Civil Liberties

Anything on the progressive erosion of civil liberties in our society.

The front page of Sunday’s Herald Sun bore a message from on high for Victoria’s political caste, the Police Association have issued their ‘pre-election wish list’. There is an election next year, and support or opposition from the coppers ‘union’ will make or break political careers.

Oddly, the coverage in Melbourne’s press (and in particular in the Herald Sun who carried it as front page news) was not outrage at the sheer gumption of a ‘union’ setting a price on an election, but rather a ringing endorsement.

There is a disturbingly close relationship between the Police Association, the Herald Sun, and the Liberal Party in Victoria. During the Simon Overland affair (2010-11) this relationship was blatant.

The Victoria Police Association was at war with the Police Commissioner. The parliamentary secretary for police (Liberal MP and former Police Officer Bill Tilley) and an advisor to the deputy Premier ran a campaign out of the deputy Premier’s office to destabilize the Police Commissioner in favour of the Police Association’s preferred replacement (Sir Ken Jones). The Herald Sun uncritically published their leaks and forcefully backed the Police Association position (for particular coverage of the media’s role, see Media Watch, Look Both Ways Before Crossing the Line).

An investigation by the Office of Police Integrity (Full OPI report: Crossing the Line) rocked the Baillieu Liberal government. The Police Association had the last laugh when the Liberal Government abolished the Office of Police Integrity in favour of a new “Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission”, a commission that by its own assessment, was designed to be a toothless tiger.

The power of the Police Association has continued to grow since the Overland affair. At every election the Police Association issues a set of demands, the Liberal Party and the Herald Sun quickly attack Labor for failing to concede to these demands fast enough, and Labor hurries to offer more in an attempt to head off the prospect of Police Association retribution.

In 2010 the Police Association wanted 1500 new police; the Liberal Party jumped, promising 1700 police and armed guards at every train station to boot. In 2014 they wanted “anywhere between 1500 and 2000 additional frontline police in the next term of government”. Then Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews promised to deliver.

This elections’ set of demands is more modest: the Police Association wants an extra 500 members and some new toys. This would be on top of last year’s commitment by the Andrews government to recruit a further 2,729 new police and rebuild a number of police stations (it’s crept up to 3,139 new police in recent media releases).

Police recruitment is big business for the Police Association, as John Silvester pointed out in an article earlier this year:

“Every time the government of the day promises to boost numbers it makes the Association more powerful – the recent announcement of a net increase of 3000 will boost revenue by $2.5 million in membership dues.

As it stands the Association makes nearly $500,000 a fortnight in subscriptions, owns its own National Trust building in East Melbourne, a swag of holiday properties, has legal officers, welfare staff, runs a legacy program for police families and has assets of around $45 million.”

But the Police Association’s agenda goes well beyond a desire for more dues-paying members. The Police Association loves new gadgets, new weapons, new powers, and greater impunity.

This election they want guns that shoot GPS trackers, and legal indemnity for police “who take reasonable steps to end pursuits”. That last demand is particularly concerning.

Car-chase pursuits, aside from being great fun, kill people and destroy property. Unfortunately, killjoys (also known as experts backed up by evidence) have repeatedly suggested that police pursuits are largely redundant in the information age, where high quality police cameras and license plate readers ensure that almost everyone is identified and caught eventually.

Whilst other states have moved to restricting the circumstances in which police are permitted to engage in high speed pursuits, the Victorian Police Association seems determined to push back. They want their chases, and they’re dead set against legal consequences for officers who endanger lives.

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Victoria has seen an alarming growth in the size, powers and weaponry employed by a dazzling array of “specialist police”.

Pepper spray was introduced to the Victoria Police arsenal in the late 1990s, it was meant to provide police with ‘options between shouting and shooting’. The Victoria Police manual “very clearly specified that it should only be used in really violent or confrontational situations of serious physical confrontation”. Guidelines restricting the use of pepper spray to situations of “serious physical confrontation” disappeared from the Police Manual in 2011.

Update: These guidelines were reinstated following advocacy by Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre in 2011, thanks for the correction AK!.

Pepper spray is now liberally used by both Police and Protective Services Officers. Public Order Response Team members now routinely carry MK 9 OC foam cans, it’s manufacturer describes the MK9 canister as a “crowd management product” that can deliver damage to skin, eyes and airways across a wide arc at over 25 feet.

A police officer engaging with some members of the public.

The Police Association similarly backed the introduction of tasers in the aftermath of the police shooting of Tyler Cassidy. Again this ‘less lethal’ electric weapon was meant to be used as a alternative to a firearm in very specific situations, unsurprisingly as tasers have become more widespread, so has usage creep.

Every growth in police powers and equipment results in the greater use of police violence and police weaponry. In March this year, the Critical Incident Response Team was equipped with new SIG Sauer automatic “machine guns”. In July, when general duties officers should probably have told a party goer to bin the prop gun that was part of his Joker costume, police instead dispatched CIRT, who then shot two people.

Update: The Age, Dec 13, ‘Cops alter story on Inflation shooting in legal defence’. Not only were two shot, one of the victims was shot, tackled by multiple police, punched repeatedly, and tasered multiple times.

In 2011, then Police Commissioner Simon Overland announced the formation of the Public Order Response Team. The “definitely not a riot squad” consisted of forty-two officers. In the 2016 state budget, the Andrews government shelled out for new robocop armour and training and by March this year Public Order Response was home to 324 officers. The batons, body armour and pepper spray of the “Public Order Response Team” are now the face of Victoria Police at an increasingly wide array of otherwise peaceful public demonstrations.

