Government is stripping away our civil liberties

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AFP detectives raided the offices of the ABC in a move against freedom of press (Screenshot via YouTube)

Through media censorship, accessing private data and other restrictions, our government is taking away our freedom piece by piece, writes Grant Turner.

THERE IS A POLITICAL mindset along the lines of “always use crisis or disaster to increase government power over citizens”.

In 2001, 9/11 shocked and changed the world in many ways. According to the many official 9/11 reports, Osama bin Laden, assisted by 19 Muslims with box cutters, was able to orchestrate and inflict an attack on the United States that overcame and defeated a trillion-dollar military power. It inflicted near 3,000 deaths in the initial attack and many more since caused by a hideous lung disease due to the fine dust that three buildings were turned into when they collapsed to the ground on that day. There were also 184 deaths at the Pentagon and a further 40 at Shanksville that were all part of the 9/11 attacks on the American nation.

This single event had most of the world standing in solidarity with the people of America and the many other victims from around the world who happened to be in lower Manhattan, Arlington or Shanksville on that day.

9/11 pulled at the heartstrings of decent thinking people. The reaction to it was not dissimilar to the millions of Americans standing proud and willing in line to join the defence forces the very day after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbour. Most folks felt the need to be part of any action to combat such abhorrent acts.

The indignation felt post-9/11 also allowed governments across the planet to bring in new and changed laws (mostly unchallenged) which went directly to peoples personal freedoms and privacy. People willingly gave up the very freedoms they, throughout history, had fought and gone to war against fascist regimes to protect. It also brought about law changes such as the Patriot Act in the U.S. and 80-odd changes that were made to security laws here in Australia. People put aside their privacy and freedom concerns willingly.

To understand how attitudes have changed in Australia, you only have to look at the Hawke Government's attempt to introduce the “Australia Card” in the mid-'80s. It was a card designed to amalgamate government identification systems and act against tax avoidance and health and welfare fraud. It was introduced and defeated three times in Parliament and met with public outrage on the grounds of it being an attack on peoples freedoms and privacy.

Compare and contrast what is going on here right now in Australia.

Americans have the Department of Homeland Security which morphed out of the 9/11 attacks. It has obtained unprecedented power, it has little to no accountability, a single minister can make decisions affecting peoples lives with very little scrutiny, all accepted by many under the much-repeated line of “keeping Americans safe” mantra.

In Australia, we have had our government constantly reinforce and push the Islamic terror threat, African gangs and the threat of boat people and refugees invading our country. These much-exaggerated threats are being used to create fear and enable the use of the same modus operandi that has, in recent years, allowed the metadata retention laws to be enacted. These are the very laws our government guaranteed wouldn't be used without warrants, yet there have been documented breaches of that guarantee.

We as Australians have seen the secrecy applied to anything that shows this government in a bad light. Simply look at the current government's actions, like those taken against Bernard Collaery and the prosecution of him and Witness K for revealing the LNP's bugging of the Timor-Leste Parliament offices to obtain a financial advantage on a newly-discovered oil field. This whole hideous episode is being prosecuted in secret.

We can then move on to Witness J, another former government operative that had things to say against the LNP Government. His trial and sentencing were secretly held behind closed doors in a Canberra court. Even though Witness J has now served his sentence, he still can not talk about it under the threat of being locked away for life if he does.

We have had Anika Smethurst's house raided for doing her job. In revealing that, our government now wants to empower the Australian Signals Directorate (a spy agency whose charter only allows for spying work outside Australia) to be able to spy on Australian citizens within Australian borders. We've had the ABC raided for revealing the hideous acts and atrocities carried out in Australia's name by sections of our defence forces in Afghanistan.

We've had Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wanting to fine us $50,000 for not giving him passwords to our electronic devices when he demands them. The illegal data-driven “Robodebt” debacle which has caused innocent people to go through financial ruin and depression to the point where some have paid money back to the Government that was not owed. Some have chosen to end their lives rather than face this unrelenting bureaucracy.

At the same time that the Government's ability to surveil and access citizens data to use it against them has increased, the ability to hold the Government to account has been made almost non-existent as is so very apparent in so many cases — #SportsRorts, #Ashbygate, #AwuRaids, #WaterGate, #GrassGate, #Paladin, #Parakillia, #ForgeryGate, #RubyPrincess and many other examples.

It is a fact that media is now so inhibited and restricted as to what it can say and publish in today's media landscape as opposed to how it was 20 years ago, lest they be shunned at press conferences or have the AFP knocking at their doors.

Now the PM, whose office lied as to his whereabouts when he took a holiday while Australia was burning during our recent summer, wants us all to download a COVID-19 tracking app that will keep a record of our every move. Of course, as he said when marketing the metadata retention laws to us, no one will use this data for any other purpose. We all know how that worked out. He is not called the “Liar from the Shire” because of the honesty he has shown.

The COVID-19 app may well be a good thing in the battle against this pandemic, but when trust in our PM and his government is below rock bottom due to the lies and past examples of using our data against us, I hold little hope for the uptake of it. The reality is, members of his own government have stated they won't download it — I see this as another example of the Government using a crisis to increase its power over its citizens.

Hold your breath and see how this crisis will be used to give tax breaks to big business, support coal power, ignore renewables and environmental issues and, of course, diminish the power of unions and workers. As they say“no crisis should go to waste” — especially when it can be used to further the Right-wing agenda. 

Grant Turner has a strong interest in politics and fairness in society and believes in honest independent media. You can follow him on Twitter @gruntat.

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