In July, Malcolm Turnbull announced the “most significant reform of Australia’s national intelligence and domestic security arrangements and their oversight in more than 40 years”. In addition, he created the ‘Home Affairs Department’ to be headed by Peter Dutton, the current Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.
It is a move that should cause alarm as this ministry will centralise ASIO, the Federal Police, and the Border Force under the authority of one person. At the same time, moves have been made to amend the Defence Act, removing restrictions on deploying the army on Australian soil. The changes allow military personnel to become involved in terrorist incidents if requested by a state Premier or on the authority of the Prime Minster.
The military, once deployed, would have authority to kill suspects, and detain people at the scene. This is a significant blurring of lines between the military and police, and is a step towards the army being called on in other domestic situations.
Another recent and thoroughly frightening security development is the call from the government to centralise facial recognition data. Since every person has unique facial features and details, a record of this biometric data can be stored and used to later identify anyone on the database.
It is soon very likely facial recognition technology will be used to identify people from CCTV footage at airports, train stations, or just about any other public place. There is a very real danger of this technology being used for other purposes. In fact, once the government has this data it is practically inevitable that its use will become more widespread.
If the Snowden leaks taught us anything it is that the likely outcome of a government having the capacity to spy on, track and pry in to the private lives of its citizens, is that it will.
We are told that all of these changes are being made for our own safety and protection, and that we now face more danger, especially from terrorism. While there is no doubt that terrorism is a concern, that Australia is a target stems from the government’s own role in fuelling terrorism by participating in imperialist adventures, like the invasion of Iraq.
Even though the threat of terrorism is real, it is given a hugely disproportionate prominence in the government’s rhetoric. For example, while a handful of people have died from terror related incidents in Australia since 2001, domestic violence against women is a much bigger problem with on average one woman killed each week.
It is clear that when it comes down to it safety and domestic security are not really a priority for the government. If they were, the government would instead spend billions of dollars on the expansion of social services for women trying to escape abusive relationships.
The real reason billions are spent on security measures, while social services are in fact being cut, is that the government is working to reinforce the repressive apparatus of the state, both at a domestic and international level.
At an international level the government is striving to strengthen the hand of Australian capitalist interests in the midst of increased imperialist rivalries. They want to ensure that their profit interests are protected, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
At a domestic level, the focus on security is not only a useful distraction from the government’s woes, but it will be required in the event of domestic strife, not in the form of a terror attack but in the event of popular resistance to the unpopular policies of the government and their big business backers.
For those who think this assertion is overblown, look no further than the Spanish state where, in a supposed democracy, security forces and anti-democratic laws have been used to stop the Catalonian people voting.
Socialists oppose the latest raft of security measures introduced by the government. They are being implemented in the interests of the ruling elite rather than ordinary people. In addition to not being necessary there is huge scope for the powers to be misused.
Capitalism means never ending conflict, terrorism and threats to our safety. The best way to really protect people’s safety is to fight for a system that is based on the shared interests of the majority, rather than one that puts capitalist profits before all else.
By Dane Letcher