Andrew Wilkie MP
warns that Australia is becoming a police state.
To deny some Australian Citizens the right to access all aspects of the legal system, no matter what the matter is, or to deny some Australian Citizens the right to judicial review in particular, is self evidently wrong. In fact, anything that diminishes the protection of the environment, anything that diminishes the protection of our citizens is so self evidently wrong that it's quite remarkable that it's come before the parliament and that we're even needing to debate the rights and wrong of these issues.
It is also wrong for us to look at these issues in isolation. I suggest we need to take a step back at this point and have a look at the direction our country is going, in a whole range of ways and in particular the direction we are going about the rights of our citizens.
The rights of our citizens and our groups whether they be environmental groups, are slowly being diminished in an incremental way.
Because when you take a step back and you look at a whole range of decisions that have been made by this and previous governments, including the bill that's before the parliament today, that we deny some Australian citizens the right to access all aspects of the legal system. (having stepped back) You can draw a conclusion that Australia has reached the stage of almost being in a pre police state where the rights of citizens have been diminished so far and where the power of the state has increased so much that we are in what I will characterise as a pre police state.
When I put my mind to this issue today in preparing this speech, it took me very little time to come up with ten characteristics of a pre-police state which exist in Australia right now. And I'll quickly rattle through them if you don't mind.
For a start the way that all members of the community are now monitored by the state on account of mandatory meta data retention which passed this parliament some time ago, is already in law and will be implemented from next month (Jan 2016). The community needs to understand that from next month every phone call they make, every web site that they visit, every location signal sent from their mobile phone or other mobile electronic device will be recorded by law and can be accessed by the security services without warrant. This is something that has been rejected by many other developed countries. The scale of the mandatory metadata retention that is being implemented in this country, from next month (Jan 2016) is almost unprecedented around the world in any developed country or democracy.
Another characteristic of a pre police state is the way the media is being manipulated in this country. We've seen the way funding for independent broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, have been reduced. We've see the way government ministers have bullied the ABC. Bullied the Fairfax papers. Have bullied some of the news limited papers at least the tabloids. We've seen the way that in this country the Australian spreadsheet is now become almost like Pravda was in the Soviet Union (Australian papers) are now the official organ of the Australian liberal party. (Add note: Pravda was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was one of the most influential papers in the country with a circulation of 11 million.) Again, this is a characteristic of a pre-police state: The way the media is being used and manipulated.
Another characteristic of a pre-police state is the manipulation of the judiciary. And it is remarkable that the government sees nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all in the fact that a royal commissioner would agree to go to a party political event.
Another characteristic of a pre-police state is the secrecy that we see with this government and the ludicrous level of secrecy that surrounds our response to irregular immigration. And the development of this term 'On Water Operations', whatever that is. All we know is that it is some sort of term that means we're not going to tell you what is going on, even if it's being paid for by you or done in your name. Even if it is of great humanitarian significance.
Another characteristic of a police state. The fact that in law in this country now you can be arrested on suspicion, in the absence of any hard evidence, when it comes to terrorism. This is contained in one of the approximately seven separate pieces of legislation that have passed the Australian Parliament since nine eleven. The fact that in Australia, you can be arrested, in the absence of hard evidence, just on suspicion of thinking that you are going to do something in the future.
Another characteristic of a pre police state, something that we see in Australia. Is the fact that in Australia some people can be incarcerated indefinitely without trial. And that's exactly what we are doing with some asylum seekers who are being incarcerated seemingly indefinitely, definitely without trial, in third world countries where we send them. When we send them to Manus Island in New Guinea, or to the Republic of Nauru.
Another characteristic of a pre police state. There is no shortage of things I can rattle off here. Is the fact that this government now shows complete and utter disregard for international law and any number of international agreements that previous governments have agreed to. For instance:
This government ignores the Rome Statute.
This government ignores the refugee convention,
This government ignores the convention on the right of the child.
And the international covenant on civil and political rights.
A healthy democracy, one that respects the rule of law, one that respects the right of it's citizens, one that respects the rights of the citizens of other countries is a government that respects international law and international agreements.
