Jun 12, 2018

An incomplete list of evidence that Australia is becoming a police state

The government is taking Australia down the road to a police state where criticism or embarrassment of the government is punished. This is how.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Heavily armed policeman

I always figured it couldn’t happen here. There was something about Australians and our collective personality that made it impossible. As it turns out, there isn’t anything special about Australians. We were kidding ourselves. Doubtless plenty of Americans are undergoing the same disillusionment about their own compatriots right now, too.

To say that Australia is heading toward a police state sounds absurd, the claim of a bug-eyed conspiracy theorist — to say it not as a rhetorical flourish or partisan abuse, but as a statement of fact, a description of the road we have travelled so far. And yet, here we are. We’re not China. We’re not even Singapore. Yet we are becoming a specific kind of police state, in which the government hands itself ever more power to prevent scrutiny, deter and punish whistleblowers, smear opponents and hide its wrongdoing, using legal framework justified in the name of national security. We’re becoming a nation where embarrassing the government, or revealing its misconduct, has become a dangerous occupation. Perhaps police state is less accurate than an anti-dissent state.

This is an effort to justify that statement and, by itemising the evidence, show the persistent effort to normalise ever greater powers of bureaucrats over citizens. The evidence can be broken into three areas:


  • A mass surveillance data retention regime, legislated despite no evidence it would assist law enforcement or counter-terrorism.
  • Long jail terms for people, including journalists, who reveal intelligence operations, with a personal power to launch prosecutions in the hands of the attorney-general.
  • “Insider threat” laws further reducing the already-limited capacity of intelligence officials to reveal criminality or misconduct.
  • Two royal commissions established to pursue political opponents, and a permanent anti-trade union government body designed to inflict damage on Labor figures.
  • Currently before parliament — a significant expansion of secrecy laws that allows people to be prosecuted merely for viewing or republishing leaked information.
  • Soon to be before Parliament: a “papers please” law under which the AFP would have the power to stop and demand ID of anyone in an area designated as an “airport”.
  • Soon to be before parliament: an expansion of the government’s powers to plant malware on phones and computers to undermine encryption.
  • Proposed by bureaucrats: giving the Australian Signals Directorate the capacity to surveil and plant malware on devices within Australia, breaking a decades-long restriction.


  • The ABC is the target of a barrage of vexatious complaints about its public affairs coverage, with individual journalists such as Emma Alberici taking on “enemy of the state” status and being repeatedly targeted. The ABC also had its funding cut by $250 million in 2014 and a further $80 million in the most recent budget.
  • The government’s NBN board ordered Federal Police to hunt down whistleblowers who embarrassed NBN by revealing internal information. In 2016, the AFP, with an NBN official participating, raided the offices and homes of staff of Stephen Conroy and raided parliament to access emails to journalists.
  • Immigration repeatedly ordered the AFP to investigate leaks revealing its bungling and negligence in offshore detention centres.
  • In 2017, after blogger Andie Fox criticised the Centrelink robo-debt scandal, Alan Tudge and his bureaucrats handed her private information to a Fairfax freelancer to attack her and her family publicly; the government’s “Privacy Commissioner” then declared the actions of the minister and his officials to be appropriate.
  • The long-running saga of Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, both of whom acted legally and in compliance with advice from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in revealing a sordid, illegal act by ASIS in East Timor. Both continue to face harassment by the government.
  • Leaks from intelligence agencies aimed at the Chinese connections of Labor figures, while strong links between Beijing-aligned actors and the Liberals are ignored.

Ambit claims that partly failed

  • The original secrecy law reform package criminalised the mere receipt and handling of even innocuous information and proposed up to 15 years’ jail for whistleblowers.
  • Immigration attempted to sneak through a plan to collect biometric data on everyone passing through an airport in 2014.
  • The original data retention laws had no restrictions on police tracking down journalists’ sources.
  • The government backed down on its efforts to criminalise reporting of evidence of abuse and sexual assault of asylum seekers by medical personnel.

