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Australia’s History of Benevolent Fascism

by | Dec 1, 2021

Australia’s History of Benevolent Fascism

by | Dec 1, 2021

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You can read Part I of this essay, published in September 2021, here.

Australia has had a history of complicated relationships between the governments that ruled over its vast sunburned lands and the individual citizens subject to such rule. The states and territories of Australia have had a degree of autonomy when it comes to how they may exercise control over the individual. The police have been an integral tool for these state governments to violate human rights and individual freedom. As is always the case a context of crisis is used and even when emergency powers are not directly cited, there is an implication that without such measures a calamity would befall the state and threaten each and every citizen.

For most human rights violations are those actions that occur overseas, away from the familiar. And should such violations occur closer to home, there must be a good reason. Those whose rights are violated perhaps in some way deserved it. Rights may be denied because of a greater need for security, safety and health, and violations committed for a collective good. Those resisting are radicals and extremists to be isolated or removed. The government is “us” after all; it serves us and it does what it needs in order to protect us from even ourselves. It is a parent, a benevolent and omnipotent entity that ensures society is secure and safe. It permits what freedoms it deems necessary and from within this entity exists righteous and moral human beings that take their jobs very seriously.

This is the deep belief that many feel within Australia. It is the religion that grows government and erodes liberty. It is the culture of dependence and servitude that not only allows such an expansion but marginalizes those who challenge it, or who wish to be left alone. It creates a class of public servants that live at the expense of the rest of Australia, who do not necessarily care or concern themselves with any greater social morality. Instead they go about their professional days in a self-serving manner because their job security, entitlements, perks and pensions are more important. It is an aristocracy of governance. To help retain and swell this government requires an active police and surveillance state that also threatens privacy and many forms of journalism.

Salisbury Affair

During the 1970s, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser requested that each states’ police Special Branches compile dossiers on anti-uranium protesters (among other dissident voices that were critical of government policy). Each of the state governments began to comply in various degrees or modified the spying and information collecting methods that they had already in place.

In 1972 Harold Hubert Salisbury had been a respected British policeman when he was recruited to become South Australia’s police commissioner. The SA premier at the time was a progressive Labour Party man, Don Dunstan, who was famous for policies that led to liberalization and social reforms. Whereas Salisbury was a man known for his tough on crime attitudes, his pro-capital and corporal punishment stance, and as an ardent drug warrior, so his appointment by Dunstan was a contrast.

During his tenure, Commissioner Salisbury oversaw surveillance on numerous South Australian residents. The special branch likely did what it would have done regardless of his appointment but it was in January of 1978 that premier Don Dunstan dismissed the police commissioner for “giving inaccurate information…to the Government” and “having so misled the Government that wrong information was given to Parliament and the public” (Advertiser, 18 January 1978).

A later inquiry found that a lot of the files on individuals and organizations were not specific to any security risk but instead focused on “political, trade union and other sensitive matters.”  And when Police Commissioner Salisbury was asked by Premier Dunstan, he refused to give details as to what the files contained. Commissioner Salisbury, in his defense, insisted that he was not subordinate to the state government on such matters but to the Queen and her representative in Australia.

A later enquiry found that over 41,000 files compiled by the South Australian police special branch existed. The files were considered to be both excessive and extensive but were often filled with biased and inaccurate information, large parts of which had been intentionally doctored. Who was considered a suspected individual was up to the discretion of police members and what information was entered or invented was also up to them. The files could then serve as records and be used against individuals either as means of leverage or to gain convictions.

The sacking of the police commissioner widened into a rallying point for those who were already critical of premier Dunstan’s policies. Harold Salisbury was depicted as a good and honest man who was unfairly sacked by a partisan premier. The individuals who had been harassed and spied upon were objects of fascination and predation by the police and government in such circumstances. The nature of what special branch had done became lost in the politicking of the moment and though it was for a time an important part of Australian history, it has become almost forgotten now.

The event did reveal however the power of both Australian state governments and their police in the surveillance and documenting of individual lives and interactions based solely on the suspicion of their political beliefs. Such special mandates, like the one directed by Prime Minister Fraser, allowed the police the power to compile library, telephone, and medical records regardless of the individual’s guilt or any charges. The individuals would be completely unaware of such evidence, and in some cases the information could be invented to suit the police. In the modern digital age such a controversy of surveillance seems token where it is now assumed that the authorities can and “should” do these things to protect society. In 1978, it was still considered a point of contention that may have even led to the resignation of a state premier a year later.

