A New Era Of Domestic Surveillance In Australia
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
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
that individual soldiers be given the power to police civilians, including requiring people to answer questions or
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 ordinary police);
detain people without arresting them; and
search premises, people and vehicles without warrants (thus avoiding judicial scrutiny).
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