The theme of nearly all of these actions is that, where the government has capacity to use the law or funding, it attacks those who criticise it, subject it to scrutiny, or embarrass it by revealing misconduct. And it has done so in a systematic way, changing the law to give itself greater powers, making ambit claims in order to push through smaller increments of change, and using other legislation as cover for reforms to unrelated areas.

NEXT: why the push to an anti-dissent state, and why now?

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32 thoughts on “An incomplete list of evidence that Australia is becoming a police state

  1. Marcus Hicks

    Sadly some people in politics think that 1984 was a “how to guide”, not a warning.

  2. brian crooks

    the corruption practised by this coalition government is only possibly because of the stupidity and gullibility of brainwashed voters, by the time these idiots finally wake up to whats happening it will be too late to stop the right wing fascists police state from being firmly and irreversibly legislated in, their next step will be non compulsory voting and polling days moved to the middle of the week AKA the U.S and Britain , the dumbness of the masses never fails to amaze me, like mushrooms, they love being kept in the dark and fed on mushrooms, and dont bank on labor winning the next election and righting the wrongs, the liberals and their masters will never tolerate that, perhaps a faked terrorist emergency and the cancelling of elections is not beyond these ruthless bastards to hold onto power, Adolph Dutton would not be too concerned at the prospect.

    1. brian crooks

      mistake, should read, kept in the dark and fed on bullshit. like mushrooms

  3. zut alors

    ‘…something about Australians and our collective personality…’

    It’s called apathy. We are easily distracted while our liberties are being eroded. And the main media players are failing to report or analyse these developments.

  4. klewso

    Ask the Experts – Herm Göring knew a thing or two about this sort of stuff.
    He said ” … the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
    Timeless text book stuff what? This government hates scrutiny as much as it does criticism – this is what it does to protect itself from such embarrassment.

    1. klewso

      …. That’s why it cultivates Murdoch and his Limited News – while he/they want something they’ll give good PR in return.

    2. AR

      Not forgetting his mate Goebbel’s use of the Hitler dictum “ people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one” in the Beobachter which our version, the mudorc press, follows.

  5. Weliveinhope

    I agree with your summation Bernard. Does anyone remember an old ABC drama which finished with a military coup and tanks on the steps of parliament?

    1. B.C.

      Was that “Burn the Butterflies” with Ray Barrett as the Prime Minister?

  6. Adrian

    The government’s “privacy commissioner” has no credibility after the Andie Fox case.

    1. 1984AUS

      Exactly, worth quoting Crikey for those that missed it:

      “In an astonishing decision that has taken more than a year, the acting Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has absolved Tudge and the bureaucrats, declaring (with no explanation) that they can use private information “if the individual would reasonably expect it to do so.”

      “What Alan Tudge and his bureaucrats at the Department of Human Services did to Andie Fox was contemptible and chilling.

      Fox had dared to publicly criticise DHS for its badly flawed Robodebt program.

      For that, she was singled out for exemplary punishment: the department and Tudge obtained private information they held on Fox and her family and passed it to a blogger Paul Malone, who used it to criticise Fox in a piece for the Canberra Times.

      Tudge, the bureaucrats, Malone and the editors of the Canberra Times have never been held accountable for this. Now, they never will be.

      In an astonishing decision that has taken more than a year, the acting Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk has absolved Tudge and the bureaucrats, declaring (with no explanation) that they can use private information “if the individual would reasonably expect it to do so.”

      “Reasonably expect to do so.”

      So, from now on, you can “reasonably expect” that the government has carte blanche to use your private information to publicly attack you should you dare to seek to hold it to account, under the guise of “correcting the record”.

      The goal is not, of course, to correct the record but to deter critics. The supposed independent privacy protections built into Commonwealth law will offer you no protection.

      Criticise the government, you can end up like Andie Fox, the details of your personal life spread by some blogger in your local rag.

      Given politicians like these, and the failure of the Commonwealth privacy protection apparatus to protect citizens like Andie Fox, it confirms yet again that only a properly entrenched bill of rights can protect us from politicians and bureaucrats determined to attack our basic rights.


