The Wonderful Police State of Oz

Oh what a difference a weekend doesn’t make.

At one end of the empire the ardent flame of Scottish independence, as if inspired by Mel Gibson’s cheeky Braveheart, was snuffed out by a pre-referendum BBC fear campaign and the pleading of a candid Cameron, the populace realizing it was all only a movie and that the popcorn was bland as styrofoam . Or maybe there was some widespread ‘mischief’, as some observers have claimed.  Doesn’t matter. As Russell Brand said before the vote, “I’m not going to turn up and put an X in a box, like an Xbox. It’s like an illusion, it’s a temporary reality. It’s meaningless, it’s pointless. It makes no difference. Give us something to vote for, and then we’ll vote for it.”

At the other end of the empire, in New Zealand, on Saturday the Kiwis resoundingly welcomed back Nationalist John Key, despite (some would argue because of) the ‘Moment of Truth’ revelation festival organized by the Greens, which saw oracle Glenn Greenwald flown in from Brazil to join forces with firebrand Kim Dotcom, as well as live video links to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Together, these foreigners (Dotcom’s  a recent immigrant), lampooned and besieged and tore at Prime Minister Key’s credibility, clearly demonstrating that he flat out lied about the mass surveillance of his own citizens.  It was the kind of smoking gun stuff that got Richard Nixon chased out of town 40 years ago.  But Key was returned by a 24% margin over the runner-up party, Labour.  The illicit wiretapping for Uncle Sam will continue.  But some good news: The Kiwis will now push ahead with a referendum for a new flag, so that they may proudly wave their symbolic independence to the world.

However, it was here in Oz that the Big News splashed its breathless headlines across the local tabloid: Terror Powers: Federal Police use special orders for first time to detain suspectsAnd what followed was a non-attributed, unchallenged piece put together by three reporters that told readers police would now be implementing a draconian 9 year old law passed shortly after the London bombing of 2005 (although, curiously, Oz did not see fit to pass such a law after the Bali bombing of 2002 that killed some 88 revelling Australians). The reader is told that federal police would now be using Preventative Detention Orders “to detain suspects in custody without charge” and that such PDOs allow police to take off the street any “suspect” and hold him with no communication to lawyers or family—as long as the threat was perceived by the government as “imminent.”  Strangely enough, “Police cannot question a suspect being held under a PDO,” which is inexplicable, given the ‘ticking bomb’ rationale employed for scooping suspects.  Further, we’re told in a jump to page 7, Attorney General George Brandis will expect from parliament this week expanded police powers, which give them immunity for actions during raids, as well, as the proposal is currently written, to torture suspects.

The precipitating event?  Some baddie blew up the Melbourne Cricket Ground or the Adelaide Oval, resulting in the cancellation of the Aussie Rules football season?  A heartless terrorist poisoned the vats at Carlton Brewery? A radical Aussie imam pulled up his dishdash and dumped a giant turd in the handsome blonde sands of Bondi Beach?  Well, no.  Instead, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Butt of Jokistan, announced allegations of “imminent” “random” “beheadings” to be carried out by jihadists loyal to the Caliphate, or ISIL, or ISIS (guess it depends on what your definition of ISIS is, as Bill Clinton would say).  No one was safe. Why, at the same time an infiltrator in Washington was scaling the fence of the White House with 800 rounds of ammo without being seen, jihadi plots were afoot to radically renovate Parliament House and to end Abbott’s triathlon career. And thus, last Thursday, the largest anti-terrorist raid in Australian history netted one arrest on terrorism-related charges. Allegations, mind you, that will effect the greatest loss of freedoms in modern Australian history.

Back in November 2005, federal agents conducted similar raids, also citing imminent threats, and arrested several men, amid an atmosphere of fear-mongering, but the subsequent prosecutions fell apart when no evidence was forthcoming.  As Greg Barns, a lawyer for one of the 2005 defendants, put it yesterday in an op-ed that appeared in the Melbourne Age, “there is a history in this country in recent years of hyperbole, sensationalism, paranoia and misconstruing of conversations and activities when it comes to reporting on and about Australia’s anti-terror laws.”  Indeed, one could argue that such excesses go beyond terror scares and include all manner of common perceptions of ‘outsider’ behaviour, this being the rather predictable outcome of a culture wherein even most left-wingers are nationalistic and where seemingly only three degrees of separation exist between citizens. In any case, as Barns rightly argues, the first casualty of such rush to judgements is the Aussie meme: Fair Go, meaning, in this case, the presumption of innocence. Barns concludes,

Terrorism is understandably an emotional subject and terrorist attacks, when they happen, are horrific for any community. But in Australia, the way in which police, politicians and media work hand in glove to whip up hysteria by making claims which often turn out to be untrue or grossly exaggerated, is dangerous for our democracy.

