Australia’s New Terror Laws And What They Mean

A series of events in Australia in the last few days have quite frankly left me reeling in shock and surprise. The first was an incident where an 18-year- old boy was shot dead by police. Technically he’s a man but I call him a boy. A boy who was foolish and very naïve. A brain washed jihadist. A supporter of ISIL, a Muslim extremist group, which wants to destroy all of us for no reason other than, who we are and how we live. He came to the attention of authorities for some of the things he was saying on social media like wanting to behead police, drape their bodies in the ISIS flag and post the images online. He also made death threats against the Australian Prime Minister.

Very surprisingly and quite ironically the police decided to deal with this by taking a fairly low, key approach. Instead of a dawn raid and arresting him at gunpoint they invited him to come and see them at the police station. They arranged a time and he turned up to be met by two officers outside the station. What happened next will become the subject of an official inquiry. But it appears when one of the policemen tried to shake his hand in greeting, the 18-year-old produced a knife and began hacking at the two policemen. It is believed, one of the policemen fired a single, fatal shot at the 18-year-old. It was both tragic and senseless.

This young boy was seen talking with older men before this incident occurred which supports the idea he was not acting alone. He first came to the attention of police and intelligence authorities, three months ago, because he was part of a small group of men sharing messages, preaching violence and hate. Authorities were concerned he may try to join ISIL in Syria and Iraq so they cancelled his passport.

The second disturbing report was an allegation of a second, separate attack on a serving member of the Australian Army who was walking along the street minding his own business. The catalyst for the attack was the fact that he was wearing the Australian Army uniform. In a recent development, police are now saying the attack didn’t happen but it was enough for Australian Defence Force Chiefs to issue an order for defence force personnel not to wear their uniform in public. Reports of these two incidents coincide with ISIL using social media to call on its supporters to attack indiscriminately. They were told they do not need the authority of a senior Muslim cleric, they should just go ahead and wage jihad and God was on their side. These people seem to be under the illusion we are back in the Middle Ages fighting some sort of mythical crusade. Muslim versus Christian. What is most disturbing is the number of young Muslim men, in Western countries who believe in this nonsense. What worries me the most about these developments is it could end up being a double-edged sword. We need to be worried about radicalised Jihadists but equally we should also be worried about whack jobs who want to attack Muslims for being Muslim. There’ve been reported incidents of vandalism and graffiti but fortunately no violence.

Here is a small reality check.

The vast majority of Muslims in Australia, or anywhere else in the world are not defined by what the Islamic State does in Iraq and Syria. They are peace-loving people who believe in tolerance, benevolence and humanity. As President Obama quite correctly pointed out, No God condones terror.

But there is no denying these incidents frighten people and when people are frightened they lose perspective and forget to think and respond rationally.

And what usually follows is another unfortunate by-product – the rights and freedoms that we have come to expect and accept are suddenly under threat.

The Australian Prime Minister said as much the other day. In a speech clearly aimed at softening up the country he said some freedoms needed to be sacrificed in order to protect the vast majority. He asked Australians to support this shift in what he called the delicate balance between freedom and security. We are only just beginning to find out what this actually means. In Federal Parliament a bill was passed giving Australia’s domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, unprecedented and unfettered power to monitor the entire Australian internet. All that is needed is one warrant. The bill passed with bi-partisan support so the Opposition clearly agrees with the Government. ASIO will be permitted to copy, delete or modify data held on any computer it has a warrant to monitor. It also allows ASIO to disrupt target computers and use innocent third-party computers, not targeted, as a way of accessing targeted computers. Many lawyers and academics are saying this bill goes too far. Australian Attorney-General George Brandis says we all better get used to living in what he called this “newly dangerous age.” It is vital he said to equip those protecting Australia with the necessary powers and capabilities needed to do their job.

That’s all well and good but what about the checks and balances? Where are they? How can we be sure that ASIO won’t abuse these massive new powers? And if you are worried about these questions, and you should be, then what I am about to say should make you even more worried. The bill also allows for journalists, whistle-blowers and bloggers who “ recklessly” disclose information that relates to a special intelligence operation ,to be jailed for ten years. Get this. Any operation can be declared to be “special” by an ASIO agent. It also gives ASIO immunity from criminal and civil liability in certain circumstances. In other words it makes them pretty much untouchable.

Now don’t get my wrong. I am all for giving law enforcement the powers they need to do their job but that doesn’t mean they have an open checkbook. And going after whistleblowers and journalists providing the necessary balance, threatening them with a hefty prison sentence, is not a good thing in a democratic country. It is very much the case of shooting the messenger. Of course with the threat of a ten-year prison sentence hanging over them, whistleblowers will become extinct. I’m sure that is exactly what Governments around the world want to happen. I’m sorry but I don’t trust ASIO not to abuse its powers. Unless we have something or someone keeping a watchful eye out on behalf of us all there is a danger that the so-called cure could end up being far worse than the disease.

Caught Out

This may not surprise you about Governments per se but the Australian Government has been caught out doing something it should not have been doing. Believe me the something they did is not a very good look.

Australian intelligence services inserted listening devices into the wall cavity of an East Timorese Government office under the guise of an aid project.

For those of you who may not know, East Timor is situated to the north of Australia. It is an independent country now but has a very bloody history. Invaded at one point by Indonesia.

Not far from East Timor and close to Australia in the Timor Sea there lies a very lucrative oil and gas field that Australia would very much like to exploit. The reserves are worth $40 billion. Clearly there is a lot at stake here. By now you probably know where this is going.

The Australian Government has no real defense to offer for spying on the East Timorese. It deserves to be condemned and rightly so. But what do you think happened as a result of this disclosure? Departmental heads sacked? An official inquiry into what happened?

Did it mean for example that an organization like the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, which operates the same way as the CIA, was hauled over the coals for breaching another countries sovereignty? You must be joking.

This revelation, of course, came courtesy of a whistleblower and now the Australian Government is only interested in shooting the messenger.

Here is the history. The information first came to light as a result of a television report by an Australian media organization, which received it from a lawyer acting on behalf of an Australian spy. The lawyer was also acting for the East Timorese Government, which wants to nullify the Treaty it has with Australia over the oil and gas reserve on the grounds that it manifestly favors Australia. The Australian spy knew what was done and was to be the star witness at an International Court of Justice hearing on the issue in The Hague.

East Timor says the spying shows that the Treaty was not negotiated in good faith as proscribed by the Vienna Convention and it wants it torn up.

But let’s get back to the main point of the story, which is what the Australian Government is doing in response.

The Australian Federal Police have been asked to investigate if the lawyer and the spy can be charged under the Australian Intelligence Services Act, which carries a two year prison term as penalty. The Federal Police have also asked the media organization that reported the story to hand over all of their material in relation to the report. They want to get their hands on unedited footage of the lawyer’s television interview.

The Federal Police confirmed they began their investigation after receiving a referral but that is all they are prepared to say. Never mind the illegality of what Australia was doing let’s focus on the people who let the world know it was happening.

The lawyer and the media organization both say they intend to fight the matter in court if need be.

Meantime, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization which might have placed the listening devices in the first place raided the lawyer’s home, seized documents as well as electronic data and cancelled his passport.

The Australian Attorney General says the lawyer and the spy appear to have breached Australian security laws. And if you read between the lines of that comment it means the Australian Government is going after both of them.

I have said this before and I will say it again. Being a whistleblower anywhere in the 21st Century is a dangerous game because you risk becoming an endangered species. All Governments everywhere want to wipe them out. And if that happens who are the losers? The answer is all of us.