Members of the Public Order Response Team represent Victoria Police at a demonstration.

In December 2016, the Andrews government announced the creation of a “New York-style” “high-tech monitoring hub”. Today the government announced we’re getting a “high-tech” “terrorism warning system”, with police controlled loud-speakers to go up across the CBD.

Officially Victoria Police do not spy on or seek to disrupt lawful critics of the government. The infamous Special Branch was abolished by Parliament in 1982, but its various substitutes continue. The Security Intelligence Group was busted spying on activists in 2008, and was in turn abolished in 2011. Nonetheless, Victoria Police’s Intelligence and Covert Support Command remains, and the modern descendants of Victoria’s political police continue to operate, and activists continue to report being doorknocked and approached.

The legal powers of these specialist police units are growing too. New laws banning masks within “designated areas” were adopted this year, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Order) Act 2017 also includes powers for police to simply ban people from “designated areas” without them having committed any offense at all.

The original “designated areas” legislation, adopted in 2009 on the back of a “law and order” panic about knives on trains, has become an all-purpose piece of legislation for suspending civil rights during protests. Police now routinely “designate” areas where protests are likely in order to suspend an increasing array of civil rights (in particular those around searches).

This same cycle of security theatre gave us PSOs on train stations. These poorly trained, well armed, and bored mint-a-cops were rolled out across the train network in 2012. They now routinely intimidate commuters, start fights, and cost $80 million a year with little appreciable impact on crime at railway stations. The Andrews government loves PSOs so much they want to hire hundreds more of them to guard supermarkets. The dues alone are a windfall to the police association.

Growing police powers, expanding “specialist” forces, and a general increase in the size of Victoria Police are having consequences. At protests and demonstrations, ‘policing by consent’ has given way to the spray and batons of ever present ‘robo-cops’. Young people, migrants, homeless persons and others now encounter the sheer joy that is PSO harassment across the public transport network. The police force increasingly claims the right to determine who is allowed to demonstration, express dissent, or appear in particular public spaces, and on what terms. The state government and Melbourne City Council (for example) routinely use the police to harass and move-on homeless people in the city, in all manner of areas, violence is substituted for effective social policy. And every increase in the size and powers of the police force further increases its weight as an institution, and flows on to buttress the political power of the Police Association.

The growing weight of policing bears down on migrant and Indigenous communities, it bears down on the young, particularly in working class areas, and it bears down on public dissent and protest.

More police, more powers, and more petty laws mean greater harassment, greater control, and greater criminalization. Unless this growth is challenged, the increasing size and power of the police force, and the corrupting influence of the Police Association in politics, will bear increasingly bitter fruit for all but the wealthiest in our society.


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Victoria Police utilize hundreds of fake Facebook accounts to manage their expansive social media presence; their poor online security practices with these accounts have exposed their entire social media team.

Last week, a group of homelessness activists in Melbourne announced they would be holding a public forum to discuss “Melbourne’s rough sleeping ban”.

Shortly after posting this information to a public campaign Facebook page, organizers received a cryptic message from an individual claiming to be from Victoria Police:

This is Victoria Police. We’ve been informed of your protest action and want to let you know we’ll be monitoring this event with interest.

The message originated from a “Mark Darryl”, on an account with the URL slug markd.bayly. The account uses a Victoria Police shield as it’s profile picture, contains some generic police related content, and has approximately eighty friends.

The vast majority of these Facebook friends are fake accounts. They all have generic names, no content, one Facebook friend, and the same blank red Facebook profile photo.

Whoever operates the “Mark Daryl” Facebook account appears (at first glance) to have gone to the effort of registering 80+ fake Facebook profiles so that their fake Facebook profile could have some friends.

That said, not all of the accounts linked to this profile are fake. One of “Mark Darryl’s” Facebook friends is a “Mark Bayly”, URL slug mark.bayly.71.

A quick search for “Mark Bayly” reveals that:

Mark Bayly is the manager of online communications for Victoria Police.

Bayly’s hobbies include drumming, his band occasionally plays at Pause Bar in Balaclava, he’s a fan of Pink Floyd, his partner’s name is Margaret, and he has appallingly bad social media security practice for someone who manages the social media presence of a state police force.

It seems that Mark Bayly has received awards for his work in social media, the day to day tasks of which appear to include messaging activist groups to let them know that big brother is always watching:

But back to the fake accounts. Bayly didn’t just register these so that his fake account could have some friends, instead this appears to be the method by which Victoria Police manage their network of “Eyewatch” pages.

Rather than using any commercial solution, it appears that the Victoria Police social media team have registered hundreds of almost identical fake Facebook profiles in order to manage this plethora of different pages. There are presumably fake profiles for every officer who would ever need admin access to one of these Facebook pages.

It’s a clumsy practice but it makes some weird sense. Facebook pages are often subject to mass reporting, and Facebooks’s appalling automated moderation system routinely removes reported content and imposes bans on the admin account that posted the material.

To avoid this problem, most business would just employ a commercial solution (like Hootesuite). Instead, Victoria Police appear to have manually registered an army of paper accounts.

Unfortunately for them, the officers (presumably) using these these fake profiles have appallingly bad security habits. The account names are often similar (or identical to) the names of serving officers, and many of these profiles link back to their personal accounts. Simply by tracking the friends lists of these accounts it is possible to build an extensive map of Victoria Police’s social media presence and the officers who operate it.

The entire operation looks amateurish, but it just gets worse for Victoria Police. Operating fake profiles is a breach of Facebook’s terms of service, and every Facebook user has the ability to report a fake profile.

