FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Militarising Civilian Life: Australia, Policing and Terrorism

It is far from unusual in recent times: a spate of terrorist activity, followed by police seemingly agog, then the call for cavalry, usually in the form of military forces to guard vital installations and furnish the public with a reassuring presence. Unfortunately, such moves tend to take place long after the horse has bolted, an ineffectual measure in terms of combating terrorism but pernicious in terms of dealing with distinctions policing.

Australia’s Turnbull government has promised new powers under a national security review conducted last year that will grant the Australian army powers to kill terrors suspects on sight. This is not all: the actual militarisation of Australian police personnel is set to take place with specialists from the ADF embedded in various teams. Training from elite SAS personnel is also slated to take place.

These measures are far from reassuring, suggesting that the military aspect of policing has been given not just a jolt but a terrific heave ho. The Prime Minister, showing he is far from mellowing in his role on the subject of defusing fear, insists on the authoritarian prerogative of streamlining and trimming the interaction between military and policing functions. Cut the strings, the heavy bound red tape, and the world will be a safe place.

According to Malcolm Turnbull, “The overhaul will make it easier for Defence to work together with federal, state and territory police in the event of a terrorist incident. State and territory police forces remain the best first response to terrorist incidents immediately after an attack starts.”

Distinctions between the policing element of a state, and its military, are worth having. One, working within the boundaries of the law, targets and prevents crime; the other, focuses on the defence of the realm. These points are far from being the same thing. But the terrorist genie, floating about with menace, has been used to render these points theoretical, which is more than just a crying shame.

In another conspicuous area, military and defence functions have been obliterated to cope with refugee and asylum seeker arrivals by boat. Civilian functions more akin to traditional policing and processing have become the purview of the military, a move that was significantly advanced during the years of the Howard government. The signalling shot there was the deployment in August 2001 of the SAS against the Norwegian vessel, the MV Tampa. Its apotheosis is Operation Sovereign Borders.

Theories on how the Australian military interact with policing functions are far from sophisticated. There is, for instance, no equivalent Posse Comitatus Act, an 1878 US initiative passed by a Democratic-led Congress after troops were deployed two years prior ostensibly to maintain order at various polling places in southern states.

The Democrats were convinced that the measure was designed to fix the election for Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and pushed for provisions that would limit the role of the US military in terms of operating in civilian spaces, or to “execute the laws”.

This did not mean, of course, that the PCA would not be assailed with grubby hands indifferent to civil liberties. President Bill Clinton did his very best with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Act of 1996, part of an omnibus of crime statutes that effectively pulled the carpet of law enforcement from under the GOP law-and-order hawks.

While Clinton did not get his wish initially (the final version did not contain an abolition of Posse Comitatus in terms of working with police), the writing was left to dry on the wall. The sheer power and pseudo-military aspects of much in current US policing has arguably rendered neat distinctions redundant.

The Australian constitution does provide for the following: “The Commonwealth shall protect every state against invasion and, on the application of the Executive Government of the State, against domestic violence.” Once declared by the Governor-General, “Permanent Forces” may be called out, with “Emergency Forces and Reserve Forces” sought in the event that numbers are insufficient.

In the past, Australia’s military has become the fall-back option for authorities, called upon as a grand clearing house to supply substitute civilian functions. At points, the authorities in Canberra have been cautious to blend military matters with civilian disputes.

In 1997, the National Farmers Federation urged Prime Minister John Howard to use troops to forcibly “reform” the waterfront and keep the docks running during a strike. “I don’t contemplate,” came Howard’s response, “the use of the military in civilian disputes. I’ve never advocated the use of troops.”

The NFF’s request was perhaps understandable, given that a Labor prime minister, Bob Hawke, had used military personnel and material to replace lost manpower during the famed wage dispute of Australian pilots in 1989.

What is being contemplated in these new measures by Turnbull is the deployment of lethal measures and military control over civilian spaces. The ADF, as with other military arms, can provide heavy lifting in the event of natural disaster, emergencies and the like, but deploying it as a de facto police force is setting a vicious cat amongst the pigeons.

Conflating police and military functions is not only an insidious overreach, but blurs assumptions about justice and law enforcement. As a US federal court put it, “Military personnel must be trained to operate under circumstances where the protection of constitutional freedoms cannot receive the consideration needed in order to assure their preservation.”

Even in the absence of a Posse Comitatus provision in Australia, the tendency to throw the book of evidence and prosecution out and favour summary rough handling, even execution in such cases, is genuine. In this sense, the Australian government risks pushing its domestic arena further down the pathway of a militarisation with grave consequences.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
Ron Jacobs
Impeach!
Lawrence Davidson
A Tale of Two Massacres
José Tirado
A World Off Balance
Jonah Raskin
Something Has Gone Very Wrong: An Interview With Ecuadoran Author Gabriela Alemán
J.P. Linstroth
Myths on Race and Invasion of the ‘Caravan Horde’
Dean Baker
Good News, the Stock Market is Plunging: Thoughts on Wealth
David Rosen
It’s Time to Decriminalize Sex Work
Dan Glazebrook
US Calls for a Yemen Ceasefire is a Cynical Piece of Political Theatre
Jérôme Duval
Forced Marriage Between Argentina and the IMF Turns into a Fiasco
Jill Richardson
Getting Past Gingrich
Dave Lindorff
Not a Blue Wave, But Perhaps a Foreshock
Martha Rosenberg
Dangerous, Expensive Drugs Aggressively Pushed? You Have These Medical Conflicts of Interest to Thank
Will Solomon
Not Much of a Wave
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Yemeni War Deaths are Five Times Higher Than You’ve Been Led to Believe
Jim Goodman
We call BS! Now, Will You Please Get Over This Partisanship?
Josh Hoxie
How Aristocracies are Born
Faisal Khan
The Weaponization of Social Media
James Munson
The Left Has Better Things to Do Than Watch Liberals Scratch Their Heads
Kenneth Culton
The Political Is Personal
Graham Peebles
Fracking in the UK
Alycee Lane
The Colonial Logic of Geoengineering’s “Last Resort”
Kevin Basl
How Veterans Changed the Military and Rebuilt the Middle Class
Thomas Knapp
Election 2018: The More Things Don’t Change, the More They Stay the Same
Gary Leupp
Europe and Secondary Iran Sanctions: Where Do We Go Now?
Saurav Sarkar
An Honest Look at Poverty in the Heartland
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail