attacks in Australia in the last 20 years,” observed Greg Austin, an international security expert at the University of NSW, last October.
The PM makes no case for the need to extend detention without charge nor does he defend the detention of ten year olds. Instead, he claims on Sky News Sunday, that it’s just business as usual .
‘It is very important to remember that (with) children there is actually no change here. Under our criminal law, children can be charged with committing crimes,’ he tells reporters in Sydney.
But there’s more. The innovative PM unveils Panopticon 2.0, a saucy, if not wanton, invasion of our privacy.
A 21st century digital re-imagining of the eternal surveillance of our convict heritage, Panopticon 2.0 blends an homage to the omnipresent eye of God, with a type of electronic Peeping Tom as it merges images from drivers’ licences with facial recognition software to invade our privacy at all times.
Governments already have massive databases of ID photos from licences and passports. What is new is the sharing and the matching of the data in real-time in what is broadly described as the interests of national security.
The new database will permit real-time access to passport, visa, citizenship and driver’s licence images. Details are vague, however, on the public and private spaces in which mass surveillance will be carried out. The project is a revamp of “The Capability”, a new, improved version of a $18.5 million system, proposed in 2015.
Premiers who just can’t wait to dance on the grave of a just and democratic society are just one scene from a week in our bizarre, hyper-surreal post-truth Trumpian politics, sees our great nation state grow ever larger.
Small government with its red-tape bonfires are now so yesterday. The hairy-chested Stalinist Coalition of today promises to fund coal-mines and even sort out gas companies. It can even roll up its sleeves and shovel coal to keep a dirty old power station like Liddell open. It can certainly keep us all under surveillance 24/7.
Turnbull waves away any suggestion that we’re already suffering toughen-up fatigue, so thick and fast have come the suite of security measures the Abbott-Turnbull government has unleashed on an alert but not alarmed nation.
” … there’s no place for set and forget in any area of national security, but the laws are already very strict”.
Spontaneous applause breaks out Panopticon 2.0 wins Turnbull instant, slavering adulation while the concerns of the chattering classes are summarily trashed by all those with their feet up on the commonwealth table.
Desperate Dan Andrews, leads a team of premiers in quickly dismissing those who raise the issue of rights. What would such time-wasters know of the real world of Mal the Sun King Canberra’s bubble or his lunar satellites?
“They’re going to talk about the thin end of the wedge and all this sort of stuff. Well, frankly, that talk is a luxury that may be available to them but it’s not available to political leaders in this country,” he says.
“Notional considerations of civil liberties do not trump the very real threat, the very real threat of terror in our country today. We are going to have to curtail the rights and freedoms of a small number of people in order to keep the vast majority of Australians safe.”
It’s not just talk, either. Last month his government announced plans for new laws that would give police the power to declare special areas where they can search people, cars and houses without a warrant.
From dead-pan Dan there is no inkling that civil liberties belong to us all; affect us all. And laws aimed at “bad guys” often impact far more widely. The NSW Ombudsman found the 2012 revival of consorting laws to deal with crime gangs actually impacted most harshly on Indigenous Australians and homeless people.
” The criminal face database will affect all Australians, even the most conscientious and law-abiding. Given the extremely low level of terrorism in Australia, it’s likely to merely generate massive ‘false positive’ lists and flood our very effective police and security services with useless distraction,” says Privacy Foundation’s David Vaile.
There is nothing remotely “notional”, moreover, about the database nor about changes to law which will extend to two weeks the time anyone, including ten year olds can be detained without charge. Possessing terror instructions and even terror hoaxes are to be criminalised in Turnbull’s toughening up.
Yet Dan’s slogan goes viral. Co-luminary, WA Premier, Mark McGowan almost eclipses Andrews with his rapid study of the finer philosophical bits of premiership by leaving the lot of them to the lynch-mob.
“We are dealing with the civil liberties of terrorists and I don’t particularly care about the civil liberties of terrorists or potential terrorists.”
Yet we are dealing, in the end, with everyone’s civil liberties and whilst much is unspecified about Panopticon 2.0, what is certain is that its mission will creep. Dissenters of all kinds, including those whom this government may define as “eco-warriors”, in reality environmentalists, are in danger.
Already, an eager Cory Bernardi urges the database be used to enhance the Coalition’s war on the poor.