If sufficient reports are made, the operator of these fake accounts will have to prove to Facebook that the accounts are not fake, that they use real names and so on. Usually Facebook’s system demands a user upload photo ID. If you can’t do this, Facebook will lock your account.

A campaign of mass reporting could see Victoria Police progressively locked out of the accounts they use to manage their sprawling social media presence.

In December, the Andrews government announced that it would establish a “high tech monitoring hub” that would enable Victoria Police to engage in “real-time monitoring of social media”.

I wonder whether this “real time monitoring” system will include a subscription to Hootsuite, and whether it will be available before activists report every single one of these accounts.

Maybe the “manager of online communications for Victoria Police” shouldn’t have taken it upon himself to try and intimidate activists holding a public forum on homelessness.

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In a move that will make criminals of every hippy with a bookshelf, the Andrews’ government is amending the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances act 1981 criminalize simply possessing “a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence”.

That’s right, they’re coming for your grow guides!

The proposed amendments represent a significant uptick in Victoria’s war on drugs; simply having the wrong book could land you five years in prison.Watch movie online John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Under current legislation, the possession of a drug manual is only prohibited if you intend to use it. The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act states:

A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so, possesses a substance, material, document containing instructions relating to the preparation, cultivation or manufacture of a drug of dependence or equipment with the intention of using the substance, material, document or equipment for the purpose of trafficking in a drug of dependence is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).

The proposed amendment creates a new offense of possessing without intent:

71E Possession of document containing information about trafficking or cultivating a drug of dependence
(1) A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so or otherwise without a reasonable excuse, possesses a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a penalty of not more than 600 penalty units or level 6 imprisonment (5 years maximum) or both.

This amendment is a significant increase in the state’s power to criminalize “things” associated with drug production that are not actually drugs or drug production.

Our totally trustworthy government will insist this legislation is only intended to ‘catch’ would be Walter Whites, presumably before they had setup their epic drug laboratories. In reality, the scope of this amendment is far wider.

Every kid who downloads a copy of the misnamed Anarchist Cookbook online will be liable for five years. Heck, the definitions of ‘document’ and ‘possess’ are such that you’d better not be cruising 420chan or one or any number of popular forums.

And what about things that are not obviously titled drug manuals? When the crime is possessing a “document containing instructions relating to” stripped of all requirement to establish intent, all manner of different books, articles, and Encyclopedias become potential causes of long term incarceration.

A further amendment criminalizes publishing a “document containing instructions”, and again, the test of “intent” connected to drug production is missing:

71F Publication of document containing instructions
(1) A person who, without being authorised by or licensed under this Act or the regulations to do so or otherwise without a reasonable excuse, publishes a document containing instructions for the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence—
(a) with the intention that the instructions will be used by another person for the purposes of the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence; or
(b) knowing or being reckless as to whether the instructions will be used by another person for the purpose of the trafficking or cultivation of a drug of dependence—
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a penalty of not more than 1200 penalty units or level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum) or both.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), it is irrelevant whether the document or the instructions contained in the document actually work to traffick or cultivate a drug of dependence.
(3) For the purposes of this section, publish includes sell, offer for sale, let on hire, exhibit, display, distribute and demonstrate.

So be careful what you put in that Wikipedia article.

Every year that the drug war is allowed to continue, the powers that the state claims in order to prosecute this war increases at the expense of what little remains of individual autonomy.



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So who saw the story about “Sovereign Citizens” on ABC’s 7.30 tonight?

The ABC program reported that a “NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment” has unveiled a shocking new terrorism threat!

“Sovereign citizens are in Australia and both their numbers and the threat they pose, are growing”

The ABC would have us believe that the US militia movement of the 1990s was about to break forth in Australia:

Police records show the number of Australian sovereign citizens in NSW doubled from 2009 to 2011 and nearly tripled from 2009 to 2012.

Interactions with police increased 50 per cent in 2011, with a “notable increase in threats of violence”.

In the United States, domestic anti-government extremists have murdered 32 law enforcement officers and the Department of Homeland Security now says they’re the number one domestic terrorist threat.

The truth is a little more mundane.

Australia’s sovereignty cranks are more likely to be engaged in banking frauds than armed violence.

Much more likely. In the ABC’s report a NSW Police spokesperson concedes that the sovereign citizenship movement has not in fact been associated with any substantial acts of violence in Australia:

Australia had not experienced any of the high impact violence resulting in death or casualties associated with the movement overseas

Sovereign citizens might annoyingly drive around “displaying homemade registration plates”, but they are not the US militia movement of the 1990s. So why the terrorism beat up?

Detective Superintendent John O’Reilly is the commander of the Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Operation Group for NSW Police.

He said…

“Sovereign citizens are people that don’t buy into our legal framework, our system of government,” he said.

“They consider themselves individuals and operate outside the law and outside our tax system.”


I’d be really keen to read the NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment in question. Who else do they consider potential terrorists?

How about land rights campaigners? An increasing number of Aboriginal people take the slogan “Sovereignty Never Ceded” seriously.

Are First Nations Liberation, Black Nations Rising, or Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance included on some list of potential terrorists?

What about anarchists? (I ask rather self-interestedly!) Or communists? Or Socialists? What about the growing elements in the environmental movement, trade union movement, or anyone else who has come to see in whose interests our government governs?

Sovereign citizens are cranks, but within Australia they have always been harmless cranks. The idea that Australia’s sovereign citizen movement is capable of anything more than vexatious litigation and creative financial scams is patently absurd. The fact that NSW Police classify them as a terrorist threat is just more evidence of how widely the Australian state is now casting the terrorism net.


