News has emerged this week that Tony Abbott is committing Australian forces back to Iraq to assist the US-led coalition fight against ‘ISIS extremists’ in the region, following a number of counter-terrorism raids and foiled ‘beheading plots’ over the past month.
As a result, the Australian government has now just passed a new amendment to existing ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation to combat domestic threats at home, with two more legislative pieces expected to be introduced and passed by the end of the year.
In the following opinion piece, Ethan Nash takes an in-depth look at all three stages of this new legislation, including an analysis of how media and government authorities have manipulated public perception, capitalised on pre-conceived fears to erode personal freedoms in unprecedented fashion, and set the catalyst for an Orwellian state to subtlety expand.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell was supposed to be a work of fiction: A paraody of a dystopic future completely controlled by tyranny. However, as the 20th Century came to an end, an eerie resemblance of this novel to the real world is increasingly becoming evident on a day-to-day basis. Government spying, police militarisation, perpetual wars, television propaganda, draconian legislation and educational brainwashing are all driving factors in making this a reality in the modern world.
I was trained as a journalist in 2012.
The underlying component of this training taught me to always remain objective, black and white, and removed of personal opinion and emotion when reporting the news. Indeed, with most content on this website, I believe I have adhered to these standards and let the information and facts do the talking thus far. However, I was also taught as a journalist that we have the vital responsiblity to inform the public of what is going on around them, and to use the power of language to be the eyes and ears of the streets and resonate a voice for the voiceless against those that threaten us.
Thus, introduce the moral dilemna of true journalism. Australia has now reached a point where, as a sovereign human being first-and-foremost, I am compelled to write this vital opinion piece – not only to protect my independence as a journalist – but to protect the freedoms and rights of each and every Australian citizen who will be affected by these new laws; laws designed to systematically chip away at our fundamental freedoms.
This feature piece, is for you.
CONTEXT – TERRORISM, THE MEDIA AND FEAR:
For those that have followed TOTT News for a while now, I am sure you are aware of the extensive coverage we have provided when it comes to intelligence operations and civil liberties in Australia. In fact, it hasn’t been very long since TOTT News published the article, ‘Erosion of Privacy in Australia – Basic facts you need to know‘. Concerning, however, is the fact that in only a few short months have passed – the landscape of Draconian horrors has completely surpassed most points covered in the original article at the time of publishing.
I have spent the last two weeks reading over the new legislative amendment that has passed the House of Representatives, as well as the two amendments that will be passing Parliament by the end of the year. I would be lying if I told you chills didn’t run down my spine; my stomach sick with each passing line. We are in trouble folks – and, whilst I still have the freedom to do so – I’d like to take an in-depth look at all three amendments that threaten the very foundation of our free country.
Before speaking on the legislation itself, I’d like to take a look at the circumstances and events that have transpired over the last month to justify the introduction of such heinous laws into our society, and the expansion of police and surveillance operations abroad.
ISIS was formed during the ‘civil’ wars of Syria and Libya, as the United States and Western allies trained, funded and allowed the extremists to expand in the region to take down the democratically elected governments in the region.
A quick observation of the last two weeks will tell any rationally-thinking individual that things have expanded faster than most have ever seen before. It was just over 4 weeks ago – the beginning of September – and ASIO were seriously considering raising the terrorism threat to high in the wake of supposed ‘beheading’ videos that had emerged online. Just under a week later, they were successful in their justification to do just that – and the threat has been raised to ‘likely’.
Despite this, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the Government has “no specific intelligence” of a plot to mount a terrorist attack. (I’d like everyone to keep this in mind whilst reading the rest of this article).
So, with no direct evidence of any plot in the making to attack Australian shores, surely there is absolutely no reason to panic or take concise, direct action against ISIS by limiting our freedoms for national security, right?? Wrong!