“If we’re going to start gathering data on particular people, I’d like to see that actually happen more in the welfare space as well,” he says, “because I think there’s a lot of people that are ripping us off on welfare and it might be an opportunity to tie in a coordinated approach to identifying individuals who are accessing the welfare system.”
The database may even be corporatised; flogged off to the highest, private bidder. Privatisation has worked so well not only in energy. Think Medibank private, TAFE and the privatisation of IT support for government agencies.
Labor is anxious not to be wedged. Bill Shorten makes no fuss despite the opposition leader’s recent study tour of the Korean Peninsula where supreme leader Kim Jong Un has got the mass surveillance thingy down to a fine art.
Instead, Shorten calls for the Coalition gun amnesty stunt to be extended. He wants life sentences for gun-runners. Exempted, doubtless is our big brother government, which is doing so well out of its secret supply of arms to Saudi Arabia, which has killed 10,000 civilians in its brutal war with Yemen- that it can’t say a word.
The Turnbull government refuses to supply details of its military sales, citing commercial-in-confidence rules, themselves a function of the increasing despotism of a state which pretends its gun-running is a trade secret.
Turnbull tries to wedge Shorten, nevertheless, for not backing mandatory sentencing for gun-runners as if mandatory sentencing were some kind of panacea and not a knee-jerk to shock jocks on Sydney radio.
NSW Bar Association president Phillip Boulten SC says: “There’s no evidence at all that mandatory sentencing ever decreases the amount of crime that’s committed and it has the ability to act unfairly on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.”
Big Fear certainly works on the states – and on the federal opposition, as Labor’s evasion shows.
With no opposition in the field, legal experts are left to explain the reality. Party-pooper Deakin University criminology lecturer Adrian Molnar warns Fairfax the database of driver licence photos, amounts to “mass undifferentiated surveillance that can be used regardless of innocence and no participation in a criminal activity”, warning that such a measure “runs dangerously close” to breaching the legal principle of probable cause.
“It’s just quite simply unnecessary,” adds Nicola McGarrity, UNSW terrorism law expert. Dr McGarrity argues existing laws already allow people to be held pre-charge for up to eight days.
There are no instances she is aware of where an “extra six days would have made a significant difference in making a prosecution or preventing a terrorist attack”, she says
But the states love it. They fall over each other to eagerly leap aboard any public safety bandwagon.
The PM is love-bombed Thursday, at the COAG show, where a tumult of “furious agreement” and “violent agreement” ensues, sighs NSW Liberal Premier, Gladys Berejiklian even if she refuses to let Turnbull have his way later with her state over fracking. She tells him what he can do with his non-ideological energy pragmatism.
If the COAG meeting is intended to lead to agreement on fracking via solidarity on law and order, it fails.
Apart from the onset of another Newspoll, why all the fuss? The day before, in a letter to Liberal supporters, the PM effortlessly counterfeits a false connection between the mass shooting in Las Vegas and Australia.
“The tragedy in Las Vegas is a reminder that we must be relentless in our efforts to protect Australians in crowded places so that we can go about our lives safe from harm”
To Guy Rundle, what is remarkable is the absence of concerted pushback. The new laws were announced after almost no consultation and at the prompting of the AFP and ASIO. Big brother has made himself a lot bigger and there has been very little backlash, despite some concern over ten-year-olds in fourteen weeks’ detention.
For Bernard Keane, however, there is a palpable contrast with the ” deathly silence that accompanied the government’s introduction of mass surveillance of our phone and internet use”. Keane believes there are signs of a “welcome stirring of media and community opposition”.
Certainly the government needs to be challenged on what problem its new Panopticon 2.0 is intended to solve; how its latest “suite of security measures” are anything more than a tub-thumping exercise timed to coincide with News Poll data-gathering to artificially boost the stakes of one our least popular leaders in our nation’s history. It appears to be hastily contrived with few if any real safeguards to the nation’s right to privacy or civil liberties.
There is some hope. As Katharine Murphy notes, The ACT has a Human Rights Act enabling it to impose additional controls on the sharing of facial recognition data with Canberra.
Consequently the ACT has an intergovernmental agreement stipulating the ACT “will allow access to its data via the face identification service for the purposes of national security and community safety only”.
Whilst “national security” and “community safety” are broad, the agreement also acknowledges “the importance of human rights, specifically the right to privacy”.
It’s a small step, but without it, the agreement to share surveillance data reached between federal and at the special national security meeting on Thursday represents a serious threat to a free, democratic and open Australian society.