The Monthly, 6 Sept 2014, Freemen movement targets Indigenous Australia.

Living the Dream, 12 Oct 2015, Evereything You Know is Wrong – Conspiracy Theory (podcast).

Cartoon by Randall Munroe, xkcd.
Cartoon by xkcd.

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In Syria and Iraq the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and aligned organisations are lauded for their struggle against the brutal insurgent group commonly known as ‘Islamic State’.

Yet, within Australia the PKK is a listed “terrorist organisation”, and support for the PKK carries significant criminal penalties under Division 102 of the Criminal Code Act 1995.

This ban on the PKK is both illogical and unjust, and it should not be renewed when the current listing of the PKK expires in August this year.

The Banning of the PKK

There are presently twenty organisations proscribed under Division 102 of the Criminal Code. When compared to the rest of the list, the PKK certainly appears the odd organisation out.

All 19 other organisations purport to be or are described as “Islamic” in some way. The PKK is keeping some odd company on this list, it appears alongside the likes of “Al-Qa’ida (AQ)”, “Boko Haram”, “Islamic State”, and “Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)”.

It is interesting to compare the listing of the PKK with the three Palestinian organisations listed. The PKK entry is a catch all, which snares all manner of PKK political organisations in a single listing. In contrast, the entries that affect Hamas and Hezbollah are highly selective, they list “Hamas’s Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades” and “Hizballah’s External Security Organisation”, ie. the military wings but not the political wings of both entities.

It is also worth noting how many organisations are not listed.

According to that eminent source Wikipedia, there are some 175 groups that have been designated “terrorist” by one or more governments in the world today. The United States presently lists 60 “designated Foreign Terrorist Organisations”.

The Australian government’s listings are significantly more selective, and with the exception of the PKK they do appear restricted to organisations that could conceivably pose some form of threat to the Australian state or the interests of the Australian state abroad.

The listing on the government’s national security website further highlight’s the absurdity of the PKK ban. Is there a PKK presence in Australia that might cause concern? According to the Australian government:

There are no known PKK links to Australia; however, it is likely elements of Australia’s Kurdish community remain sympathetic to the Kurdish nationalist cause.

Kurds might be sympathetic to the Kurdish nationalist cause. Wow. What about abroad, does the PKK pose any threat to Australian ‘interests’?

There are no known direct threats from the PKK to Australian interests.

The PKK entry on the Australian government’s National Security website is farcical. It includes claims that the PKK controls “up to 80 per cent of the European illicit drug market”, a claim made by Turkish police and believed by few others.

When it comes to establishing the claim that the PKK is a terrorist organisation, the National Security website lists a handful of attacks “by suspected PKK militants” in 2010-2012 in southern Turkey alongside the 2010 Taksim Square bombing – an attack openly claimed by a non-PKK secessionist group.

So why was the PKK proscribed in Australia? Well back in 2006:

The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, pronounced the Kurdistan Workers Party a terrorist group just a week after the visit of the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, to Australia.

And what’s Turkey to Australia? Not so much, but to the United States, Turkey is critical. Just go and look at Turkey on a map, then look over at Iraq, then glance up to Russia.

Effects of the ban

Should it really be a crime to wish your homeland were free? According to the Australian government, apparently the answer is yes.

As I’ve already pointed out, the National Security website states “it is likely elements of Australia’s Kurdish community remain sympathetic to the Kurdish nationalist cause”, as if this were somehow threatening or dangerous.

For as long as the ban on the PKK is in place, association with or support for the PKK would result in significant criminal penalties under Australian law:

The party, which has been running a long campaign for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, was listed as a proscribed terrorist group in mid-December, making it a criminal offence to recruit, train, fund or have “other forms of association” with the group. A person found to have links with the party or 16 related entities faces a jail term of up to 25 years.

A particular complication for Australia’s Kurdish community is the issue of money. The government’s website states:

Under Division 102 of the Criminal Code, it is an offence to do things such as direct the activities of, be a member of, recruit for, provide training to, receive training from or participate in training with, provide funds to or receive funds from or provide support to, a terrorist organisation.

This becomes a threatening mess for the Kurdish community in Australia when you realize the potential implications of sending money home to families or charities in areas under PKK influence or control.

Australian Federal Police raided several Kurdish community organisations in 2010 pursuing supposed terrorist financing. It is telling that no links to the PKK were ever found and no one was ever convicted of an offense following these confronting and invasive raids.

The absurdity of banning an entire political movement was pointed out at the time of the initial listing of the PKK under the Criminal Code. Writing in the Age, Labor MP Duncan Kerr stated:

Our minority report asks the Government to reassess the listing. It asks why any ban could not be limited to the PKK’s military arm. This has been the approach taken on other groups such as Hamas, which have both political and armed aspects. The Government’s own statement of reasons for listing the PKK referred to the PKK’s military wing – so such a distinction would have been possible. A limited ban would allow Australians to exercise their democratic rights to express their support for the PKK and its campaign for a Kurdish homeland while at the same time treat membership or support for their military or terrorist wings as an offence.

The Peace Process

The government’s own protocol for deciding on whether to list a “terrorist organisation” states that “engagement in peace or mediation processes” should be considered as a factor. In re-listing the PKK in 2012 the government stated:

The PKK is not known to be engaged in any peace or mediation processes.