TIMELINE OF ‘TERROR’:
Almost immediately after the terrorism threat was raised to high, a calculated effort of fear-induced manipulation and political trickery began a snowball effect that has dominated our lives for the past month in Australia:
- September 9th – ASIO seriously considering raising Australia’s terror threat level to high
- September 10th – Logan Islamic center raided by Australian Federal Police
- September 13th – Australian terrorism threat is raised to high by ASIO
- September 14th – Abbott to deploy forces to the Middle East
- September 15th – Brisbane train station bins closed as terrorism threat is raised
- September 16th – Secret Victorian search powers extended to ‘fight terrorism’
- September 17th – Biggest counter-terrorism raid in Australian history: Sydney and Brisbane targeted
- September 19th – Abbott there is “chatter” talking of targeting “government people” and “Parliament”
- September 19th – Terror raids: Attack feared within days, Tony Abbott says
- September 20th – AFP used extraordinary powers to detain people without charge
- September 21st – Spy organisation scouring social media for ‘extremist’ threats
- September 22nd – Australia seeks broad anti-terror powers after foiled beheading plot
- September 22nd – Islamic State followers urged to attack Australians by any means possible
- September 22nd – Tony Abbott warns balance between freedom and security may shift
- September 23rd – Terror suspect shot dead after two police officers stabbed
- September 23rd – Second wave of anti-terrorism legislation introduced to Senate
- September 24th – Terrorism fears will see more armed police and ‘pat-downs’ in Queensland
- September 26th – First anti-terrorism legislation passes the Senate, 42-12
- September 30th – Joint police anti-terrorism raids launched in Melbourne
- October 1st – First anti-terrorism legislation passes the House of Representatives
- October 3rd – Australian fighter jets will join the US-led campaign against Islamic State targets in Iraq
Now, based on the timeline above – and, more so the rapid pace of each unfolding piece of the puzzle – any person who watches (and believes) the mainstream media would be absolutely terrified of a domestic threat in Australia. However, when you quickly analyse each and every link shown above, it is increasingly evident that almost every justified response to an event or occurrence has absolutely no merit and is entirely based upon a fear-mongering, agenda-driven media campaign.
Why are we supposed to believe that ”chatter” is a logical response to increased security at Parliament House?? Why are the media not telling us about how 14 of 15 individuals raided were released with no charge?? Why are we supposed to be afraid that “anyone with an iPhone, a knife and a victim” can be a terrorist, Mr. Abbott?? Why do we have to shift the balance between freedom and security for?? Are our authorities not capable of doing their job??
Why are we supposed to believe a government and media collective that LIED to us about WMDs in Iraq??
How are we, as Australians, allowing a police and surveillance state to be completely rolled out based on a rubbish political spin??
Fear is a powerful emotion. When people are afraid, they react. Impact of danger on emotions and the distortive effect of fear on subjective beliefs and individual choices can have a lasting effect on a person. Not surprisingly, sociologists have come to identify our mediated knowledge of high-consequence risks as a major source of contemporary anxiety.
Despite the overwhelming evidence used to add perspective countering the induced-notion of fear of ISIS in Australia, the media and political establishment will have you believe that a terrorist is around every corner, forcing the public to respond based on emotion – rather than of rational thinking. TOTT News has carefully demonstrated how the media uses fear to manipulate public opinion in our 2013 article entitled, ‘Analysing Mass Media: Fear & Manipulation‘.
Now, if all of this wasn’t enough, Treasurer Joe Hockey is taking these events and subsequently focusing the punishment on to the Australian public. After it was estimated to cost $500 million per year to conduct the latest ‘mission’ in Iraq, and after giving a $630 million boost to intelligence organisations to protect us from the boogeyman – now it has been announced that further budget cuts will have to be made to pay for both security and defence purposes.
Indeed, it is not hard to see how the entire landscape of Australia has quickly shifted based solely upon hearsay threats and loosely-justified pieces of poorly constructed evidence. The utter manipulation of public opinion to serve an agenda-based declaration to commit once again in Iraq, coupled with the systematic erosion of our freedoms domestically, have been supported out of fear, rather than rational thinking.
As a result of this onslaught of propaganda, a triple threat of legislative pieces are currently in the process of passing through our Parliament in the name of ‘national security’.
Let’s take a look at just what these amendments entail, and analyse whether or not the politicians in Canberra are genuinely concerned about protecting us from these supposed external and domestic threats.
FIRST BILL – NATIONAL SECURITY AMMENDMENTS:
The first Bill passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday after overwhelmingly passing through the Senate floor the prior Thursday (42-12 vote). Through this, the ASIO Act and the IS Act have now both been amended to include a rapid-expansion of powers for Australian intelligence organisations:
The National Security Legislation Amendment (No. 1) Bill 2014 amends the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (the ASIO Act) and the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (the IS Act) to implement the Government’s response to recommendations in Chapter 4 of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s (PJCIS) Report of the Inquiry into Potential Reforms of Australia’s National Security Legislation (tabled in June 2013) relating to reforms of the legislation governing the Australian Intelligence Community.
This has set an unimaginable precedent for the suppression of free speech in Australia, spying capabilities and expanded immunity of accountability for intelligence agencies conducting specific operations. Here is what the Bill contains:
- It allows ASIO to longer be capped on the number of devices they can monitor under a single warrant, as previously was the case with such operations in Australia. This has raised major concerns, especially with the broadened scope of monitoring a computer under any particular operation. For the purpose of a computer-access warrant, a ‘computer’ is now defined as a ‘network’ – which can allow ASIO to monitor the entire Australian internet with a single warrant.
