Australia – Benevolent fascism, the approaching future
Australia is in the news, the images of police officers imposing themselves on the citizenry has drawn the attention of international critics. It has also raised admiration for those who have big government inclinations. For some it has been declared that Australia has fallen as a free society. Australia should now be considered a police state. Australia however has a history of being a police state. The balance between individual freedom and an overbearing government has been one of constant uneven sways over time and it usually takes a crisis to bring down the full weight of authoritarianism. And most Australians have always been fine with this.
The COVID pandemic has tested individuals and governments, it has shown the true nature of many. Revealing a dangerous dependence that all of us have been forced to place on government monopolies from health and infrastructure to security and in a lot of cases, income. The lockdown culture of not only Australian state governments but the world has shown an irrational and reactionary impulse to rule and control, not just to stop a virus but dissent itself. It is claimed that it is for all of our health, it is scientific and that it is to save as many lives as possible. No room for debate, only obey and do as one is told. It is the science of law, order and health.
In practice it has been at times random, arbitrary, inconsistent, unscientific and only some lives it seems really matter over others. The police has been a crucial element in the fight against the citizenry during the recent pandemic. It has been the police that have enforced laws that have destroyed the economy and put lives indirectly in jeopardy. Last year entire towers in Melbourne were instantly quarantined and the individuals inside only access to the outside world was via the police. Those trapped were treated as criminals and were sacrificed in an attempt to “flatten the curve”, Melbourne itself would soon suffer an almost indefinite lock down cycle. The curve was never flattened.
As is the trend in liberal democracies, partisan politics alleviates blame from specific government departments. The police and experts are viewed as amoral objects who are wielded by incompetent and power hungry politicians. Regardless of the political leadership these technocrats, officials and police members remain the same. Australia has a history of governance via experts and panels. The politicians usually help legitimise such measures. When it comes to excessive policing. It is not a political leadership problem. It is a problem from the ground up. Morality, right and wrong are exercised by the individual. “Just doing a job” or “Just following orders” is a cowards shield by which to hide beneath.
It is not just an Australian phenomenon to see the police inserting themselves more and more into the citizens day to day. It is however an Australian tradition to lean heavily onto policing for numerous crisis’s. The police are an important tool for the state and federal governments in Australia and act as the aggressive arm of both to impose and implement policy while also to protect the government itself. Australia projects itself as being a free society that values human rights, over time and at times in its own history it has a patchwork of authoritarianism which is more common than many wish to admit.
“Australian police forces were similarly founded on violence: racist violence, imperial violence and settler colonial violence. Some of the earliest forms of state policing were established with the specific purpose of extending the colonial frontier.” Amanda Porter, Senior fellow at Melbourne Law School.
Many historians on colonial Australia consider that the early policing models were not based upon British community methods and organisation but instead were a paramilitary model that was used around the time to impose imperial oppression in Ireland. A lot of these traditions have remained in Australian policing and in how the various governments have continued to wield it. Public health and safety mandates are often the fixture of policing in Australia along with the ever aggressive war on terror.
Beyond the state level Australia has numerous federal agencies that are granted great powers which obey the department of Home Affairs and likely in the coming years will grow more powerful in reach, focus and powers. The boundaries of colonial expansion may have been fulfilled but those into the individuals private life and against their rights are a frontier that Australian police agencies are continuing to encroach upon. To understand the Australian ‘police state’ we must also understand certain aspects of Australian history and social norms that have made the modern situation possible and why it really is not that unusual or unexpected.
Australians are now in a society where they need to tune in to listen to government officials to find out what they can and can not do. It is a nation that is run on press conferences where most Australians watch the television with an obedience to find out the infection and death numbers, while hanging on to the every word of experts and government ministers. In a recent incident those from regional NSW found themselves under lock down mandates with only a tweet as the official announcement. The tweet posted at 3pm, stated that by 5pm all of regional NSW would be in a 7-day lockdown. The police an ever active enforcement on those who, do not have twitter or heard about such a spontaneous announcement.
While Australia is in the media abroad, most Australians are oblivious to the condemnation and the risk that lies ahead for them. It is a future uncertain but with the promise of safety nets and blankets provided by a scientific government of planners and scientists. It is a government that is based upon altruistic welfare and reactionary impulses, while also being steered by careful trends of academic hubris. It is a nation of public servants and an ever dependent public. The police exist to protect not so much the individual, certainly not freedom but the nation state itself. And in an expression of true democracy, perhaps the mob of the majority welcome and embrace this. Because many are apart of it in some way.
“Australia’s federal constitution does not protect fundamental human rights nor does it regulate the use of force by the police. Australia‘s federal rules on police use of force generally comply with international standards although an amended law in New South Wales allows use of firearms against suspected terrorists where no imminent threat is perceived. “ Policing Law, The Law on Police Use of Force Worldwide.
