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<nettime> EMERGENCY ACTION ALERT [oz]
rc-am on 6 Aug 2000 02:28:21 -0000


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<nettime> EMERGENCY ACTION ALERT [oz]


----- Original Message -----
From: "Damien Lawson" <clewsls {AT} vicnet.net.au>
Send all queries Damien Lawson  at clewsls {AT} vicnet.net.au

EMERGENCY ACTION ALERT

TROOPS IN THE STREETS?
AUSTRALIAN MILITARY TO GET SWEEPING NEW POWERS

With no media attention or public discussion the Howard
Government is using the Olympics to justify sweeping new powers
allowing the military to suppress domestic unrest in Australia.

The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civilian
Authorities) Bill seeks to establish the legal and political
basis for using troops to suppress political disturbances,
seriously undermining the centuries-old principle that the armed
forces should not be mobilised against the civilian population.

The Bill was passed through the House of Representatives in one
day (June 28) virtually unnoticed with the country in the grip of
GST mania, and is due to be voted on in the Senate by the end of
August in time for the Olympic Games.

Under the pretext of ensuring public safety during the Olympics,
the government and the Labor Opposition have combined to rush
through the legislation which will permanently and fundamentally
change the military's role.

The Bill authorises the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and
the Attorney-General to advise the Governor-General (the
Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces under the Constitution) to
call out military personnel to deal with "domestic violence" that
is considered a threat to the nation or one of Australia's states
or territories.

The words "domestic violence" do not refer to violence against
family members or in the home. It is a vague and undefined
expression derived from s.119 of the Constitution, which was
intended to cover civilian disorder that the state police forces
prove incapable of putting down.

Today, the term "domestic violence" is widely interpreted to mean
more than just "terrorism" and can include strikes, political
demonstrations or riots.  Already the term "terrorism" has been
used by police and security forces to encompass protests such as
those planned for the World Economic Forum in Melbourne in
September. It is possible that "domestic violence" will be
interpreted to include protests at the Olympics or the WEF.

Section 119 of the Consititution provides that the federal
government shall protect each state against domestic violence,
but only on the application of the state's government. Section
51A of the Bill goes well beyond the existing s. 51 of the
Defence Act 1903 (Cth), which is based on s. 119 of the
Constitution. The new section will allow a military callout where
the three ministers are satisfied that domestic violence is
occurring "or is likely to occur" that will affect "Commonwealth
interests" (also undefined), regardless of whether there is a
request by any state or territory government.

Section 51B retains an existing proviso in s. 51 that a state
government cannot request reserve forces for use in an
intervention to deal with an industrial dispute, but no such
restriction applies to the use of the armed forces to protect
Commonwealth interests. Nor is there a restriction on the use of
the permanent military when requested by a State. Section 51G
will prevent military personnel being utilised to "stop or
restrict any lawful protest or dissent" but that limitation is
for all practical purposes meaningless. Almost any political
demonstration can be rendered "unlawful" by refusal of official
permission (such as NSW's new Olympic security legislation).

Once deployed, the military forces will have wide-ranging powers
under Sections 51I to 51Y to seize premises, places and means of
transport; detain people; search premises; and seize things. If
the three ministers declare a "general security area" these
powers will be expanded to provide for wider searches, including
personal searches; the erection of barriers; and the stopping of
means of transport. If a "designated area" is declared, the
powers will increase further to stop and control movement; and
issue directions to people.

The most disturbing measures, however, are those contained in
Section 51T on the use of "reasonable and necessary force". In
essence, the section will allow military personnel to shoot to
kill. They will be permitted to cause death or grievous bodily
harm where they believe "on reasonable grounds" that such action
is necessary to protect the life of, or prevent serious injury
to, another person, including the military personnel.

Both the government and the Labor Party have claimed that the
Bill merely codifies the law that already exists. But the purpose
of this section is to shield military personnel from actions or
prosecution for assault, false imprisonment and homicide. As
legal commentators have warned, without such legal protection,
soldiers could, for example, face murder charges if they killed
someone in the course of quelling a civil disturbance, even if
they were acting under superior orders.

In recent years, police killings of civilians have become
commonplace in a number of states, with the police authorities
invariably claiming that the killings were required for
self-defence. The Bill will see the same power extended to
troops, armed with even more deadly weapons, operating under
conditions of serious domestic unrest.

There are significant questions about the constitutionality of
aspects of the legislation, more importantly, however, the bill
will be a further increase in the para-militarisation of policing
in Australia and a significant further step by the military into
domestic politics.

In 1978 the Fraser Government used the pretext of the Hilton
Bombing and counter-terrorism in constructing a new national
security apparatus based on extensive
intelligence-military-police cooperation. Now the Olympics are
being used as justification for further strengthening of this
apparatus and its grip on civil society.  Already the Olympics
have been the pretext for increased funding and resources for the
military special forces, sweeping new phone tapping powers for
ASIO and unprecedented powers for police and security in NSW,
this bill if passed will be another significant erosion of our
civil liberties.

Act Now

Write, Ring, Fax or Email

John Howard, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT, 2066
Tel: 02 6277 7700, Fax: 02 6273 4100

Kim Beazley, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2066
Tel: 02 6277 4022, Fax: 02 6277 8495
Email: kim.beazley.MP {AT} aph.gov.au

Meg Lees, Senate, Parliament House, Canberra, ACT 2066
Tel: 02 6277 3991, Fax: 02 6277 3996
Email: senator.lees {AT} aph.gov.au

Call media contacts, ring talk back and make a noise about this
fundamental threat to our civil liberties.

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