This was false in 2012 and if repeated would be doubly false today. The peace process between Turkey and the PKK dates to the 1990s. Between 1999 and 2004 the PKK engaged in a unilateral cease fire, a process which ended due to Turkish government aggression.

In 2012 when the listing was last renewed, the Turkish government publicly admitted they were in talks with the PKK. The actor in that conflict that continually breaks from the peace process and seeks a “military solution” is the Turkish state; for this reason the proscription of the PKK prejudices peace talks.

In 2015 the jailed leader and founder of the PKK openly calls for an end to armed conflict and a turn to peaceful struggle within Turkey:

Above the jubilant cheers of the hundreds of thousands of Kurds celebrating the festival of Newroz, Kurdish new year, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abudallah Ocalan yesterday called for a definitive end to the “40-year-long armed struggle” against the Turkish state.

As Mr Ocalan’s statement was read to the huge rally, the sun broke through the clouds and the thudding rain eased: even the weather seemed to recognise a momentous occasion. His emphasis on a democratic solution is seen as a pivotal step in a process that many officials from both sides believe is the single most important issue the country faces.

“I see it as historical and necessary to hold a congress to stop the armed struggle which has been carried on by the PKK against the Turkish Republic for nearly 40 years and to determine political and social strategies and tactics which are suitable for a new period,” he said in a two-page letter read out by deputies of the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), first in Kurdish and then in Turkish.

Ocalan made these statements despite the impact of support the Turkish state has provided to IS in their fight against PKK inspired Kurdish groups in Syria.

Australian Government support for the PKK

At the start of this article I noted that the PKK and aligned groups are routinely lauded for their ongoing fight against the so-called Islamic state in Syria and Iraq.

In Rojava PKK aligned/inspired groups are showing in that even in the midst of a bloody civil war, another world is possible.

In 2015 nothing highlights the absurdity of Australia’s proscription of the PKK like the Australian state airdropping arms to PKK aligned forces in Syria.

I utterly disagree with Bernard Keane’s characterization of the PKK in this article, but he hits the nail on the head when pointing out the “many absurdities and contradictions in the government’s decision — without debate — to rejoin the war in Iraq” in relation to the PKK:

Under Part 5.3 of the Criminal Code, it is a crime to provide support to groups like PKK. That is what the Abbott government is now doing, albeit under the fig leaf that the weapons supplied will only be used by the Kurdish regional government forces. In fact, the PKK is central to the fight against Islamic State militants that we have now joined. It’s only a matter of days since the US media was lauding the role of the PKK in the battle against IS, with battle-hardened PKK soldiers — or are they more correctly called terrorists? — providing critical support for the Kurdish peshmerga both in operating alongside them and operating as special forces units behind IS lines. The president of the Kurdistan Regional Government actually visited a PKK camp recently to acknowledge their efforts.

The idea that somehow we’re not helping a proscribed terrorist organisation is thus, given the on-the-ground reality, laughable.

Lift the ban on the PKK

The listing of the PKK under division 102 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 is self evidently absurd, and it must not be renewed when it expires in August this year.

There is a public campaign to Lift the Ban on the PKK and further information about the PKK and the absurdity of the ban here. Get on board.

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Back when the Greens opposed mandatory detention... Policy Snapshots Booklet 2007

Back when the Greens opposed mandatory detention… Policy Snapshots Booklet 2007

Sarah Hanson-Young gets up at a refugee rights rally, sobs for a bit, then tells people to vote Green. It’s not good enough. Here’s why.

1. The Greens could have scuttled the re-opening of camps on Manus and Nauru but didn’t

It wasn’t an Abbott government that introduced the most retrograde policy on refugees in a decade. A policy so appalling even the Howard government was eventually forced to wind it down when faced with a revolt from the liberal wing of his own back bench. Oh no.

Julia Gillard and Labor re-opened the camps on Nauru and Manus Island, and they did so with the support of the Greens.

In 2001 Bob Brown proclaimed that the Greens were not a single issue party and took the Greens into bat on the issue of refugees. It was why in 2001, as a fourteen year old, I got involved. But when push came to shove in 2013, when the Greens precious hold on the balance of power finally gave them the chance to walk the talk, they utterly failed.

The new round of crimes on Nauru and Manus Island are only possible due to Greens weakness. They were not even prepared to push.

2. The Greens support mandatory detention

The Greens favour the mandatory detention of refugees. Including children. Perhaps indefinitely. Oh they mouth a few platitudes like “refugees to live in the community as soon as possible”, but will they close down Australia’s system of barbaric prison camps? No, they will:

“Establish 30 day time limits of detention so initial health, security and ID checks can be done, and periodic judicial review of any detention thereafter” – “Caring for Refugees in Our Community”.

As Nazeem Hussain explains:

The Greens know a ’30 day cap’ for security checks is little more than a sentiment. You can’t rush ASIO, they take as long as they like ‘need’. 40 Sri Lankans and an Iranian have been waiting in detention for ASIO clearance, some waiting up to 4 YEARS!

Under Greens policy, after 30 days – will they just release detainees even with no security clearance?? Why detain them in the first place if security checks aren’t actually imperative?!

NZ only detains ppl for 7 days for health checks and performs security checks in the community. Noone complains.

It’s not a crime to seek asylum, yet the Greens policy will imprison refugees, including children, perhaps indefinitely.

3. The Greens consider the standards of at least some detention centres acceptable

Before you delude yourself into thinking that The Greens mandatory detention camps will be nicer than Abbotts or Rudds, consider this:

“The Greens … will … close down the worst Australian detention centres on the mainland and on Christmas Island.”