- It allows Australian intelligence organisations and other third parties associates the ability to define a selective activity as a ‘Special Intelligence Operation’. In doing so, any operation that is conducted under the guide of an SIO definition, allows the organisation to be exempt from civil and criminal liability in the process of conducting them. This is a broad and dangerous term, because not only is it at the discretion of the Attorney General to approve and define an SIO – it also spans to any contractors, associates, black project workers and many more.
- Furthermore, it introduces five-year penalties for journalists and whistleblowers (potentially ten-years if it ‘hurts the safety or security of the public’) for the disclosure of information about Special Intelligence Operations. This is a major concern, because it has the potential to eliminate national security reporting in this country.
The union representing journalists, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, is concerned journalists may become liable for committing a criminal offence for publishing stories such as the alleged tapping of phones in Indonesia by intelligence agencies and Edward Snowden-style revelations about intelligence gathering. There are fears there will be a “chilling effect” on reporting about national security operations.
Despite the concern, there was no concerted campaign, no unified push by the media to stop this bill, which dramatically expands the powers of intelligence agencies whilst creating new offences for disclosing information about their operations. The Bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate and House of Representatives – with only a hand-full of politicians raising their concerns over the threat it causes to the very fabric of our free and open society.
SECOND BILL – PREEMPTIVE DETENTION:
No doubt, the passing of The National Security Amendment (No.1) Bill 2014 is a dark step in Australian history, and one every single individual in Australia should be deeply concerned about. However, whilst many remain oblivious to the legislation or in utter shock of it being passed overwhelmingly in the respective levels of Parliament – this is only just the beginning in a cycle of amendments to come.
On the 24th of September, Attorney-General George Brandis introduced the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill to the Senate, which is currently being referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for review.
This second Bill is focused on individuals who either travel to or from conflict zones that are suspected in partaking in hostile activities, or people who support or plan terrorist/hostile activities domestically at home. It is an expansion to the 2005 Howard-era preventive detention and control order regimes, which are seen as highly controversial because they allow people to be subject to police restrictions or detention without charge and with limited judicial oversight.
Preventive detention orders allow a person to be detained without charge for up to 14 days. Control orders can restrict a person’s freedom of movement or their associations for much longer. The new amendments seeks to make it easier for officers to allow both preventive detention and control orders, whilst expanding on some of the penalties associated with the original legislation.
Some of the key points include:
- Retaining the current regime of control orders and preventive detention orders, which were due to expire next year.
- The Bill introduces the offence ‘advocating terrorism’. A person commits an offence if they intentionally counsel, promote, encourage or urge the doing of a terrorist Act or the commission of a terrorism offence. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment.
- Broadening the range of circumstances where control orders can be sought, including restricting the movement or associations people who have been involved in foreign incursions and return to Australia.
- Enforcing a “12-hour curfew” period for control orders that can force people to stay in a given location for a maximum of 12 hours in every 24 hours.
- Making it easier for police to apply for a preventive detention order or interim control order by lowering the threshold for their state of mind from a “belief” to a “suspicion”.
- Allowing preventive detention orders to be made verbally or electronically in urgent circumstances, and even to be made subject to a person when their full name is not known.
- An area will be declared where the Foreign Affairs Minister is satisfied that a terrorist organisation listed under the Criminal Code is engaging in a hostile activity in a particular area of the foreign country. The new offence will enable the prosecution of people who intentionally enter an area in a foreign State where they know, or should know, that the Australian Government has determined that terrorist organisations are engaging in hostile activities.
The major concern with this Bill is the fact that all restrictions imposed under this legislation are to anyone suspected of ‘advocating terrorism’ – a very broad term that could potentially target anyone who questions the system. If you have already watched David Cameron’s speech at the United Nations, you will already know the type of “non-violent extremism” that some in the international community are now classifying in direct correlation to terrorist ideologies.
This is troubling to some who feel the amendment could potentially lead to a greater erosion of our freedoms; freedoms to support world views alternative to the official narrative or pre-conceived notion of public programming. Indeed, as with most legislative texts, the broadened language constructs do allow potential loopholes to be abused – and, with the new ability to arrest individuals easier and easier – the concerns are certainly justified.
THIRD BILL – DATA RETENTION:
For those that have followed TOTT News for a number of years now, you will understand that we have followed the ‘Data Retention’ proposals from their inception in mid-2012 until now. For a long time, it seems as though the proposals were likely to be resurrected after originally being rejected by the Parliamentary Committee examining the reforms – and, as expected – and now back are set to be introduced later in the year.
