Over the last few days, some pretty nasty stuff has been happening in the US. An unarmed African American teenager, Mike Brown, was shot and killed by police. According to witnesses, he had his hands up in the air, and clearly wasn’t a threat. Locals were outraged, and conducted some peaceful street protests. But the local police department didn’t want them protesting, so they sent in the SWAT team and anti-riot officers to attack the protesters.
Here’s a video of one of the protests
You’ll see the protesters are peaceful, but the police nonetheless fired tear gas and rubber bullets at them. All in a residential area.
I watched about 20 minutes of footage on a live stream, leading up to the above video. Nothing seemed to be happening that would warrant such aggression by police.
Here’s a photo of someone who got shot with a rubber bullet
Here’s a video of the reporters getting hit by tear gas
The following video shows Al Jazeera America journalists being specifically targeted with tear gas, to stop them filming. The SWAT team then moves in and dismantles their equipment, then other officers follow the journalists and tell them to leave. Other journalists apparently received similar treatment, and all were ordered to turn off their cameras (including a FOX crew).
Here’s a video of a cop threatening to shoot a journalist
In this video, you can hear one of the police officers threaten to shoot a cameraman from Argus Radio:
Get the fuck out of here. You get that light off, or you’re getting shot with this!”
Journalists were arrested too
Two journalists were arrested during the unrest in Ferguson. One from The Washington Post and one from The Huffington Post.
Australia is becoming a police state like the US
Now I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether Mike was or wasn’t a threat. Nor whether this protest was entirely peaceful. I don’t know enough about either event to comment. But what I do know is that there’s no justification for firing tear gas and rubber bullets at journalists who are just reporting on events. And from all I saw, no justification for targeting the protesters either.
So my question is, could this happen in Australia?
We like to think that this sort of thing is just something that happens in other countries, but I’d draw your attention to a few recent law changes (and proposed changes) that suggest it might not be as unlikely as we think. Australia is definitely heading down the path of a police state.
- The Australian government wants to introduce laws that would make it a criminal offence for journalists to leak information relating to ASIO’s ‘special intelligence operations’ (a new type of operation in which ASIO officers have immunity from liability or prosecution if they do something unlawful). So if a journalist discovers an ASIO officer is doing something illegal, and reports it, s/he could go to jail for 5 years.
- Victoria recently introduced laws that give police the power to arrest people just for peacefully protesting. Without evidence. These new laws specifically target protesters.
- The Australian government recently introduced a new code of conduct for Australian Public Service (APS) employees, which prohibit public servants from being “harsh or extreme in its criticism of the Government” on social media (even if anonymously). If they are, they can lose their job. And their workmates are compelled to dob them in if they see it happening. The APS employs more than 167,00 people, across a range of departments and agencies, including the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Australian Law Reform Commission, the Clean Energy Regulator and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. (Read the full list of APS agencies…) That’s a lot of people with a lot of key, relevant knowledge, who are now no longer allowed to voice their political opinions online…
- An Immigration Department employee was recently sacked over criticism on Twitter of Australia’s asylum seeker detention centres.
- A NSW TAFE teacher was recently threatened by the Department of Immigration over comments a friend of hers made on a private Facebook post. It’s important to note that this woman is a public servant, but NOT an APS employee. If ALL public servants can now be censored, not just APS employees, that’s 12.8% of all Australian voters who aren’t allowed to voice their political opinions online. (There are 14,812,090 enrolled voters in Australia and 1,891,300 public servants.)
- The Australian government wants to introduce laws that would require internet service providers (ISPs) like iiNet to retain all metadata relating to Australians’ internet use. And they want unrestricted access to this metadata, without a warrant. Metadata includes a history of all the websites we visit, the time and date of emails we send, who we send them to, and whether they were received, even the content of our tweets (possibly private DMs too, although I’m not 100% sure of this yet). At the moment, law enforcement agencies require a warrant to access this information.
- There is talk within the Coalition of banning environmental boycotts (i.e. campaigns against companies on the grounds that they’re selling products or services that damage the environment).
And that’s just the stuff I know about. I’m sure there’s plenty more. (Feel free to comment below if you know of more.)
Oh, and I filmed the below video at March in May Sydney. These individual police weren’t doing anything wrong. But it’s ridiculous that there were so many of them, for this small handful of peaceful protesters that hung back after March in May, Sydney. There were literally more police than protesters. And the riot squad?!
Are tear gas and rubber bullets next?
I know these policies and proposals don’t specifically allow for violence against journalists, but they illustrate how keen our government is to limit freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
You may think that sounds extreme, but I’m sure the residents of Ferguson and the journalists in the video above were pretty surprised by how things turned out for them, too.
Do you have any other examples of police-state stuff in Australia?
I’m no expert on this subject. I’ve followed the freedom of speech issues fairly closely, but the whole idea of a ‘police state’ has always seemed so foreign and so unlikely to me, that I haven’t focussed on it much. If you have any examples that show Australia is heading down that path, please comment.