By Joe Montero
Since the end of last week two, incredibly important events occurred, and these will have ongoing repercussions. The mark a significant downgrading of human rights in Australia.
Given the spate of anti-democratic new laws in recent years, this is no mean achievement for the Turnbull government.
The first event was securing the passage of the “foreign interference” bills through both houses of parliament in only four days. The contents of the Espionage and Foreign Interference (EFI) and Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS) are horrific.
The EFI contains 45 new expanded offences, carrying prison sentences of up to life. It covers everything from treason, to what is deemed to “harm” Australian interests. This harm is not clearly defined, and therefore puts anyone critical of any government policy into a position where they are potentially contravening the law. Whether they are or not is now a political decision. We have not seen such draconian laws since World War Two.
It is but a short step from here to criminalising all forms of political activity that the government of the day does not sanction. The threat is made more real, by the fact that the authors of the new laws see them as having a role, in setting a precedent that can be extended later.
The FITS Bill establishes a public register for political parties and other organisations deemed to cooperate with international or overseas entities. This carries long terms of imprisonment as well, from 10 to 20 years, for those who fail to register, or do not comply with complex and intrusive reporting requirements. Trying to impose this in an even handed way to everyone would be unworkable.
Particularly in the age of the Internet, there is no political, or other kind of organisation that at least does not receive information from a foreign entity. Under the extremely broad definition, this could be called cooperating with overseas entities.
This aside, Australia’s economic life is meshed with an extensive network of corporate connections. Multinationals are at the centre of the economy. It is their nature to liaise with foreign interests and political networks. Without, this they couldn’t continue business a normal , whether it be accessing investment funds, carrying out core operations, marketing, or sending profits to tax free havens, to avid paying tax. All of this requires extensive arrangements with foreign entities. And it happens that the same corporations are the main source of funds for the Liberal and National parties. There is a political connection.
But these corporations have been granted omission from the laws. The same applies to media outlets. The Murdoch empire, which controls the bulk of media in Australia, is an American based company, with extensive business and political connections and track record of unlawful behaviour, will not be held in check by these laws. They are not intended to be applied equally to all.
Together, these laws are widely known as anti-China laws. And they are. It has been admitted that they are based on “intelligence” from the United States, and that they have come about at the same time as the United States is intensifying a trade war against China is no coincidence. China is a target, not because it threatens to invade, but because this nation is seen as an economic rival and challenger to American global dominance. Australia has been committed to the trade war on China and strategy, which also has a military arm.
Nor is it an accident that few relatively minor corruption allegations were given such high profile. These could easily be dealt with by existing law. They weren’t, because they were used as convenient propaganda vehicle, to create a veneer of legitimacy for already wanted new laws. This is why there has been a concerted major media campaign to paint the Chinese as having too much political influence in Australia, and the long established Australian Chinese community, as a fifth column, undermining Australia as a nation.
Unfortunately, continuing adherence to the current U.S. Australia relationship, which accepts that Australia is the junior partner and the United states sets the terms, has meant that Labor has gone along with the flow. To oppose these laws, Labor would have had to change policy on the nature of this relationship.
Although the United States China strategy is the reason why these laws have been brought forth at this time, it remains that their application is aimed at Australian citizens. And it does not stop at those accused of association with China.
Part and parcel of the current economic climate is that politicians and political institutions are distrusted by most people. The result is that the discontented have been searching for new means to express their political demands and frustrations. Even if this has not gelled into a direction yet, there is a growing potential for this to bring about a major challenge to the existing order.
Part of this firmament are organisations like GetUp. It is no secret that this Internet based activist group has been a special target.GetUp is not the only target though. The aim is to restrict community activity as much possible. Unions are another major target in the government’s sights. These laws could be used to effectively outlaw organised labour, under the heading of Australian interests,” and because of their connections to international union bodies.
The other event, is the move by the government to prosecute and imprison lawyer and former ACT attorney General, Bernard Collaery, and former intelligence officer known as “Witness K.” Witness k is the whistleblower behind the revelations of the illegal bugging of East Timor’s government by Australia’s ASIS.
No doubt, this is intended to give a message to other potential whistleblowers that they will be severely dealt with, if they speak out over what they consider a wrongdoing.
No wonder these attacks on our rights have been dishonestly brought about, hiding mostly most of the detail behind the public’s back, and through the use of crafted illusion.
It will not end at this. The trajectory towards a police state is clear. And it is up to all of us to resist it, for the further we go down this road, the higher the price we will all have to pay.