For the advocates of government, especially an all powerful one that is responsible for every aspect of human life a powerful and active police force is crucial. It is the ugly truth that confuses Utopian governance with the dystopian truths of practical history. In the past besides aspects of moral puritanism the individuals health and body was their own domain. In the modern era of public health we are seeing the unification of the health and police state.
Australia has a populace that believe in the existence of a public health system. It is an ideological abstract which is rarely challenged. It is considered a right to all Australians to have access to “free health” regardless of any failings, scarcity and prohibition of choice that such a system presents. Because of this the individuals body becomes a shared entity, one that the State is expected to care for and in many aspects control. Despite the majority wanting such a powerful health system, the past belief in individual body autonomy still lingers in the minds of even the advocates of public health.
So Australia is going through a cross roads between human rights and the call for greater powers to the health care system over the public and individuals themselves. The COVID pandemic has elevated the conflict between these two perspectives. Those who advocate public health as a right also want the individual to have the right of health autonomy. The reality is that a powerful public health system controls what medication and treatment an individual has access to, it also creates extended waiting periods and it also has the ability to determine treatment based on wider concerns than the individuals own health. Those concerns often being cost, time, resources and the fatigue-availability of health practitioners.
It is an almost impossible fight for individual liberty when public health is entrenched in Australian society as a ‘collective good’. The wider implications of costs, shortages and a lack of alternative treatments are disregarded in favour of a one payer system that homogenises and centralises medicine. It is assumed that a free market of health would leave the poor under the bus and become expensive but it is the health state that creates dependence and makes it harder for many to actually get treatment, not to mention lengthy waiting periods and a lack of accountability when things go wrong.
The police and at times the militarily have been used to quarantine entire cities and states, separate families and treat individuals as criminals because they “may” be sick. This is the new reality that health mandates and a powerful health state brings with it. Whatever pretence of human rights is lost and ignored because it is declared a crisis. Just as the war on terror allows the police to trample on the freedoms that terror organisations threaten a powerful police state can snatch those liberties away in the name of security. In matters of public health the individual is isolated and condemned as being selfish and placing others at risk, should they seek independence and autonomy. So as is in the war on terror, those who question government over reach or act differently are marginalised as being a threat to the wider community.
It is not a too distant future in Australia where individuals may be forced to take medication against their will, receive procedures that they do not want or denied access to friends and families based upon health status. The public health system has become so important that the private citizen has little choice and say over their own body. The imperial approach and dominion over the individual is always done with a benevolent parental tone, assuming that all individuals are childlike or a risk to everyone else. Which is the hallmark of the public health system in the first place, one way with little regard to individual needs, wants and complexities.
The emergency powers of government allows it to disregard international laws and its own domestic laws that it has promised to uphold. These are the special exceptional powers of all government, not just Australian. War allows a nation to declare martial law, curfews and grants itself extraordinary powers. The health crisis and mandates are treated as such, the rule of law never really exists. It is an illusion that dupes those who romance government and believe that it stands for human rights. It always serves itself and grows. The health state is just another aspect of the leviathans reach and control.
Just as a person consuming or selling “illicit materials” is considered a public threat regardless of their actual actions, so too can the benign existence of those individuals who do not want the same medical procedures and medications of others whether because of ethical reasons or because it may be a direct danger to their health. Elements within the wider community have in recent times reported on such individuals and tar them, as being selfish and super spreaders of the virus that is apparently the greatest threat to human existence. “Dobbing is the new patriotism” as one commentator put it.
Because a large part of the populace support the government regardless of political party affiliations and consider the experts as being the absolute authority, regardless of human rights and individual liberty, the health state has a large community of active ‘dobbers’ who will inform the police of businesses, families and people that are defying the mandates and rules that are constantly being amended during the current Covid crisis. Those doing the ‘dobbing’ are often doing it because they genuinely believe that those in breech of such laws are dangerous and reckless or as is often cited, being selfish. And in other instances a more cynical aspect of jealousy and spite likely steer the dobbers actions.
One police officer during the last South Australian state lockdown claimed that their phone lines were non-stop with members of the public reporting number plates of vehicles driving during the period or giving information on those who were suspected of being in breech of the lockdown, In 2020, wives were informing on their husbands who dared to sneak in a late night dog walk and beach goers were filmed swimming on their own in the sun. It is not just a legal problem but a cultural one.
Why is all of this talk about public health so important? Because it is one key aspect of modern Australian culture, the ingrained importance of the government to most people and what empowers the police force in their present conduct. The sword and spear of the Australian government are the police forces and the military. Both of which are becoming more of a Swiss Army Knife apparatus with so many uses to be wielded, removing the key conceptual function of such entities. The public belief in what the police and military do or should do, is often in contrast with the reality of what they are being asked to do and continue to do.
