Your government is watching you, CSG activists

Narrabri police train a video camera on an activist during a protest in the Pilliga last year. Photo: Kate Ausburn

The government has admitted that it is using both the Australian Federal Police and a private intelligence consultancy to monitor coal seam gas (CSG) protesters, say the Greens.

Speaking in federal parliament on Tuesday 7 February ALP Senator Joe Ludwig, representing the Attorney-General, “made it clear that the federal police were undertaking surveillance of coal seam gas protesters,” said Queensland Greens state spokesperson Libby Connors.

“So law abiding citizens from farmers and frustrated landholders to mothers living on the Tara estate who have participated in legitimate protest may now have a federal police file.”

Greens Senator Christine Milne explained in a statement: "Minister Ludwig confirmed … in response to my question, that some surveillance of protesters is being outsourced to a private agency — the National Open Source Intelligence Centre (NOSIC).”

Established in 2001, NOSIC is a private company that provides state and federal agencies with services including monitoring of “current and emerging issues relating to global activism and related crime,” according to the company website.

An investigation published last month by Philip Dorling for The Age looking at ongoing (and increasing) government sanctioned surveillance of environmental activists revealed NOSIC has been “engaged on contract by the AFP and the Attorney-General’s Department since at least 2003.”

The NOSIC website says it provides intelligence on “the identity, capability and intentions of organisations or individuals that engage in radical activism…” as well as criminal or unlawful behaviour, and the potential “impact on public order, business continuity or community values”. The organisation says “no information is collected unlawfully or obtained at its source by clandestine or covert means”.

Milne raised concerns about the costs involved in ongoing surveillance of people engaged in protest against the mining industry. “What an extraordinary use of taxpayers’ money to spy on legitimate protesters in order to protect the commercial interests of polluting companies,” she said.

“Farmers in Queensland trying to protect their land from coal seam gas mining, and parents concerned about their children’s health, will be understandably outraged that they may be under surveillance by the Australian Federal Police.”

Drew Hutton, President of Lock the Gate Alliance, which represents more than 100 community groups concerned about the CSG industry, said that surveillance was a method of “intimidation” used against protesters by the government.

Hutton condemned the government for “…spying on ordinary farmers and rural Australians pursuing legitimate, non-violent protest.”

Given the sight of police officers with their video cameras trained on activists at almost every recent protest (and the rising improper conflation of environmental civil disobedience and terrorism) the news of government monitoring, while concerning, will come as no surprise to many activists and their allies.

[Republished from kateausburn.com.]