Australian security services' powers to conduct domestic surveillance
and to use the military against civilians are being strengthened in two bills
before the Australian Parliament.
The current Australian Parliament is considering laws, almost certain
to be passed, to allow authorities to monitor the phone calls, email and text
messages of people not suspected of any crime.
The power to spy on suspected terrorists and serious criminals already exists.
The Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Bill was introduced to parliament
on February 16. Under the bill, to qualify for your phone to be tapped, you
merely need to be a “third party” to a serious crime.
Police will be given a 45-day warrant to monitor a person not under suspicion
in the hope it might lead to a person who would be of interest to the police.
The warrant can be renewed. ASIO can obtain three-month warrants. (ASIO is the
broadly the equivalent of the United States FBI or the New Zealand SIS).
The warrant is issued by a judge who, according to the Australian Attorney-General
Philip Ruddock, “has to take into account the seriousness of the offences
being investigated, how much of the information would be likely to assist in
the investigation by the agency, to what extent alternative methods of investigating
it have been used, and how much use of such methods would be likely to assist
the investigation by the agency of the offence”.
The judge “has to be satisfied in relation to a number of other matters;
that is, the privacy of a person won’t be unduly interfered with”,
Ruddock told Australian Broadcasting Commission radio on February 15.
However, Terry O’Gorman from the Australian Council for Civil Liberties
points out that judicial oversight is not a safeguard. “Law enforcers
go judge shopping. They go to the ... judges who more readily give warrants
and are less questioning than others”, he told the February 15 Age newspaper.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said the powers are unprecedented.
“It massively expands police surveillance and it’s directly targeted
against innocent people who are doing nothing wrong.”
He pointed out that a phone in Australia is already 26 times more likely to
be bugged than a phone in the United States. But that is not all. Receiving
almost no corporate media coverage, a Senate committee recommended on January
31 the passage of a bill that will make it easier for the Australian Defence
Force (ADF) to police and shoot civilians.
The powers go well beyond dealing with a terrorist threat and in important
respects put the military above state criminal laws. Some powers were given
to the ADF to intervene in public order management in the lead-up to the 2000
Sydney Olympics, however, the new Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian
Authorities) Bill 2005 proposes:
to make it easier for the ADF to be called out where there is a threat to
any “designated infrastructure”;
expanded “shoot-to-kill” powers such that civilians could be
shot for the protection of property from “damage or disruption”;
a “following orders” defence for soldiers who shoot civilians;
to give the prime minister alone the power to authorise troop call-outs where
a “sudden and extraordinary emergency exists”;
that individual soldiers be given the power to police civilians, including
requiring people to answer questions or produce documents;
no need to notify the public that troops have been called out; and
that soldiers may operate without the need to wear a name tag.
Under the proposed legislation, the federal government may use the ADF to protect
“Commonwealth interests” even if the state or territory concerned
opposes it. The new powers operate where there is “domestic violence”,
as vague as that phrase is. Furthermore, the ADF may:
shoot fleeing civilians evading detention (something not available to the
detain people without arresting them; and
search premises, people and vehicles without warrants (thus avoiding judicial
A particular concern is that the proposed laws do not require the public release
of army manuals in relation to ADF rules of engagement with civilians.
One submission to the parliamentary committee reviewing the laws pointed out
that Greens Senator Bob Brown had previously read out extracts from the 1983
Australian Army Manual of Land Warfare, leaked to the press in 1993, with particular
reference to section 543.
This section instructs military personnel to adopt courses of conduct that
seem designed to cover up the killing or wounding of “dissidents”.
It states, in part: “Dead and wounded dissidents, if identifiable, must
be removed immediately by the police ... When being reported, dissident and
own casualties are categorised merely as dead or wounded. To inhibit propaganda
exploitation by the dissidents the cause of the casualties (for example, 'shot’)
is not reported. A follow-up operation should be carried out to maintain the
momentum of the dispersing crowd.”
The bill is expected to become law in late February 2006.
The text of the proposed law in relation to electronic surveillance can be
found at http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/browse.aspx?NodeID=51
The proposed law in relation the use of the Australian milliary against civilian
populations cane be found at http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/browse.aspx?NodeID=119.
Dale mills is a regular contributor on civil liberties
to Australia’s Green Left Weekly www.greenleft.org.au