I'm Australian. Just thought I'd get that out of the way first, so you know I'm talking about John Winston Howard.
I'm a bit behind on the political news, generally I don't care about it but I just did some catching up and felt the need to vent in a fairly anonymous place, since I could probably lose my job (or perhaps be locked up, secretly or openly, constrained incommunicado to my home, or shot dead while resisting arrest) for thinking what I'm writing about here.
Australia is a socialist country. We've got a tradition of looking out for your mates (that's Australian for friends), helping the bloke living in the gutter and generally being good people. Mr Howard is trying to destroy that.
So far he's made it clear that he wants to destroy trade unions and rework industrial relations back to a Victorian era Master/Servant system, where people begging for jobs are allowed to ask for less than minimum wage and trade paid leave for the chance to work. He's calling this package "workchoice". Really the only choice for the unemployed will be take any job they're offered, at any pay rate they're offered or loose unemployment benefits. No guaranteed minimum wage, no guaranteed holidays, no sick leave, no overtime penalty rates.
Obviously he's worried about protests, no, riots (and so he should be, I'm organising and angry mob as we speak), because the next law he wants to enact is something "anti-terrorist" (which really means "anti-free-speech").
We don't know a lot about this law as the government is supressing details. A regional government (the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government to be specific) released an early draft, but the ACT has now been left out of future discussion and negotiation on the bill (that's what we call laws before they're enacted), and the state governments are keeping quiet.
What we do know is that the draft we saw included giving the police and ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) powers to detain people for the fun of it - that is without cause or trial or even the agreement of a judge. That doesn't let them hold people for long, just a couple of weeks (but it's a really good couple of weeks, 'cause you're allowed one phone call, but not to a lawyer. You can either call your family or your employer and tell them that you're safe - it'll be against the law to tell them that you've been arrested or imprisoned).
But really there's no need to lock people up secretly for a fortnight: Introducing "Sedition". Sedition is saying nasty things about the government or the Sovereign (that's the Queen at the moment), or inciting other people to (even accidentally), so me writing this is an act of sedition, good enough to lock me up for 7 years, or shoot me. Yep, the police are to be given the right to shoot-to-kill anyone doing such evil and threatening things like "running away" or "resisting arrest". "Don't worry" says the PM (prime minister) "that shoot-to-kill thing is only to protect those poor overworked police officers, in case they accidentally shoot an innocent person". Well, that makes me feel better. I'd hate for a copper (police officer) to be charged with murder when they shoot people who posed no threat to them and hadn't committed any crime.
So in the past (or in fact, today) when I said "The PM is a shitfaced lying fuckwit (sorry about the language), and the Queen is a foolish foreigner who has no right to have any say in Australia" that was free speech; Under Howard's new laws were I to say the same thing it would be sedition, and the coppers would be sent around:
"We're here to arrest you"
"Are you resisting arrest?"
"No, I'm just asking why you're arresting me"
"Bruce" says one cop to the other (all Australian cops are named Bruce, aren't they?) "He's resisting arrest"
Actually, to be fair, shoot-to-kill isn't just for the "No, really, he was resisting arrest so I had to put him down" cases. The police will also be allowed to try their target practice on stalkers and in domestic violence cases. They'd go more like:
Stalker: (peering through a window)
Cop: (quietly to other cop) "See him, there, by the window in the bushes - he'd be the stalker"
Cop2: (quietly) "Pistol or shotgun?"
Husband: (slaps wife inflicting slight reddening of the cheek)
Cop: (no need to say anything, or even identify that they've turned up to intervene)
Bang. (inflicting slight reddening of the benchtop 1m behind Husband's formerly intact head)
Yep, penalty for running from a police officer: Death
Penalty for resisting arrest: Death
Penalty for domestic violence: Death
Pretty impressive for a country without capital punishment.
Then there's "Control Orders". Which means "We the government think that you might be doing something that worries us - but we can't prove it, in fact we can't even show reasonable cause to believe it so we'll lock you up in your own house".
So let's assume my above quote didn't get me a sedition charge, they might not be able to prove it was me who wrote such nasty things in a slashdot journal. Since they can't prove anything, they just think that it was either me or this other guy, or maybe that other guy, so they get a control order on all three of us (the other two would be leftie pinkos like me too, of course). We'd be given a 6:00 curfew, confined to our homes between 6pm and 8am weekdays and from 6pm Friday to 8am Monday, required to wear a tracking device at all times, banned from using the telephone, banned from using the internet, banned from posting a letter, banned from using public transport, banned from driving a car, banned from communicating with people on a specific list (let's say the list contains every reporter within walking distance of me, my mother, father, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and my lawyer) and banned from carrying a bag. For one year. (Then another year, and another and another ad infinitum). With no one told about it. No way for me to argue it until it was a fait acompli.
