Labor joins attacks on civil liberties

Issue 

Editorial

Labor joins attacks on civil liberties

In a stunning display of just how far to the right a Labor leader can go, NSW Premier Bob Carr has called for even more attacks on civil liberties, paving the way for a crackdown on dissent, and persecution of immigrants and Muslims.

On October 30, Carr announced that his government was setting up a Police Counter Terrorism Co-ordination Command, with 77 staff. The centre began its operations, from a secret location, on November 1.

While Carr has been fuzzy on exactly who is involved in the unit, it is a NSW body. It does not include agents from Australia's main intelligence agencies and members of the Australian Federal Police, although Carr has stated that the unit will “work closely” with federal agencies.

Along with counter-terrorist activity, the centre will be responsible for “public order management” and “tactical response”. Out of its total $17 million funding, $1.8 million will be spent on bugging equipment.

Carr has also called for a national “department of homeland security”, using his opening speech to the homeland security conference, held October 31-November 1, to launch the proposal. The call has been supported by former Labor leader Kim Beazley.

What Carr is proposing is to set up one department that would call on the services of all the federal and state security agencies and police forces to share information with each other and start coordinating their work. These agencies combined could much more easily build up profiles of Australian residents and monitor their political activities.

Integration is also likely to significantly lessen accountability. At the moment, for one agency to obtain information from another involves getting approval from a set of governing bodies and individuals. Abolishing this could lead to higher abuse of monitoring to repress dissent.

Carr has also announced that NSW will examine local legislation to expand powers of detention and, almost certainly, crack down on protest activities. In drafting these laws, Carr mentioned looking at the USAPATRIOT Act, which has resulted in the mass deportation of thousands of US residents and the detention without trial of thousands of Arab Americans.

These laws would be on top of the legislation passed in August by the federal parliament, with ALP support, which created new offences of terrorism so broad they could criminalise mass protests and some industrial action. Carr's legislation would also be in addition to the Howard government's proposed legislation to give the ASIO secret police agency powers of detention without trial.

NSW already has some of the most repressive laws in Australia, rammed through before the Sydney 2000 Olympics: it has the highest fines for illegal bill-postering and strict rules about public assembly.

Carr's proposals are just the latest attempts by the NSW Labor government to use racist attitudes and nationalist xenophobia to both push back civil liberties and to whip up voter support prior to the March 2003 state election.

@BOX TEXT SPAC = They follow on from Carr's enthusiastic endorsement of racial profiling police tactics in mid 2001, and the comments made by NSW police minister Michael Costa that those planning to protest against the November 14-15 World Trade Organization mini- ministerial meeting are “terrorists”.

If Carr succeeds in ramming through more repressive legislation, and setting up a federal agency that will provide more secret police surveillance and raids upon NSW residents, anti-racist activists will face an even harder fight.

From Green Left Weekly, November 6, 2002.
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