“Joh” Bjelke-Petersen

As a contrast to the South Australian Don Dunstan, Australia’s longest serving premier of Queensland, Johannes “Joh” Bjelke-Petersen was a hard nosed conservative that ran a police state with little regard for individual liberty. Ruling from 1968 to 1987, Joh oversaw a period of change in Australian culture that many conservatives such as himself resisted. Joh modelled himself as being a law and order leader. By the end his reign, his legacy was a regime of police brutality with two of his state ministers and a police commissioner jailed for corruption, while the premier himself avoided a second trial that likely would have convicted him if not for his age.

As a reaction to numerous street protests in the early 1970s, Premier Joh gave full support and powers to the police to come down heavy against anyone considered a “radical.” The bashing and bullying of protesters and organizers was not uncommon. Under his regime, restrictions on ‘rock ‘n’ roll bands and censorship of many forms of media through the use of the defamation laws “moral decency” laws were tightened. Joh was a proud rightwing conservative dictator.

In an incident when a raid was performed on a commune, the police burned down residents’ home and destroyed their property all on the suspicion that the individuals had been growing marijuana plants. The premier publicly backed and supported police conduct during such a raid. His tough on drugs stance was celebrated by many like-minded conservatives Australia wide. Premier Joh was a macho image for the anti-freedom conservatives that used the backdrop of the Cold War as an excuse to push their beliefs onto others.

By the end of the 1970s street protests had been banned in Queensland by Premier Joh. As was the case elsewhere in Australia, the Queensland special branch had been compiling extensive files on individuals and groups. This had in many cases led to harassment, extortion, and intrusive surveillance. Though unlike in South Australia, there was no controversial sacking of a police commissioner in regards to such files; instead the premier of Queensland granted the police as much power as possible to impose itself on the citizenry.

For a time Premier Joh had even tinkered with the idea of seceding from Australia and often expressed his support of the Apartheid regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa, praising how the minority white governments ruled over their populaces. The premier of Queensland was a famous man outside of Australia as well. His conservative and cold warrior views were heralded as being simply “anti-communist.” Men like Joh had certain beliefs and views of the world, a set of values that they held sacred. The pillars of government and its institutions allowed them to impose such upon millions of others.

The reign of premier Joh was a perfect example of fascism in Australia that eventually was checked when corruption and incompetence that stalled the authoritarianism of his rule. It was also a telling example of how the state police and premiers in Australia can exercise themselves with a special authority. The “law and order” promises that Premier Joh brought with him satisfied a mob of the population that had similar social views. With some irony the opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates are now viewed as having a rightwing flavor to them, but it was men like Joh and his hard-right ideals that revealed how powerful a state government can be over its citizenry, especially in a “crisis.” And whether it was against marijuana or a virus, such premiers will ruin lives for “health.”

“The greatest thing that can happen to the state of Queensland and the nation of Australia would be if and when we get rid of the media. Then we would live in peace and tranquility—but no one would know anything!” Premier Joh said.

In many ways this period was a template for the coming police enforcement of current Australian states. The laws are arbitrary and inconsistent but the states government and their police powers can conduct themselves as they please, so long as it is claimed that it is for the greater good of the community. While Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson claimed that God had chosen him to save Australia from communism, the present premiers believe that they need to save us all from a virus, poverty, bush fires, climate change (among other past and present health and safety “threats”). Whatever a state government or its premier deems an emergency can then allow them to use emergency powers, liberty be damned.

Journalism and Privacy

Australia was never a nation that ensured freedom of speech as a secured right. It was often assumed and implied that individuals and agencies had a certain degree of freedom to say or print as they please. Early on, even before federation censors were prolific, a state of laws existed that would protect the wealthy and powerful from slander. Late into the twentieth century more liberty was allowed by the various states and federal government but as is always the case, crisis and the neurotic impulse to see any and everything as a threat further stripped back any promise of real freedom of expression.

Instead of law that guarantees free speech, Australia relied upon anti-defamation laws that have traditionally protected the powerful and governed the right of expression. In times of war and during periods of crisis journalists were often threatened both officially and unofficially by the state. This does not make Australia exceptional but it does exhibit a tradition of aggression against a truly independent press. And it defies the popular notion of being “a free country.”

Outside of journalism and the realm of non-fiction Australia has a history of censoring books, magazines, art, film, computer games, etc. It is a nation that has a culture of paternalism and while not burning books per se, redacts, edits, and denies them entry onto the island continent. Whatever the cited context, the government always knows best and exercises an imperial benevolence often to protect its citizen-children from every dangerous infection. Unfortunately such violent paternalism is often supported by many Australians who truly believe that exposure to certain information, ideas, words, images, or depictions may mutate a human mind into such a deranged way that chaos and violence would befall society.