As far as the Greens are concerned, only “the worst” of the camps are the problem. At least some of the camps that now exist are acceptable.

I ask, will the Greens nominate which of the camps in the Australian gulags will the Greens not close down? If Nauru is unacceptable, what about that nice new camp on Christmas Island? Or if that’s no good, what about that centre of fun and games in Broadmeadows? It’s compartively low security, refugees only occasionally try and starve themselves to death in order to get out.

4. The Greens support a “Malaysia” style “solution”

Instead of defending the absolute right of people to seek asylum from persecution, the Greens “Safer Pathways” policy accepts the absurd concept of a “queue” and proposes a “Malaysia” style “solution”.

The Greens policy document The Right Way Foward on Refugees even quotes the absurd Houston Panel in support of it’s policy, the same “expert panel” the Gillard government established as cover to reintroduce the camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

The key points the Greens highlight in their document include:

Increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 30,000 … including resettling at least 3,800 directly from our immediate region, including from Indonesia, as recomended by the Houston Panel.

This statement accepts the false logic of a queue, that people should somehow have to wait for permission to exersize their fundamental rights. It accepts the absurd notion that Australia should set limits on the number of people somehow allowed to seek asylum here, as if a rich country like Australia should be able to say “wait, no, you might have an absolute right to seek asylum but we’ll pick and choose”.

Their document also talks about “regional processing” in Indonesia. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, under the Greens Australia would still outsource it’s international obligations.

This policy from the Greens treats asylum like a charitable jesture, as if refugees do not have absolute rights, and our racist government can just meet part of it’s obligations, in small amounts, when it feels like it.

5. The Greens wont even close Nauru and Manus Island

The Greens have already conceded on Nauru and Manus Island. It is clear they were not prepared to take the Gillard government to task over it’s treatment on refugees, and they wont make the closure of Manus Island and Nauru conditions for forming government after the next election.

They have a whole policy that accepts that Manus Island and Nauru detention camps wont close. Instead, they propose a laughable figleaf, an Independent Health Advisory Panel.

Read it and weep:

“The Australian Greens want to put a stop to offshore detention altogether. But whilst it is in place, Australia remains responsible for looking after the health and wellbeing of refugees we send to detention camps. There must be special oversight of the impacts of indefinite detention on these already traumatised people.”

That’s right, The Greens won’t actually stop the barbaric treatment of refugees, they’ve clearly signalled that with this policy. Instead they’re prepared to accept some totally meaningful oversight, so we can watch and wait for the inevitable result of barbaric and inhumane treatment.

Consider the tone of all of these documents. The Greens care. They Greens want to look after these poor traumatised people. The Greens don’t seem to accept that refugees are people with agency, fighting for their lives, who we have to stand with shoulder to shoulder.

Would be Greens Senator Janet Rice agrees that 30 days mandatory detention is A OK.

Would be Greens Senator Janet Rice agrees that 30 days mandatory detention is A OK.

The alternative…

It’s time to stop placing our faith in the great Green hope.

In a recent Facebook exchange, Victorian Greens party figure and psephologist Stephen Luntz justified his party’s drift to the right on the grounds that he hasn’t heard criticism from the refugee movement and support campaign:

If they’ve got criticisms of our policy point me to them, but so far all I have encountered is people from both categories asking me where they can sign up to campaign.

The Greens are in the process of mainstreaming. They assume the million or so Australians on the left are locked in, and they are on the move rightwards in pursuit of what Greg Barber used to describe as “the next ten percent”.

If you think voting is enough, if you think the Greens are enough, you are sadly mistaken.

We need to tell the Greens they’re not bloody good enough. They take your $2.10 for granted.

We need to build a refugee movement that stands in solidarity with refugees, that absolutely defends the right to seek and enjoy asylum:

“This is an important issue because there is a long history of workers who support unions being persecuted because of their belief in standing up for workers’ rights.

“There are still many countries where working for a union or being part of a union can place workers in danger. We believe it is important these people, like all people fleeing for their safety, have the right to ask Australia for safety. We believe it’s Australia’s responsibility to treat these people fairly. – Victorian Trades Hall Council

We need to build a militant refugees movement that goes beyond a paltry focus on the electoral cycle. We need to stand with those who resist and take the battle to those who profit.

Don’t just vote, get organised.

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According to The Age today, ASIO have begun a “counter terrorism probe” into Anarchism in Australia. See ‘ASIO probes link to bomber‘ and ‘Nothing short of anarchy‘.

This appears to have come to light after ASIO agents interviewed Rebecca Harrison. According to the article:

Harrison says ASIO asked her whether there was any support among Australian anarchists for violence as a means to achieve political goals. They were also ”very curious” about connections between Australian anarchists and similar groups overseas.

But the ASIO officers had one specific case they wanted to talk about. They asked Harrison what she knew about Felicity Ann Ryder, another Melbourne activist who had attracted brief media attention in early July. They showed Harrison a couple of news articles about Ryder and asked what she thought about her activities.

(My previous coverage of Felicity Ann Ryders alleged involvement in vandalism in Mexico can be found here.)

Further in The Age article:

Fairfax Media has confirmed that ASIO has pursued a wide-ranging investigation in relation to Ryder, including ASIO officers carrying out inquiries in her home town of Rutherglen. ASIO liaises with its Mexican counterpart, the Centre for Research and National Security (Centro de Investigacion y Seguridad Nacional) and the Australian security agency’s inquiries have focused on identifying friends and associates whom Ryder might contact.

