Why Are Australian Governments Constructing the Surveillance State?

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Australian Government

Peter Dutton saw his ASIO Bill passed on the last parliamentary sitting day for 2020. The home affairs minister most likely had a rare smile upon his face whilst exiting the chamber, as the nation’s domestic spying agency had been gifted enhanced abilities to surveil, track and question citizens.

Of course, this bill was just the last in a long line of national security-counterterrorism laws that successive governments have been enacting at the federal level with bipartisan approval since 9/11.

The ASIO Bill is about the 90th such piece of legislation passed following the 2001 New York attacks. And there are around 10 more civil rights-eroding bills before federal parliament.

One of those pending is the Identify and Disrupt Bill. Another Dutton special, this aims to enhance the abilities of the AFP and the Australian Crime Intelligence Commission to sweep the internet for anonymous operators and take over their online accounts.

As Civil Liberties Australia CEO Bill Rowlings put it to Sydney Criminal Lawyers a few weeks back, over the last 20 years, “under government-generated fear of terrorism”, the nation has gone “from basically zero surveillance to the state’s ability now” to monitor most aspects of life 24/7.

Those elusive terrorists

Dutton is only the latest architect piecing together this ever-encroaching internal surveillance system that’s been propagated upon the pretext of a perceived foreign terrorist threat that’s never really come to fruition on these shores.

The closest such incident was the Lindt Café siege, which was the work of a mentally unsound local playing the ISIS apparition, rather than any real overseas operators. But despite this, NSW police was still given shoot-to-kill powers in response to guard against any supposed future terrorism.

Just like his predecessor George Brandis, Christian Porter is part of the surveillance state legislating act. In 2018, the attorney general oversaw the passing of laws permitting the easy deployment of the defence force for domestic incidents, and lately, he’s done the same with ADF reservists.

Indeed, over the last two years, it’s also come to the fore that home affairs minister Dutton is itching to set the nation’s international spying agency – the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) – upon his own citizens.

And following the leaking of such rumours to the press, the AFP went on to raid the Canberra residence of journalist Annika Smethurst for breaking the news.

Fearing the people

But this broadening of Australian government surveillance, coupled with the incremental erosion of citizens’ rights, leads one to ask, just what it’s all about?

US political commentator Chris Hedges contemplates the same question in reference to the broadening national security apparatus in his country in the short film American Psychosis, in which he posits that his nation is gradually morphing into a fascist state.

“When you stand up to decayed systems of power… even people within those systems hear your voice,” Hedges asserts. “That’s why the state is pushing through one draconian law after another.”

“They’re all doing this for a reason. They know what’s coming,” the journalist continues. “I’ve covered uprisings all over the world. You know when the tinder is there. You never know what’s going to trigger it.”

Hedges maintains that the seeds of an uprising are present in the United States and that’s why its government is acting in a similar way to ours.

So, does that mean that Australian authorities are concerned there’s enough tinder to spark revolt over here?

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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