As previously covered on this website, the new Bills set will seek to introduce a mandatory data retention scheme, where telecommunications and internet providers will be required to retain personal data for two years. Australia already allows warrantless access to this type of data, which has raised serious concerns about protecting journalists and has been grossly misused throughout the years – as over 250,000 requests were made in 2012 without justification.
The retention of metadata is troubling to some due to the extremely easy nature of obtaining the information, and the concern of how such data is being shared and used in Australia and abroad. It was revealed during the Edward Snowden leaks in 2012 that Australia is part of the ‘Five Eyes Alliance‘ (a relationship Abbott defends) – including Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Through this, intelligence agencies gather and share information about citizens across an international collaborative network.
The first disclosure of Australian involvement in US global surveillance identified four facilities in the country that contribute to a key American intelligence collection program: The US-Australian Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap near Alice Springs and three Australian Signals Directorate facilities: the Shoal Bay Receiving Station near Darwin, the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Facility at Geraldton and the Naval Communications Station HMAS Harman outside Canberra. These facilities, among others, contribute to the NSA’s collection program codenamed X-Keyscore.
Furthermore, it was also revealed that the Australian government has been building another state-of-the art, secret data storage facility just outside Canberra to enable intelligence agencies to deal with a “data deluge” siphoned from the internet and global telecommunications networks.
Many civil liberties groups, organisations and individuals around the country have voiced their concern over the warrantless collection of our metadata by government agencies, and say this new series of amendments are an even darker step in a world of covert information gathering in Australia. The Australian Greens have launched a campaign to #StopDataRetention, and below is a video of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam voicing his opinion on the new legislation recently tabled in the Senate:
Note: TOTT News is not politically affiliated with or endorsing the Greens Party with this post.
In the end, fear and anger are the ultimate reductivists. When we feel afraid of becoming victims of evil, it becomes difficult to look beyond what it is that threatens us. It is human nature to want to protect the loved ones around us, and when danger arises, people want to know about. The media and government have capitalised on this, using auditory queues, linguistic patterns, and segment cliffhangers in their programming in order to entice people to stay attentive and afraid.
Through this, the media will use any means necessary to make sure that such a goal is regularly fulfilled – even if it means giving an inaccurate representation of the truth. The media’s willingness to sensationalise topics continues to produce a discourse of fear, while the pervasive communication generates an expectation that danger and risk is a central feature of everyday life. Through this, people will no longer react out of rational thinking a logic analysis.
Australia is now at a cross-roads; we are staring down the road of tyranny and enslavement. Our rights and freedoms are systematically being taken away with each passing day, and soon, the free country that we once knew and loved will be replaced by a creeping state of Orwellian qualities. We are in control of our destiny and we have the power to stop this. One can make the conscious decision to stand up and fight for what little freedom we have left, or sit back and wait for the domino effect to begin sequence.
Stand up, Australia – before it’s too late.
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Remember WMD? Just labelling something ‘terrorism’ isn’t enough: http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/08/19/remember-wmd-just-labelling-something-terrorism-isnt-enough/
Australia’s Prime Minister gives a master class in exploiting terrorism fears to seize new powers: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/09/22/australias-prime-minister-gives-master-class-exploiting-terrorism-fears-seize-new-powers/
Erosion of Privacy in Australia – Basic facts you need to know: https://tottnews.com/2014/01/23/erosion-of-privacy-in-australia-basic-facts-you-need-to-know
Brandis rebuffs questions on surveillance laws…again!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy_UXPy2Q5o
National security laws ‘strike at the heart of press freedom’: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/30/national-security-laws-strike-at-the-heart-of-press-freedom
Counter-terrorism raids – five unanswered questions: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/22/counter-terrorism-raids-leave-some-serious-questions-unanswered
Analysing Mass Media – Fear and Manipulation: https://tottnews.com/2013/08/04/analysing-mass-media-fear-and-manipulation-part-1/
Listen to Ethan and John le Bon discuss the new legislation in detail on Episode #01 of the Australian Roundtable Podcast on October 5th, 2014 below.
The Australian Roundtable Podcast is a Brisbane-based, independent news/analysis/discussion panel podcast which broadcasts live every Sunday from 3pm AEST. The show features an eclectic panel of presenters who come together each week to discuss recent and topical news and current affairs from Australia and around the world.
The show provides an alternative perspective to that presented by the mainstream media, and is aimed at listeners in Australia and abroad who are skeptical of the official narratives being pushed by governments and the corporate, controlled news.