In the past few weeks we have been subjected to a media frenzy. The early morning police raids on homes in suburban Sydney and Brisbane on September 18, resulting in 15 people being detained without charge and two arrests, was orchestrated to create a climate of fear of looming “terrorist” attacks and set the scene for the federal government’s security crackdown.
The latest raft of “anti-terror” legislation will severely limit civil rights and comes in the context of Australian forces being committed to a new war in Iraq.
However, the “terror” from which Australian residents are most at risk is the fallout from Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget which attacks the poor, the sick, workers, the aged and people with disabilites, students, jobseekers, asylum seekers, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Recent polls and protest marches, such as the March in August, refugee rights rallies and trade union mass meetings, show that the community overwhelmingly disapproves of the proposals in the federal budget. The Islamophobia fanned by the media provides the government with a useful distraction from this budget.
In spite of disclaimers, media reports, and government and police statements are couched in terms that stereotype Muslims as “terrorists” and “criminals”. It seems that this racist fearmongering that served the John Howard government so well when committing Australian troops to the invasion of Iraq a decade ago is set for a re-run.
The fear is already being felt. On September 22 the Sydney Morning Herald reported: “Three men of Middle Eastern appearance were pointed out by a spectator at the Roosters-Cowboys game on Friday night because they were using their mobile phones in a way that did not match what was happening on the field. They were removed by police in the 60th minute and questioned for about half an hour.”
There are echoes of One Nation and Pauline Hanson in the call by notorious right-wing MP Cory Bernadi to ban the burqa. He told ABC News that his comments are in line with his previous concerns about the burqa, which he has described as "unAustralian" and “repressive".
Palmer United Party Senator for Tasmania Jacqui Lambie has also called for the burqa to be banned and has said she will not allow women wearing the burqa into her office, calling it a security issue.
These public outcries by politicians result in physical attacks on identifiable Muslim women, whose right to go about in public without fear is reduced.
The day after the police raids in Sydney and Brisbane, a mosque in Mareeba, in north Queensland, was vandalised. The mosque has been there since the mid 1950s without incident.
In contrast, recent applications for new mosques to be built on the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast have met local opposition. Opposition is ostensibly for “planning reasons”, but racist motives are close to the surface. Anti-Muslim protesters at Maroochydore on September 21 were met by an equal number of people who supported the right of local Muslims to have a mosque.
The extent of the denial of civil liberties unleashed by recent legislation and emboldened by the climate of fear generated in the community is revealed by the shooting of an 18-year-old man by police at a suburban Melbourne police station on September 24. It seems that the young man was acting alone and had presented himself freely to the police.
"The tragedy highlights the real cost of a failure to deal with these serious issues and why we have made numerous calls on the Australian government to deal with the root causes of alienation and disaffection of people such as this.”
Meanwhile, the first lot of new “anti-terror” legislation passed the Senate on September 25 with support from Labor and the Palmer United Party. The legislation means whistleblowers or journalists who “recklessly” disclose information relating to a “special intelligence operation” can face up to 10 years in jail.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the new laws give “unprecedented powers for ASIO to copy and delete files and surveil unlimited numbers of private citizens' computers.
"Big brother surveillance won't make Australia safer."