Interview: The Reich Stuff
Economics: Crime and Punishment
Environment: Beyond The Wedge
International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Politics: Labo(u)r Day
Human Rights: Arabian Lights
History: Labour's Titan
Review: Foxy Fiasco
Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
The Locker Room
What’s In a Name?
Let's Start A New Party
It is the first time a senior military officer has taken over the running of a key policy advising agency this close to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Duncan Lewis is a decorated career military officer with a background in diplomatic work, peace-keeping, counter-terrorism, and has Indonesian language skills. In 2002 he was the inaugural chief of Special Operations Command, and is a former commander of the elite covert Special Air Service Regiment (1990-1992).
All well and good; we are probably in expert hands so far as terrorist threats from abroad are concerned. However the Major-General's brief includes internal domestic security matters; arguably, so far as a democracy is concerned, the preserve of civil authorities and civil law.
As former High Court Justice Sir Victor Windeyer advised Justice Hope's Protective Security Review in 1979, the best safeguard against terror lies in "the rigorous enforcement of existing criminal law" rather than the making of new laws and the use of terrorism as a legal term. Herein lies the problem; terrorism is an ambiguous and slippery term to define, because motivation and purpose are what distinguish it from ordinary crimes of violence. This is a process of definition that can easily be politically manipulated.
The Duncan Lewis appointment reflects something more and other than concern for the well-being of the Australian people and Australian democracy. It reflects the increasing militarisation of Australian society and culture.
Does anyone remember the Peter Weir movie Gallipoli? Released in 1981, it was a confronting challenge to those Australian cultural and political forces that presented war and the martial spirit as something intrinsically Australian and Good. To a great extent it was part of the critique and questioning of war resulting from Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war.
War through the lens of Weir was a maelstrom that lured the innocent and ignorant; a pointless, wasteful, human enterprise. I doubt whether he could produce his movie today, or that it would generate the anti-war response it did twenty-three years ago. Today many Australians seem to be in love with the martial spirit and the idea of war.
To understand the militarisation of Australian society and culture we have to go back to 1972 and the end of Australian involvement in the Vietnam war, which also marked the end of a generation of Australians at War. The Whitlam, and subsequent Coalition and Labor, governments, abandoned the policy of forward defence. The Australian armed forces were left without external threats, enemies, and roles.
The various armed services were at loggerheads with each other, competing for cuts of diminishing defence budgets, while declining service conditions failed to attract sufficient recruits. It was a mess crying out for reform; as the 1980s opened, the Australian army was incapable of meeting on short notice anything but a low level contingency.
War is Good.
Reforms came in stages beginning in 1975, along with increased budgets. But what also had to be overcome was the traditional Australian disdain for the armed services in peacetime. This was nibbled away at by a range of organisations, lobbyists and interest groups, including Australian War Memorial apparatchiks, the armaments industry, political spin doctors, historians, journalists, but significantly by leading politicians like Paul Keating and John Howard, keen to turn the Australian experience of war into a White Mans Dreaming (WMD), sanctifying venues of great horror and carnage like Gallipoli and Kokoda as sacred sites, and making war central to the definition of what it is to be Australian.
What got lost in this process were senses of war as the failure of politics and diplomacy, as human tragedy on a vast scale, as brutality and carnage unleashed. Instead, war and martial options were portrayed as necessary parts of the human experience, rather than aberrant behaviour best avoided. In short, war was good for the national soul and the body politic.
Terrorism fortuitously came along in 1978 with the mysterious, unclaimed, Hilton bombing (Sydney), possibly the result of a botched black operation by Australia's security agencies. In response Prime Minister Fraser deployed domestically nearly 2000 troops to act as soldiers in peace-time against an unseen, unknown, never identified or described, possibly fictitious, domestic threat.
Long term, this unprecedented and controversial decision, along with the bombing, had significant ramifications. Security was placed firmly on Australia's national agenda and fundamentally changed the nation. The power of the federal government in domestic affairs was strengthened, 'terrorism' became a specific legal entity, counter-terrorism became the preserve of the army, and in 2000 we got the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Act 2000, making it easier for the federal government to use the armed forces on domestic soil against perceived threats to 'Commonwealth interests', and enabling the army to have police powers.
Significantly, as constitutional legal expert A. R. Blackshield argued in 1978,
Fraser's use of the army "strikingly demonstrated the vulnerability of our democracy under existing law", an implication being that should a future Australian government seriously embark on a military coup, it "would encounter no constitutional obstacles or restrictions at all--at least as far as the black letter constitutional text is concerned".
The key term post-2000 is 'Commonwealth interests', a term that is vulnerable to political definition and manipulation. While the future is in the making and yet to be, the historical record shows that domestically, Labor and non-labor governments have variously used the armed forces against the trade union and protest movements.
The armed forces generally were mobilised as back-up during the 1923 Melbourne Police Strike and also provided strike breaking assistance; troops were used as strike breakers during the 1949 Coal Strike in New South Wales; army and naval personnel were used to variously break bans by the Seamen's Union of Australia (SUA) and the Waterside Workers Federation in 1951, 1952, 1953, and 1954; the navy was used to break an SUA boycott against the Vietnam War in 1967; the air force was used to break union bans on Qantas in 1981; the navy and air force were used to break the 1989 industrial campaign by the Australian Federation of Air Pilots. Also that year, the dispatch of troops was authorised to back-up South Australian police against demonstrators at the Nurrungar joint Australia-United States military satellite base.
A significant political-industrial role was envisaged for the army during the Cold War in the anti-union Operation Alien (1950-1953); armoured cars and troops were used to intimidate agitated unemployed Italian migrants at the Bonegilla reception camp in Victoria, 1952; the nature and extent of involvement of defence force personnel in the 1998 War on the Waterfront is yet to be fully understood.
Half-way through 2005, John Howard and his neocons will finally control both houses of federal parliament. Key players who helped give us the criminal conspiracy of the War on the Waterfront will be in a position to do as they like to the Australian workforce, the trade union movement, and industrial relations. The point could well be reached where the Howard anti-union agenda is deemed to be in the best interests of the Commonwealth, and opposition to it perceived as requiring the stamp of the iron heel.
Note: For a detailed examination of Australia's response to terrorism and the impact on civil liberties and the Australian political landscape, see Jenny Hocking, Terror Laws: ASIO, counter- terrorism and the threat to democracy, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2004.
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