Significantly, however, the ASIO officers were also keen to inquire broadly about the Melbourne anarchist scene, asking who the main leaders and identities were, and what they thought about violent protest. After asking whether there would be any ”solidarity events” organised in support of Ryder, the ASIO officers said they would be ”very interested” to learn who organised or attended any such gatherings.

Security sources have told Fairfax Media that international connections between anarchist extremists, facilitated by the internet, are ”a matter of legitimate concern” and that ”radicalisation” through contact with overseas extremists is ”something that has to be monitored”.

Update 14 November, 13:00 23:00: (Updated) statement from Rebecca:

I decided to meet up with ASIO because people from Quit Coal asked me to do so. They had reason to believe that ASIO was investigating Quit Coal and people thought that meeting with ASIO was worth the risk so that we could get confirmation of this that we could then take to the media.

Turned out, they weren’t at all interested in Quit Coal. I’d apparently been ‘identified as someone active in the anarchist movement.’ They asked me a heap of questions. I replied with a lot of ‘I don’t know’s. Should go without saying that they didn’t get any information from me that could be used against anyone.

Afterwards, some people thought it would be worth talking to a journo from Fairfax so that other people could know what was going on and we could bring some attention to the way that people in Melbourne are currently being targeted for surveillance for nothing more than holding lefty/revolutionary political views.

As you can see, though, this didn’t work out as I had hoped. As usual, the mainstream media is happy to present anarchists as scary terrorists and little else.

I sincerely apologise for any harm/erosion of trust that has been caused by my actions. I’m completely open to admitting that I’ve messed this up. And I really hope that Felicity’s campaign for justice is not negatively impacted by the scrutiny this article has resulted in. In the end, all I can really do is try to think more about the strategical lessons of this and how I can do better in the future.

I think some of the things we should take from this are:

1. The dangers that come with engaging with the state and the mainstream media.

2. We should be aware that in the next couple of years there may be increased attention on anarchists and other lefty dissidents from the state and its various instruments of control.

3. We shouldn’t respond to this by stopping the good work that we are doing. I’m proud to be an anarchist and to take part in anarchist organising. Part of the purpose of these approaches by ASIO is no doubt to scare people into silence. I think we should respond by being even more organised and even more vocal.

4. We should think about ways we can show solidarity to anarchists who are facing state repression. My experience with ASIO was what made me want to help organise this rally.

I think a good response to ASIO’s bullshit would be a have an amazing solidarity rally to show them that they cannot intimidate people into silence.


End Update.

I’ve previously argued amongst Anarchist comrades that there is little evidence that ASIO is paying any attention to Australian anarchism.

But then there was this from ASIO’s 2011 Annual Report to Parliament:

Australia’s Security Environment

There has been a persistent but small sub-culture of racist and nationalist extremists in Australia, forming groups, fragmenting, re-forming and often fighting amongst themselves. Over the past year, such extremists have been active in protesting against various Muslim interests.

A recent development is the emergence of an ‘anti-fascist’ movement, led by self-styled anarchists, which aims to confront those it identifies as fascists, including some of the nationalist and racist extremist groups also of interest to ASIO. Where such confrontations have occurred, the ‘anti-fascists’ have outnumbered the nationalist and racist extremists and police intervention has been required.

Slackbastard has more on the 2011 annual report.

And earlier this year The Age also revealed that ASIO, AFP and private contractors had been maintaining tabs on various environmentalist groups.

So what can we make of all this?

Despite the reference to Anarchists in the 2011 annual report, the reported interview with Rebecca points to an intelligence agency that is beginning inquiries rather than continuing surviellance of our community.

Phoning up the organiser of a campus anarchist group and asking “who are your leaders?!” is hardly the behavior of an organisation that already has assets (moles) in a community.

ASIO is a secret organisation but it’s still possible to make a broad assessment of the possibility that we as individuals are under survielance.

We know a bit about the history of ASIO. We know that by the late ’90s they were strapped for cash and resources, and supposedly failing in the most basic responsibilities of a spy agency. In 1997 the Australian government was famously caught unawares by the Sandline affair. The idea that ASIO was conducting any widespread surviellance of domestic dissent at that time seems absurd.

We know that ASIO dramatically expanded after 2001, and now have somewhere around 1760 staff. But we also know where the official paranoia was focused, and (unfortunately) Australian anarchists have next to no links to the muslim community.

All in all, I stand by the argument I have made in the past. At present it is highly unlikely that we as individual anarchists are being actively spied on.

The risk of us being subject to entrapment is similarily low.

We can observe how ASIO targetted disaffected youth in the muslim community. Infilitrate, incite, entrap. If someone comes to your reading group asking if there are any bombings going down, and hey, they know someone who can sell you C4… well, I suggest you show them the door.

The information that a spy agency is likely to have on us is that we have put in the public domain. Think newspaper reports, internet postings, websites, etc. But even that would require staff attention to process into any meaningful form.

This might be changing, thanks in part to events in Mexico.

ASIO liaises with its Mexican counterpart, the Centre for Research and National Security (Centro de Investigacion y Seguridad Nacional)

It seems probable that today’s ASIO interest in Australian anarchists is due to a request from CISN.

But there is a longer term concern.

All bureacracy seeks to expand its turf, resources and staffing, lest it be squeezed out of existence. The War on Terror is officially being wound down, and an ASIO without the War on Terror will have to seek out new threats to justify it’s budget.

Either way, it’s important to keep the threat of surviellance in perspective. The relevation that we might be watched can prompt us to become overly security concious.

