Proposed new ASIO law is part of shift to increasing authoritarianism

By Joe Montero

The Morrison government has just used the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic to introduce into the parliament a new bill, which will allow agents of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), to question teens as young as 14.

The absence of a proper parliament during the Coronavirus shutdown is being used to try and railroad it through.

The bill was introduced by the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. In addition to the new questioning power, the bill also gives unrestricted power for ASIO to install tracking devices in a person’s bag or car, without any approval. Up to now, ASIO had to get a warrant. If the bill becomes law, they won’t have to anymore.

These changes are even more intrusive that they may at first seem, since they add to and strengthen the raft of draconian laws that have been passed since the 9/11 bombing in New York. All have been justified under the so-called war on terrorism.

These laws deny the right to proper legal representation, limit the right of appeal and allows charges and to be laid and convictions made on hearsay, rather than on tested hard evidence. The new bill does the same.

Dealing with would be bombers is one thing, and there already exists a raft of laws to deal with this. But the reality is, new laws have been brought in to produce political justification for more repressive measures. This is ultimately about policing political opinion.

Dutton says that the new measures would only be used on those suspected of being involved in terrorist attacks. Why then, doesn’t the bill specify this? The failure to do so is a good indicator the the possibility for more widespread use is weighted in.

This is dangerous stuff, especially when the level of mistrust between the political elite and the population is on the rise. The arsenal could easily be used by this political elite, finding itself under a perceived siege from a hostile population.

We are witnessing diminishing transparency in government, increasing big brother style of operating, and a gradual diminishing of rights once considered sacrosanct. And this comes alongside a rise of corruption within political circles and among backers in the world of big business.

There is no doubt that Australia is heading into a time of greater political stress. The average punter no longer trusts the standard politician, and there is an underlying current for some sort of change is needed. There are different opinions on what this should be.

Signs of political polarisation are beginning to emerge and translate into a shift to what is often called the political right and left. Both trends express the growing dissatisfaction.

Add to this an economy becoming increasingly unstable, with the prospect of diminishing economic security for many Australians and rising poverty.

The sense that political elite is failing to deliver, what are considered their most important duties will probably continue to build, for as long as the elite continues on its present course. When people feel betrayed, they might just start getting angry.

Anti-terror and other laws have already been used to stigmatise and punish Australians considered to have come from the Middle East. Chinese and other Asian Australians are the new target, and we should be asking, why is the political elite trumpeting the politics of division and hate?

A divided population is much easier to control.

Civil rights bodies and campaigners are opposing Dutton’s bill entirely. Some are only opposing parts of it and calling for greater safeguards. Their questioning is bringing more widespread attention to what is going on.

It is unrealistic that under the present circumstances, the opportunity to use coercive laws won’t be increasingly used to silence political opposition. This is reason enough to campaign for their removal.

Below is a poster from ultra right fringe ultra-right hate group the Australia Only Patriotic Party. The sad thing is that some of our so-called political leaders are repeating the same political position, and they are the ones bringing in new coercive laws.

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