A month and a half ago, I wrote a piece about the suppression of dissent, including the government’s pretence at having whistleblower protections, exemplified by the prosecution of Bernard Collaery and Witness K over the Timor Leste bugging; the consideration by the Berejiklian government of New South Wales to allow companies to sue for defamation; the Berejiklian government’s new regulations to ban protests, and I asked if bloggers would be the next target in the suppression of dissent by conservative governments1.
Now, the federal government has taken it another step. They have introduced legislation into parliament which will lower the threshold for calling out the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to ‘assist’ police forces with public incidents. The legislation revises Part IIIAAA of the Defence Act 1903, which was inserted into the Act in the lead up to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Currently the ADF can only be called upon by state and territory authorities when all other options are exhausted. The new legislation allows the Prime Minister and other ‘authorised’ ministers to send in the troops even when state and territory authorities haven’t requested assistance, but when Commonwealth interests are at stake. In addition, it provides ADF members with enhanced search powers and limited shoot-to-kill powers2.
Of course, the government used the deaths in the Lindt Café siege, and such attacks as those in Paris, as a reason for ‘streamlining’ the processes of calling out the ADF. However, the call out powers don’t just apply to terrorism, but refer to ‘domestic violence’2. This, in section 119 of the Constitution states:“The Commonwealth shall protect every State against invasion and, on the application of the Executive Government of the State, against domestic violence”3. From this, it is clear that there must be a request for assistance from the state or territory government concerned, and that it does not authorise unilateral action by the Commonwealth Government4. It seems that the legislation authorising the Commonwealth to act unilaterally is in conflict with section 119 of the Constitution and could be considered unconstitutional.
This is just another instance of the current federal government’s lack of concern with adherence to the Constitution. The most recent instance of this is their refusal to refer to the High Court the numerous government members and senators suspected to be dual citizens5. This is just another step in the long slow slide of Australia into fascism, where a government wants to ignore the constitution, shut down dissent, control the media, scapegoat certain groups, protect and enhance corporate power and further suppress labour power.
If such legislation as that facilitating the call out of the ADF is allowed to stand, it is only a matter of time before it is used not to deal with domestic violence, which is presumably defined as widespread rioting. CEO of Civil Liberties Australia, Bill Rowlings has pointed out that the bill before parliament allows the government to call out the ADF to protect ‘declared infrastructure’. He stated: “Given the current government’s policies, troops are likely to be called out around coal-fired power stations and ports that export coal……and used to break strikes2”.
If this unilateral call out ever occurs, it will only be a matter of time before non-violent protesters will be injured or killed. The police have riot shields and batons; the ADF have assault rifles and bayonets. How will the latter deal with protesters who start to damage fences, damage vehicles or throw stones?