Politics

The AFP Raids Are The Final Straw: Australia Is Becoming A Surveillance State

We need end the political bipartisanship on national security, before it's too late.

AFP raids

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the ABC and News Corp should be the catalyst to end the political bipartisanship on national security that is marching Australia down the road to a surveillance state.

For the past 20 years we have seen over 200 changes to the law that have eroded fundamental rights and freedoms in our country. This has only been made possible because of an uncritical collusion between the Coalition and the ALP.

There is a familiar pattern to how these laws are made. Firstly, the government decides on yet another legal change that grants sweeping new powers to security agencies. The plans are dropped to News Corp in advance of a broader media announcement. News Corp kicks into cheerleader mode with uncritical coverage that completely regurgitates the government’s preferred framing.

The legislation is then sent off to the secretive Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), which excludes crossbenchers and Greens. Behind closed doors that Committee agrees on minor amendments that sand off a few rough edges, but the laws remain largely unchanged. The legislation then passes Parliament with bipartisan support, despite the Greens’ objections.

You don’t need to look far to find egregious examples of laws passed, and people unreasonably targeted, in the name of national or border security.

Right now, Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery are being tried in secret over their role in exposing Australia’s illegal spying on the Timor Leste government.

When the Border Force Act was passed in 2015, doctors, nurses and social workers faced imprisonment if they revealed abuse of the people Australia locks up in offshore detention.

The invasive metadata laws were sold to the public under the guise of protecting Australia from terrorism, but have since been used by local councils to crack down on unregistered pets and litterers.

And laws passed last year give authorities the ability, in certain circumstances, to access, alter and delete information on people’s devices without their knowledge, or a warrant.

Let’s Talk About The Surveillance State

Firstly, we should end the unquestioning bipartisanship on so-called national security issues. We should crack open the closed doors of the PJCIS, and allow Greens and crossbench members to participate.

It’s also time for a new national security white paper, to enable a proper review of these laws and recommendations for amendment or repeal.

We should properly fund the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor so it can examine and report on new legislation before it is debated in parliament.

We should break up the Department of Home Affairs, which has led to the unprecedented consolidation of power under a minister, Peter Dutton, who has continually shown disregard for the rule of law.

We should strengthen protections for public interest whistleblowers.

Since Australia remains the only liberal democracy in the world without a Bill or a Charter of Rights, we should enshrine our fundamental freedoms in law, or in our constitution.

If we want to make progress we need to stop pretending that the problem is new, or that it is only impacting media outlets.

There are still men and women trapped on Manus Island and Nauru who have had their rights ruthlessly trampled for years with bipartisan political support.

Civil society is under increasing attack, with unions and environment groups facing more barriers to be able to play their crucial role.

State and territory governments continue to disproportionately lock up Indigenous people including children, those who are sick and others who have committed no offence.

Australia’s onshore immigration detention system has become a warehouse for those who have left prison and face deportation.

The real lesson from the recent AFP raids is that if parliament gives security agencies increased powers, they will be ruthlessly used.

So it is from parliament that the response must come. But it will have to begin by breaking the major party collusion that has spawned so many of the laws which have eroded rights in our country, and the abuses of power they have enabled.


Senator Nick McKim is the Australian Greens’ Spokesperson for Justice.