One could argue that such dangers are especially potent in a nation that has no formal constitutionally-mandated Bill of Rights to protect its citizens against various abuses. But then, we live in times where capitalism has shat the bed and Democracy is just another word for nothing left to lose.

In the same newspaper, we’re told that an Aboriginal Muslim-convertee from Perth is in trouble with police for his “radical rants,” such as suggesting that the US and its military allies are more terroristic than their targets, citing compelling examples for his rant.  The expected new powers will fix this though, making it easier to prosecute people who say things like, “blowing up pregnant women and their children with drone-fired cluster bombs is every bit as evil as a beheading.” How outrageous –and un-Australian – to hold such a view!

Further still in the same fishwrap dispenser, the reader is informed that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, is “deeply concerned” about the Afghan heroin suddenly flooding the streets of Oz, a “narco-terrorism” that the word-smith Bishop finds “terrifying.”  Awhile back former Prime Minister Paul Keating described Abbott as an “intellectual nobody” who Aussies should be ‘terrified’ at the prospect of electing to lead the nation. One might equally grow alarmed by the ascension of the formerly irrelevant Julie Bishop, who seems part Dan Quayle, part Sarah Palin.  And a quick aside, what is it with Bishop’s sudden taking to wearing black dresses adorned with weird broaches? Is this to show how grim the situation is, an omen of dark times ahead, like that ‘black cat crossing the path’ Kathryn Bigelow inserted into her ‘journalistic’ Zero Dark Thirty account of the Abbottabad raid on the bin Laden compound?

Along with the new opium war the horrible Afghans are inflicting on the Lucky Country, the “deeply concerned” Bishop has quietly renewed charges before the UN Security Council that the Russians were ultimately responsible for downing Flight MH17, which had 27 Aussies aboard. The preliminary Dutch Safety Board report, she says, is consistent with Australia’s previous reactionary findings. Except, of course, that the report, if anything, leans more toward the ‘shot down’ by the Western-backed Ukrainians than by pro-Russian rebels, a view supported by innumerable eyewitnesses on the ground, not to mention radar evidence, and probably most importantly the failure of the US to release satellite imagery in their possession (they were directly overhead that day) that would end the debate immediately.  Not even the CIA appears willing to back Obama.  But then, Bishop must push the ‘Russians did it’ meme, because otherwise she’d have to explain why Australian advisers were sent to Kiev after the shoot-down to help shore up and re-train Ukraine’s flunky military, while the Southern Cross was draped across the caskets of 27 mates back home. Even scarier, the black dress and tangled-snake broach Bishop wore before the UN made her look like the ISIS flag.  Or maybe that was the opiates kicking in.

And in related news, there were renewed calls to ban burqua-wearing.  In Melbourne a man was forcibly removed from a flight because his seat mate got all terrified by innocuous satirical doodles the guy was killing time with and reported him to the crew, and the man has been banned indefinitely by the airline for his “disruptive behavior.” (To be fair, he should have known better, as cartooning in Australia can get you in serious trouble—god help you if you should be caught lampooning Israeli citizens in party-mode as they look down on the recent Gaza bombings.) On local TV grim reporters got into spirit of things by mixing in a report of man “with a telephoto lens” in a white van near an elementary school (they even showed a picture of the distant vehicle). A random mother was interviewed, and she snarled, “I’d like to get a hold of him myself,” and yet, though someone apparently got close enough to the van to determine the occupant had a telephoto lens, no one bothered taking down the plate or pursuing said vehicle.  Then back to the terror alerts. Just like that the hysteria horses were off and running out the gates, and mercy on you if you were a neigh-sayer to this national crisis.

Well, the truth is, you could see it all coming, if you just kept in mind that Syria, Iran, Russia and China are the last nation-states that stand in the way of total American imperial hegemony.  These four are connected in a couple of important ways. First, they have all begun trading in currencies other than US dollars, helping to limit their vulnerability to US monetary manipulation and its consequent political fallout.  Second, they are directly tied up in energy resources infrastructure that is in direct competition to western-controlled interests; as one report puts it,

“It was estimated in 2007 that approximately 96.3 percent of the amount of projected natural gas which would be “imported by continental Europe would be controlled by Russia, Iran, and Syria under such an arrangement”

Russia already supplies most of Europe’s natural gas, making significant Continental sanctions against them self-defeating. But Russian truculence is intolerable to US oligarchs,

A few months back, while Obama was supplying and arming various ‘rebel’ factions trying to overthrow the Assad regime, including al Qaeda operatives, the US president announced that the US would stay out of direct participation “for now”, but that the Syrian use of chemical weapons would be “a red line” that would bring in US force.  Sure enough, just a few months later many civilians were murdered by a sarin gas attack.  As with the recent MH17 shoot-down, Obama and his State department clown posse immediately blamed the Assad regime, without evidence, and made it clear that Assad had crossed the red line and now must pay.  But then Russia intervened, US popular support was negligible, and Obama had to back off. As legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has since reported, the likely sarin gas murderers were US-Saudi-backed rebels trying to go false flag.

