Scott morrison coalition police state raids
(Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Scott Morrison’s improper intervention in the NSW Police investigation of the growing Angus Taylor scandal is yet another example of the police state that has been created in this country, by this government.

Overstatement? This week alone has served up plenty of evidence. On Tuesday, the Federal Court confirmed that police raids on the Australian Workers Union in 2017 were unlawful. The raids had been carried out at the request of the government’s bespoke anti-union body, the Registered Organisations Commission, in an investigation initiated by Michaelia Cash with the help of News Corp, targeting Bill Shorten.

Cash’s staff tipped off the media about the raids. Cash and her staff subsequently refused to talk to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) when that tip-off was investigated. The AFP and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) declined to charge anyone in relation to the leak.

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The lack of interest by the AFP and the DPP in ever charging anyone if it embarrasses the government is a recurring theme. The AFP, so gung-ho to raid journalist Annika Smethurst and subject her to hours of intimidation, strangely couldn’t summon the energy to pursue a leak relating to Medevac advice — very similar to the one over which Smethurst was raided — which served the interests of the government rather than embarrassing it.

Illegal AFP raids are also a recurring theme: during the 2016 election campaign, the AFP raided the homes and offices of a Labor senator and his staff, including in Parliament House, at the behest of NBN Co over leaks that had embarrassed the discredited infrastructure company.

Astonishingly, an NBN Co official accompanied the AFP to help direct them. That raid, too, proved improper, and the police were forced to hand the material back.

Meantime, someone within the government has forged what purports to be an official document of another government body — Sydney council — to serve the agenda of the Coalition. That no one within the Coalition appears to think this is in any way inappropriate says much for the overall ethical standards of those men and women, and particularly the prime minister.

Worse, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to call a person with whom he was personally acquainted — the NSW Police commissioner — to discuss a NSW Police investigation of the matter and politically justify his failure to take any action about the forgery.

Both Scott Morrison and Commissioner Mick Fuller, who is otherwise best known as an enthusiastic advocate for strip searching children, deny the conversation was inappropriate, but — typically — no records are available of the exchange.

This is how police are used in a police state — to go after one’s opponents and defend oneself and one’s allies.

Simultaneously, the attorney-general had his lawyers in court in Canberra this week delaying the trial of Bernard Collaery in relation to the exposure of illegal actions by the Howard government, as part of Porter’s strategy of dragging out the case as long as possible and to punish Collaery and pressure Witness K. Even the government’s hand-picked Director of Public Prosecutions has refused to support Porter’s repeated efforts to prevent the trial from getting underway.

The AWU raids. The Fuller call. The Collaery delays. Not one-offs or coincidence, but part of the pattern of what happens in a police state, where the government exercises arbitrary power using the police, and other state apparatus, in its own interests.

Each of them has individual significance, though, because each normalises or establishes a precedent for the abuse of law enforcement in the interests of the ruling party.

Politically initiated raids on journalists and unions and vexatious prosecutions and procedural harassment are now established as tools to pursue opponents or those who have embarrassed the government. A prime minister calling his friend the police commissioner about an investigation of his own minister is now defended as entirely appropriate.

The opposition opportunistically attacks the government on some of these, but is silent on others. Many of the laws now being used to pursue whistleblowers and government critics were passed with Labor support.

Labor approved the surveillance of Witness K and Bernard Collaery in government and has said nothing on their prosecution or Porter’s legal harassment of them. Its role is not of opposition but of co-conspirator.

The road to a police state tends to be a one-way street. Damaged institutions, forgotten ethics and abandoned standards don’t magically restore themselves without a fundamental commitment of political will or fundamental change in political structures. 

Unlike other countries, Australia doesn’t even have a constitutional framework to protect its citizens from their own government. Instead, the momentum to keep on abusing power persists. It will open the way to new, worse forms of abuse.

Do you think Australia is slipping further into a police state? Let us know your thoughts at [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be included for publication.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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