      It’s important to name the public servants involved in this, along with Tudge and his then-chief of staff

      Andrew Asten.

      They shouldn’t be able to hide their smug faces in anonymity:

      Secretary Kathryn Campbell;

      Deputy Secretary Jonathan Hutson;

      Chief Legal Counsel Annette Musolino;

      prolific departmental tweeter Hank Jongen.

      All deserve to be permanently linked to this.

      Their contribution to public service in Australia will be that they used personal information about someone who dared criticise the government.

      One wonders how much they’d enjoy having their private information splashed across the Canberra Times.

      And the supposed privacy protections established under Commonwealth law to protect us from them evidently aren’t worth a damn.

      But the government doesn’t think it has enough power of its citizens.

      Not anywhere near enough.

  7. Judy Hardy-Holden

    I thought we might have avoided a police state when Joh Bjelke-Petersen got the chop. I was fearful then and I am fearful now. Not in a raving loony type fearfulness but in a sad, dispirited type fearfulness. Our supposedly charming “she’ll be right” attitude leaves us vulnerable to those whose hands are on the levers of public control and this government with its grim legacy of right-wing nuttery lusts after all the control it can get.

    She’ll not be right, sheeple, if we leave it to those who have a vested interest in control. It does matter who makes what laws for whatever purpose. Being “Australian” does not clothe us in some magic cloak of invulnerability to political oppression. We can look just as stupid, mindless, surprised, traumatised as any other society that falls under a dictatorship.
    10/10 Bernard.

  8. AR

    The “beauty” of this approach is that few, if any, prosections even needd to occur – the process is the punishment as Joseph K found out.
    And Witness K over Timor Leste.
    And the Sydney airport Customs officer K.

  9. Djbekka

    Let’s face it, not so long ago governments used the phrase ‘not in the national interest’ to silence dissent, but soon most people recognised the phase to mean something like: ‘the interest of the government of the day’ or ‘you caught me there’, so the phase had to change. ‘security’ was substituted for ‘interest’ in the hope of frightening people. If such harsh measures are deemed necessary, someone must know about a really horrible threat. But no…no evidence of such threats are put forward and in the absence of information about threats or in the face of a few teenagers arrested for planning grandiose violence being caught at the grocery or farm produce store, people assume it is not really all that bad. Rather they/we think – of yes, the government has just turned up the language along with everyone else. So we are not afraid, nor alarmed, just very annoyed.

    That is not to say that the world is not scary, it is, just not in the way that locking up protesters will solve. Money is spent on military somethings to protect us, when it could have been spent on cleaning the air and water, on increasing the security of the internet we all use, etc. That is to say – really protecting us rather than toys for fear mongering boys.

    1. 1984AUS

      Not in the public interest either! AWB, treason committed by Howard, Vail, Downer; feeding and bribing the enemy.

      24/12/2013 ABC Rural
      Legal proceedings against two staff involved in the Australian Wheat Board’s kickbacks scandal in the late 1990s have been dropped.

      But the Australian Securities and Investment Commission will continue its actions against the former Chair and former General Manager of AWB.

      By 1999 Australian Wheat Board was selling 10 per cent of Australia’s annual wheat exports to Iraq, worth around $500m.

      But revelations it had paid millions in kickbacks to Iraq’s dictator Suddam Hussein prompted the Cole Royal Commission in 2005.

      It recommended action against AWB staff, and ASIC has successfully punished the former Managing Director of AWB, Andrew Lindberg and the former Chief Financial Officer Paul Ingleby. They were fined and disqualified from managing corporations.

      Now ASIC has dropped the proceedings against Charles Stott and Michael Long in the Supreme Court of Victoria because it found no fault with their dealings and it was no longer in the public interest.

  10. graybul

    Once before you you ‘stood’ Bernard. This time; to well and truly “bell the cat.” As said on that previous occasion . . . your post was best to date; and should have been on front page of all MSM. Today you return with countable, factual concerns underlining that original post.

    Martin Niemoller: “First they came for . . . .” / “And then they came for me . . . .”

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