Given this temporary setback for the US-Saudi partnership, it seems inevitable that an ISIS would develop out of this Bay of Pigs in the desert. Are they as dangerous as they seem? Probably.  (Reportedly, many of the escapees from the 2013 Abu Ghraib prison breakout joined ISIS, including hardcore leftovers from the American occupation. How’s that for blowback?)  Are the beheadings extraordinarily cruel and horrifying? Yes, especially when the killer wears scary pajamas, but not much more cruel or horrifying than cluster bomb mayhem or watching a botched execution in the US that leaves a man’s last moments a carnival of sadism.  (Incidently, a lot of space in the media has played up the forensic evidence of the beheader’s lefthandedness and vein match-ups, etc., and yet no mention of an analysis of the British voice is mentioned. There’s a good chance the swordsman’s already know to investigators.)  But ISIS are also valuable to the US, as they provide cover for the very air attacks on the Assad regime that Obama wanted months ago.  No doubt, as ISIS moves further into Syria, sudden new corridors to Damascus will open up, courtesy of US bombs and missiles.

And then the Australian Prime Minister’s polls plummeted, as he reversed the carbon tax , and then cut funding to the social safety net, and called for the deregulation of universities and a more American-style educational loan system. Despite this austerity movement, the government found plenty of cash to fund significant increases in military spending, in direct support of a future expanded American military presence on Aussie soil as the empire looks to subdue China.  Of course, this will make Oz a direct military target, in the case of a Chinese attack, especially Western Australia, due to its military installations in Geraldton and Perth.  But no public debate over such expenditures or such a role in empire building. If Australia wants to become the Northbridge or St. Kilda red light districts for the Yankee doodle dandies—well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Thus, one has to chuckle when Abbott made a public of show of being tough on his climate change policy, vowing to align with other nations against US emissions policy and said climate change would be off the G20 agenda next month, only to cower before the towering ‘blackfella’ in the Oval office and announce ‘room for agreement’ on climate change and to acknowledge he couldn’t stop the subject from being included on the G20 agenda.  And, of course, the inevitable announcement that the US and Australia would henceforth have even closer military ties.  “I like Aussies in the trenches with me,” Obama said, briefly and disingenuously buffing to a shine the Anzac legend in its centenary ,” they know how to fight.”  And Abbot was all-too-happy polish Darth Vader’s helmet in return.

But here’s the thing.  In this latest and likely to be longest foray into the desert storm, Obama does not have Congressional approval (which is to say public approval) for the coming evisceration by air of Syria, with whom the US is not at war, which is why he’s hedging, as usual, on what he calls it, while also intimating that he “doesn’t need Congress’ approval.” But there is no question that he is about to order more war crimes with his indiscriminate strikes. And by going along with this military campaign against a nation that Australia is not at war with and which has not threatened Oz in any meaningful way, Oz will be liable for its participation, on the moral scale, if not the Nuremburg scale. By going along with the US open war that has no apparent endpoint, no clearly articulated objectives, and necessarily adopting America’s quasi-martial law status (technically, the US has been continuously in a state of emergency since 9/11, which means his commander-in-chief status outranks his public presidency status), Australia is clearly ceding a good deal of its sovereignty.

The government has assuaged some with its “guarantee” that the new powers will not include the right of federal police to torture suspects (just as with the US before 9/11, but then came reasons to take the gloves off and rendition to black spots became routine).  But, perhaps the most odious aspect of this indefinite shifting of “the balance between freedom and security,” which will “require some inconveniences for quite some time,” as the Prime Minister puts it, is the implementation of sedition findings based on expressions uttered online or in public.  Whistleblowers will not be tolerated.  As the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance wrote in a letter to the Attorney general, “MEAA believes that these penalties could be used to intimidate, harass and silence the legitimate journalistic scrutiny and reporting on the activities of governments and their agencies.” And if the previously alluded to examples of “political rants” that diverge from orthodoxy, and a man being tossed off a plane for doodling, are any indication, a vicious Vichy mentality will prevail throughout Oz, with citizens and journalists too reluctant to express their true views for fear of retribution or being handed over to spooks. In a mere matter of days Oz has gone from just another country with fiscal worries and uncertainty to being a garrison of the new Romans in their days of bread and circuses.  And just like that Oz has become a far flung penal colony again.  It remains to be seen what, if any, pushback there’ll be.

John Kendall Hawkins is a freelancer from Perth. He can be reached at

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.