On a commonwealth-federal and state level the Australian governments had a very active censors office. In times past individuals have had their letters frequently read and edited. In the early days of nation these may have been those with Irish Fenian sympathies or anarchists and communists. Or any literature that defied the moral standards of a good white Christian nation that Australian governments desperately tried to maintain into the twentieth century.

The colonial history of Australia was a period where most of the published material was only made available to inform the residents of the colonies what the laws and local rules were. The crown made it compulsory that such things be read out during church services. It would take decades before the first “uncensored” newspaper would appear. The early roots of a government-dominated printing press helped to implant a modern day culture of mainstream media that does not enjoy true freedom of press.

According to a 2006 Reporters Without Borders survey, ranking countries in relative press freedoms Australia was listed at 35. The post-9/11 world has seen a decline in press freedoms in Australia thanks to new anti-terrorism legislation along with suppression orders on freedom of information requests. The war on terror has given greater muscle to laws that were first penned during World War I, the Sedition Act for example, making it hard for journalists to know what is allowable to write during “war time.”

And as many recent protesters posting on social media are learning, “incitement” is a very real crime in Australia where one can face prosecution based on the allegation that their words or sentiments may lead to sedition or promote the breaking of other laws.

On September 5, 2020, pregnant mother Zoe Buhler was arrested by Victorian police on the grounds that her Facebook post constituted incitement. You be the judge;

PEACEFUL PROTEST! All social distancing measures are to be followed so we don’t get arrested please. Please wear a mask unless you have a medical reason not to. September 5th is FREEDOM DAY! As some of you may have seen the government has gone to extreme measures to prevent the Melbourne protest. Here in Ballarat we can be a voice for those in stage 4 lockdowns. We can be seen and heard and hopefully make a difference! END LOCKDOWNS. STAND UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS. WE LIVE IN A FREE COUNTRY.

The Foreign Interference Bill would make it illegal for anyone to “receive” and “handle” national security information. This would include the information that was revealed in the “Afghanistan war files,” where evidence came to light of Australian soldiers murdering innocent civilians. Regardless of the bloody content that these files revealed, the terrible war crimes, it is the exposure of such things that is viewed as more dangerous and criminal than the murder of innocent civilians itself.

The bill makes it dangerous and illegal for public servants to expose any government misdeeds to the media. The Australian Federal Police has been an eager implementer of such bills, as was seen when journalists were taken into custody in 2019. Since the 2001 attacks on the United States, those nations that consider themselves the champions of Western values have implemented laws that encroach on individual liberty and grow police powers. It has not won the war on terror, it has only terrorized individuals in the name of fighting it.

As an intimate example, when the Australian Federal Police raided journalist Annika Smethurst’s home they spent seven hours ruining her privacy and humiliating her, including going through her underwear with perverse intent. For those who have been through a police drug raid, especially one that can be conducted on the whiff of assumption, the police will confiscate any items that they deem prohibitive. Sports equipment like baseball bats and tennis racquets can be declared as weapons, for example. It is thanks to the war on drugs and the intrusive invasion of ones home and privacy that journalists or even individuals posting on social media may now find themselves at the mercy of police discretion as they suffer violence, property damage, theft, and even face kidnapping all in the name of implementing these laws.

Personal items that should remain intimate between couples can be pulled out and exhibited with no regard for privacy. Even if no charges have been pressed, the privacy of the individual is not sacred and humiliation is always ensured. Police officers often have gone through personal devices; whether they are “allowed” to or not does not change the fact that the individual has little control in each interaction.

“Police have an inherent bias when it comes to investigating their own…and that bias can skew investigations in all sorts of ways,” explains Melbourne lawyer Jeremy King. “It has been my experience with my clients that police are more sceptical of complainants when there is another police officer involved…then on top of that, there have been particular examples where, deliberately or otherwise, statements haven’t been taken, actions haven’t been taken where perhaps they would have been if a police officer wasn’t involved.”

Identify and Disrupt Bill of 2020

In August of 2020 the “hacking bill” was quickly passed through Australian Parliament that now allows government authorities the ability to spy on and impersonate individuals without their knowledge or consent. The bill allows the federal government the ability to access the social media and emails of an individual or group and permits them to delete, modify, and send messages, even impersonating those that are being “hacked.” The bill allows this conduct to occur so longas “suspicion” of criminal activity is raised.

The wider implications of such a bill are frightening and the full repercussions have not yet been realized. The government can now invent evidence, entrap individuals, and use information, real or fabricated, as a means of extortion to get individuals to stop doing things or to even give up information on others. In our social media age it can also allow the government an ability to create false public depictions of an individual or group through public posts and uploads.