Another characteristic of a pre police state is one in which the parliament, the elected representatives of the people, are forbidden to debate and decide on important matters of state. We had the situation yesterday where the government, in secret, decided to start bombing the sovereign state of Syria and the matter was never allowed to be debated by the parliament, was never voted on by the parliament. This makes Australia almost unique among our allies and among many developed countries, in the fact that in this country the parliament is not involved, is not allowed to be involved, in decisions about waging war. In the United States the congress has to debate and vote on declaring war. France, Germany the Netherlands, their parliaments all are required by law debate and vote on the use of force. Even in the United Kingdom, where it's not law, it's certainly convention that the house of commons, these days, will debate and decide on whether or not British military forces will be committed to a conflict. But not in Australia. Not in our pre-police state where the parliament is not allowed even to have a proper debate, let alone a vote about these sorts of matters.
Another characteristic of a pre police state we see in this country these days is the way our safeguard mechanisms are disregarded or even bullied if they get in the governments way. We saw the terrible treatment of the Human Rights Commissioner, when she spoke up on the issue of asylum seekers. A good government in a healthy democracy, would have listened to the Human Rights Commissioner, would have listened very carefully and would have been very careful to take the Human Rights Commissioners advice and to be seen to take that advice. But instead, what we saw was a conga line of ministers, all lining up to have a go at her and to bully her. That is how an autocratic regime acts. It is not how a democratically elected government would act. It is not how our government should act. It was a shame on this government the way it treated the Human Rights Commissioner.
Another characteristic of a pre police state. Is when security agencies start acting beyond their lawful powers. And Although it was eventually halted, in the face of overwhelming public concern and protest. The fact that the Australian Border Force thought it was OK to conduct an operation on the streets of Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, (at the end of August 2015) where it would have acted unlawfully by stopping people on the street, to check their papers so to speak. This is something that is not allowed in the act, it is beyond their legal power. But was there any condemnation from this government over this? Was anyone sacked? Was anyone held to account? No. All we heard from the relevant minister, in interview after interview, were attempts to try and downplay the matter, and to say that it wasn't that big a deal, and it was just a badly worded press release. Well no, it wasn't a badly worded press release, it was worded exactly the way the Australian Border Force intended it to be worded. It was a press release that went to the minister's office before hand, at least twice, (but perhaps 3 times or more)
That's a long and pretty painful list to go through but if I could come up with ten, characteristics of a police state, and jot them down in a matter of minutes this morning and I'm sure I could add to that with any number of other ways in which our democracy is diminished right now. What does it say about our country? And it puts this bill in quite a different light. If we were a healthy democracy, without that list of ten characteristics of a police state. If this bill came in fresh and there was nothing else going on around it maybe we would respond to it differently. I don't think we would actually, because it is self evident that we shouldn't diminish the protections for the environment. It's self evident that we shouldn't deny some members of the community, or some groups within the community the right to access all aspects of our legal system including judicial review. So it's a serious matter in it's own right, this bill that's before the parliament, but when you put it in the context, of all the other things that have gone on in recent years in this country, you start to understand that this country, not only is going in the wrong direction, but we've gone a long way in the wrong direction. When you look back at history and when you look at the lessons of history, and you look at once great countries, that deteriorated over time, or their democracy deteriorated over time and some ultimately became police states, you see that often it happened incrementally. Often it didn't happen with one seismic event where a dictator came to power. Sometimes these autocratic regimes were democratically elected. And over time bit by bit, the country deteriorated. The democracy deteriorated. It's democracy was diminished bit by bit. And then one day the community woke up and asked “how on earth did we get here?” How on earth did we allow ourselves to now be living in a country that is so bad, that is so far removed, from the wonderful democracy it once was. How on earth did we allow a democratically elected government, to bit by bit, incrementally, one bill at a time, take us so far away from the healthy wonderful democracy we one had. One of the problems is that bit by bit things become normal, we become used to one little bit. Then there is another little bit, another bill. I've made the point already, since 9/11 there has been about 70 pieces of legislation in this country to do with our national security. Even though it could be argued that our laws at the time of 9/11 were just about right. It was clearly a serious criminal offence to murder back then, it still is now. There is no doubt that much of that legislation contained in those 70 or so bills is unnecessary.