Anyway, below is a news article from a major (usually pro-Howard) newspaper. They put this better than I ever could - Preserved below with blatant disregard for copyright, since I fear its existance on its home website will be ephemeral at best:
There's no place like home for the new anti-terrorism laws
By Adele Horin
October 22, 2005
THE Federal Government's proposed anti-terrorism laws could be a godsend in disguise for Australian families. I am thinking of families who have lost authority over their fractious teenagers and are looking for a way to keep them home.
When the kids get too old to be sent to the naughty corner, ignore your protestations about the hours and the company they keep and the unsavoury internet sites they favour, don't despair. I think I can see a way under the proposed anti-terrorism laws for powerless parents to enlist the help of the Australian Federal Police and ASIO.
The anti-terrorism laws may do little to prevent a hothead blowing up Town Hall station. But they offer much scope in subduing insubordinate teens who want to go clubbing at midnight instead of studying for their exams.
Here's what I have in mind, having read a draft of the proposed laws thoughtfully posted on the website of Jon Stanhope, the ACT Chief Minister.
The best bet lies in the proposed control orders, which sound like every parent's dream. Under these orders a person who has committed no crime can have severe restrictions placed on their daily lives for a year - or for those aged 16 to 18, for three months.
You have to persuade the Federal Police your child may be thinking of committing a terrorist act. No worries, considering you can doubtless attest to his unsavoury friends, his late-night assignations and his violent anti-government rhetoric.
The police can take away most of his rights and freedoms without having to charge him with a crime. And nor must they tell him the grounds for their actions (or that you dobbed him in).
A judge or magistrate must agree that a control order should be imposed, but that should be easy. After all, under the proposed laws your child has no right to put his case or appear in court or argue that his unsavoury associates are ravers not radicals and that he thinks suicide bombers are uncool.
No, the court will never get to hear the lad's side. On the say-so of the Federal Police, the court is sure to approve a control order. How could judges insist on a high level of proof if their dillying could result in the Harbour Bridge being blown asunder?
And under the control order there is no end of restrictions that can be placed on your wayward teen - a veritable cornucopia of punishments.
The court can order him never to leave the house, but that might be a strain on the family. It might be better if the lad is ordered to wear an electronic tag that tracks his every movement.
He can be ordered not to use the phone and never to associate with his scruffy friends again - or to frequent those iniquitous binge-drinking dens. And he can be forbidden to touch the internet. There's a long list of specific restrictions laid out in the proposed law that will ensure your child's life is controlled by a higher authority.
The anti-terrorism laws will bring to the home the discipline so sadly lacking before. Your son may have flouted your pathetic curfews and house rules, but now if he strays, makes a forbidden phone call or clicks into the web, it's off to jail for five years, just like that.
Most people who care about civil liberties say these anti-terrorism laws go too far in robbing us of the freedoms and legal protections that distinguish democracies from dictatorships. Control orders are not right, they say. It is wrong that a person should live in limbo for 12 months, neither a criminal nor a free man, assumed guilty yet charged with no crime, and with limited rights to get the order revoked.
The introduction of judicial review is a smokescreen by the Government, these critics say, to give legitimacy to Big Brother powers. In effect, no judge woken in the middle of the night, and presented with one side of the argument, will demur.
If the police nab the wrong Ahmed or mistake the rantings of a mentally ill person for terrorist diatribe, the innocent will suffer, say the civil libertarians. And use of these techniques on the alienated, the angry and the critics of Government policy will inflame the very hostilities anti-terrorism laws are intended to douse.
But I say these laws have potential for desperate parents whose lives are being ruined by ungrateful brats. And to those folk who believe only terrorists have to fear the anti-terrorism laws, I say you have failed to grasp their latent promise in curbing all manner of trouble-makers.
But a word of warning to parents: if kids get smart, they will realise they can use the new laws to their own ends. For them, the preventive detention provisions offer much promise.
Under these provisions ASIO can detain a terrorism suspect for 14 days - once the states' legislation is passed - without charge. Here's the catch: the detainee is prevented by law from telling his family, or anyone else, why he has suddenly disappeared. He can only report to one family member that he is "safe".
And once the kids learn of this, I can imagine the phone calls from Byron Bay and Nimbin: "Dad, I'm safe; don't worry. But it's illegal to tell you any more."
A police state for one and all.
PS. No, I didn't vote for Howard's party, nor his allies in the Senate.