Such a bill is the inevitable mutation of the special branch spying of the 1970s and invention of evidence and information in the past. Now with most of society’s reliance on the digital world, it can allow the government an absolute disregard to any privacy and to materialize whatever evidence it needs to take on any one that it deems “suspicious.”

In September, Adrian Lozancic of the Australian Democrats said, “Make no mistake, Orwell would be proud. This authoritarian legislation enables police to obtain, modify and delete your data without you knowing.”

While these bills are always pushed under the blanket of fighting child pornography, terrorism, organized crime or the illicit drug trade it is the inevitable reality that it will be used by the government to protect itself from whistleblowers or any revelations of misconduct. It is also likely that such information will profit certain individuals that are in positions of power, corruption being the greatest partner to any police state.

The bill has a very broad definition of what constitutes a “relevant offense” and it’s likely to be used against activists and human rights defenders as many of these individuals and groups, like journalists and whistleblowers, come under the definitions that relate to “serious Commonwealth offenses.” Such a law, with how easily it was passed, shows how little care the Australian media and public have expressed themselves and reveals a wider culture that embraces a state of limited liberty.

Encrypted email services and messaging apps have also come under attack with a push to ban their usage in Australia. The notion that individuals may wish to communicate in private with family, friends, colleagues, and customers is lost on some. Instead the spectre that only criminals and human monsters would use such means to communicate is the mantra that government advocates push time and time again. Such a bill may in time expand into the prohibition of such services for the Australian citizen.

“The Identify and Disrupt Bill will operate as part of a larger framework of surveillance laws, including the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018 (TOLA), that amplifies the government’s powers without adequate limitations, undermines encryption, and endangers human rights,” reported Namrata Maheshwari and Raman Jit Singh Chima in Access Now in August.

It is unlikely that the introduction of such a bill will see a limit to government growth. It will be used as a gateway for state and federal governments to peer into every aspect of peoples’ lives. Such bills can then go after individuals relating to many other aspects that the government is fixated on, from the war on drugs, tax evasion, and even to those wary of vaccine mandates. It is a surface that no longer has been scratched but has been gouged deep to the bone, and it seems many in Australia are comfortable with it. At this time the greatest defense an individual has from such intrusions is to not stand out but to go unnoticed. It is a measure of scale for the government. In time technology and software will change this in the government’s favor.

Whistleblowers

It is no wonder that the Australian Julian Assange lingers in legal hell, given the government that rules his homeland. And it has been revealed recently that the Australian government has been aware of what misery he is experiencing while still supporting the British and American government actions that are punishing a man for publishing evidence of war crimes. Whistleblowing is often the enemy of government, in Australia especially.

Take for example “Witness K,” who exposed the corruption and bugging of an East Timor cabinet room, a bugging that lead to the screwing over of East Timor in favor of Australian national interests and the exploitation of the natural resources of a desperately poor nation. As a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service Officer, “Witness K” faces serious conviction. His trial is being held in secret and behind closed doors in front of a court with no transparency or public coverage. Because of the information leaked by “Witness K” the Australian government was forced to renegotiate its agreement with East Timor, after which the government took out its indignation on the spy that had revealed its dirty deeds to the world.

In August 2020 it was announced that the Australian government had spent nearly $3 million dollars in court waging its war on whistleblowers. It is a war that is waged to destroy individual lives by dragging them through the courts and ruining them financially. The victims include “Witness K,” David McBride who is a former defense force lawyer that helped to leak the Afghan war files, and Richard Boyle, who revealed the predatory actions of the Australian Tax Office.

Such aggressive actions against present-day whistleblowers are a reflection of a past that is smeared with a disdain for those who come out against the government and its nefarious actions. In the case of “Witness K” even his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, is being prosecuted and faces a hefty jail sentence. The Australian government has empowered its police to such a point that journalists are deterred from reporting objectively and whistleblowers risk everything should they expose injustices and misdeeds. It is a state of fear, the perfect instrument of a democratic authoritarian state. And for many Australians, so long as these actions are done with a degree of benevolence and in the name of a greater good, then the sacrifice to liberty and in some cases the murder of innocent civilians is a price that they are willing to pay. Because in the end, so long as people have welfare and jobs then human rights be damned. That seems to be “Aussie way.”

About Kym Robinson

Some times a coach, some times a fighter, some times a writer, often a reader but seldom a cabbage. Professional MMA fighter and coach. Unprofessional believer in liberty. I have studied, enlisted, worked in the meat industry for most of my life, all of that above jazz and to hopefully some day write something worth reading.

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