I like this piece of advice from Gene Sharpe’s From Dictatorship to Democracy:

secrecy is not only rooted in fear but contributes to fear, which dampens the spirit of resistance and reduces the number of people who can participate in a given action. It also can contribute to suspicions and accusations, often unjustified, within the movement, concerning who is an informer or agent for the opponents. Secrecy may also affect the ability of a movement to remain nonviolent.

In contrast, openness regarding intentions and plans will not only have the opposite effects, but will contribute to an image that the resistance movement is in fact extremely powerful.

Update: statement on events from “some comrades in Sydney”, An open letter to anarchists (and others) in Melbourne (and other places) who feel under attention from the state; or, “Please Don’t Talk To The Cops”.

Bonus Redgum!

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The Age reveals that AFP, ASIO and private subcontractors spy on environmentalists, protesters and left wing organisations opposed to a variety of environmentally destructive commercial developments.

Surprise surprise.

There is nothing abnormal about this. Create a secret intelligence gathering agency, and they’ll act like a secret intelligence agency. If a government has a secret intelligence gathering agency, it will try to use it. If it doesn’t have one, it will seek to create one.

The pursuit and maintenance of power demands information about threats and opponents. The state, business, political parties, it doesn’t matter. Once created, the agency has it’s own self-perpetuating interest. Their job is to to identify and gather intelligence about threats, so threats will be identified, intelligence will be gathered.

Whether it’s the dirt unit within the office of a political power broker, the state’s official intelligence agency, a de facto political unit in a Police force, or private consulting firm; it exists and if you’re being effective, it’s trying to spy on you*.

These tools of power are not your friend, they are not a-political, and they are not legitimate. And we cannot simply hope to bring security agencies to heal by electing the right government, or appointing the right overseer.

Environmental groups involved in opposing coal seem gas, coal mining and coal power need to recognise they are opposing something fundamental our present political system. They are opposing the relentless pursuit of profit in favour of a sustainable future.

They have to expect that effective action will demand a state response, and as such, they can expect to be spied on, just as they can expect to be beaten, arrested and imprisoned.

The Green movement as a whole needs to come out against police violence, state surveillance and intimidation. Everyone from The Greens, the corporate NGOs, to the various community coalitions, would do well to adopt the default position of most far left groups in opposing the work of intelligence agencies and political Police.

1. Anyone exposed as an ASIO agent, police informer against activists, or ABCC informer in the workplace should be publicly identified and completely ostracised. By everyone, forever.

2. Work on construction or supply for security organisations should be subject to a permanent and unremitting black ban.

3. Any and all channels used by ASIO and friends to gather “intelligence” from the public should be jammed.

And we should issue a warning.

To anyone working or informing for ASIO, the ABCC, or a politically motivated Police investigation anywhere: when we finally gather on the streets and storm the headquarters of your organisations, we will identify you.

On that day, you will find no comfort anywhere, for as long as you live.

If that day seems distant, remember that as a file turns thirty, it’s contents become publicly available, and even though your name might be blacked out, we’ll sure as hell work out who you are and act accordingly.

We will not forget.

A Caution…

The revelation that elements of the state are spying on a movement, can see people respond with fear and secrecy. I think the following advice from Gene Sharpe’s From Dictatorship to Democracy is pertinent:

secrecy is not only rooted in fear but contributes to fear, which dampens the spirit of resistance and reduces the number of people who can participate in a given action. It also can contribute to suspicions and accusations, often unjustified, within the movement, concerning who is an informer or agent for the opponents. Secrecy may also affect the ability of a movement to remain nonviolent.

In contrast, openness regarding intentions and plans will not only have the opposite effects, but will contribute to an image that the resistance movement is in fact extremely powerful.

* Most people who think they have ASIO files don’t, because most people who think they have ASIO files are completely and totally ineffective. I include myself in that.

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Every time I want to organise a public demonstration, the Police are at pains to point out that they respect my democratic right to protest.

Whenever I want to do something that might actually change something, challenge something, or achieve something, the Police are quick to point out how easily they can arrest me on spurious grounds.

The only right to protest recognised by the state is the right to ineffective protest. Effective protests are illegal.

Ineffective protests are welcome. Ineffective protest occurs within the strictures permitted and regulated by the state and thus reinforce state power. Ineffective protests moderates and co-opts forces that might otherwise build to challenge existing hierarchies. Let’s all give money to GetUp.

In contrast, effective protest is outlawed. The Police stand ready to arrest, the media stands ready to denounce, the Parliament stands ready to change the laws if present provisions are insufficient.

If these forces fail, and public protest succeeds in changing or forcing some small concession from state, capital, some other institution or dominant culture more broadly; then the impact of the protest is denied and other theories (usually centred around the benevolence of the changed institutions) are advanced to cover up the power of public action.

Overland, 15 July 2011: The Boycott Israel 19:

On Friday 1 July, 19 pro-Palestinian activists, including me, were arrested in Melbourne’s CBD for opposing Max Brenner, a chocolate store that sends care packages to some of the most brutal sections of the Israeli army.

The Australian, 8 August 2011: Israeli boycotts: ACCC called in:

ANTI-Israel activists face investigation for alleged secondary boycotts under landmark attempts by the Baillieu government to curb the global campaign to target companies and businesses linked to the Jewish nation.

Mr O’Brien, a former barrister who specialised in trade practices law, has written to ACCC chairman Rod Sims citing potential breaches of section 45D of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.

He has also suggested the ACCC consider pecuniary penalties against organisations that participated in the boycott.

Take heart when you’re being arrested, sued, and denounced, you’re starting to hit home.

In solidarity with the BDS campaign.

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