The anti-lockdown protests in Australia have become a divisive issue, the protesters involved are accused of being “conspiracy theorists” and “anti-vaxxers” in an attempt to label them as simpletons, some certainly are. Not all. Such simplified claims ignore very real grievances and frustrations. Those sympathetic and wary of police powers can see a heavy handed response and a media backlash that has not given a balanced perspective. In an age where diversity and being inclusive is promoted, when it comes matters of political opinions, ones own health and dissent there is not allowances only the binary view. Stupid-dangerous-selfish vs Smart-Responsible-scientific.
The war on the virus has created a paranoia and obsession with defeating an entity through laws and violence against individuals. It is the belief that more government can somehow make people healthy and safe. Just like the war on terror it looks to erode the freedom that it boasts to safeguard and instead empowers the police state to the point that a nation becomes a prison full of either compliant and eager subjects who believe in such measures or those who are forced to suffer it despite their instincts and desires for liberty. Or to be left alone.
What empowers the police state is in its benevolent claim of safety and security. Public health is extremely important to Australian government and the wider public. To question the public health system is taboo and often political suicide, it is a civic religion. The wider implications and dangers of such a system are ignored and denied and instead inevitably more funding and overhauls are demanded. In turn it gives all control to the government in regards to individual and community health, because no real free market exists, regulations are so extensive and the many laws that are in place not only is alternatives impossible but people become dependent on the government for all their needs. In a pandemic this empowers the government during and after to such a point that it is impossible to turn off the spigot of dependence.
Lock in Hospitals of World War Two
The police and policing powers for health and moral emergency was ever present before Federation when mostly women were subject to humiliation and medical imprisonment because they may spread ‘venereal disease’. Not to mention the segregation of whites and non-whites in hospitals and other aspects of society. Often for reasons of health, according to the experts of the time. During the second world war when the Australian government and especially the state government of Queensland treated VD and sexually transmitted disease with an authoritarian approach.
During parts of world war two Australia was in many regions under martial law. Oftentimes this was by the US military as well as the Australian government. From segregation to abuse against anyone who was suspected of being an enemy agent, the police state was in full effect. It was with a perverse intrusion when VD was raised as being both a health crisis and a moral panic that individuals were abducted, examined and quarantined in humiliating ways and with no regards for their rights.
Women who were suspected of being infected of a VD were examined thoroughly and then imprisoned in what was known as “Lock in” hospitals. Remaining until they were cured or held for extended periods afterwards. The concern was that such women may infect the men and thus harm the war effort. The public health of the nation was crucial to the war effort.
As a contrast, men, especially servicemen who had contracted the diseases were treated as outpatients. It was for the women during this time that a confusing double standard was imposed, in one hand a woman was meant to be chaste and moral and not participate in sexual acts. While also a vast number of women were expected to function as ‘whores’ or women to comfort the Australian and allied servicemen. Those women who had contracted a VD were locked away until they were cured, and then put back out so that they may service the allied soldiers. And at other times women who were considered spreaders of VD were shamed and humiliated and in some government propaganda considered a greater threat to the war effort than the Japanese military itself. The police were often used to ‘hospitalise’ women suspected of being spreaders and placing them in medical custody, where they were locked away.
“When the sense of national danger was most acute in those initial months of 1942, the Australian people revealed a virtually unanimous and unequivocal willingness to accept this unprecedented regimentation, restriction and restraint.” Kay Saunders, War on the Homefront, State intervention in Queensland 1938-48.
A health emergency was also both a national crisis and a moral one. Whether it is against sexually transmitted illness or against recreational drug, it is a matter where both police and the legal powers of government are used in an excessive way. It is the only way that Australian governments on a state and federal level tend to know how to conduct themselves. Individuals forced into ambulances and then locked into medical facilities is something that would happen only in despotic nations like the Peoples Republic of China it is commonly thought, and yet the Australian government has done it in the past and likely will do it all the more in the near future.
War on Drugs
Australia has been an extremely enthusiastic nation in the war on drugs. It has used the prohibition of certain substances to justify a lot of excessive policing and put many people in jail because of these laws against substances. Such a war has also helped to create the ‘bikie’ culture giving many forms of organised crime a cash cow to profit on the black market. Like everywhere that has attempted prohibitions, it has been a failure and lead to wider unexpected consequence.
Australia has one of the worse Crystal Methamphetamine addiction rates among the developed world, the heavy handed approach and harsh prohibitions have failed. While in the past marijuana was the fixation of law enforcement, the black market has developed harsher strains of the plant while finding alternatives to the many other party drugs. Leading to the current “ice” or “meth” “epidemics”.
Before COVID the Australian drug problem was the public health emergency. A tough on crime attitude and a pariah status for anyone that has participated in drugs has created a “them” and “us” culture. Even though most individuals have experimented with one form of another of the many prohibited substances at sometime, those among government included. All drugs are deemed as being highly additive, harmful and a threat to the public health system.
The Australian police are enthusiastic drug warriors. At every level. With the Federal Police in more than one occasion going abroad to purchase heroin, bringing it back into the nation where they could then use it to entrap dealers. Breaking their own laws and with little regard of the morality of such actions, it is the outcome in getting the bad guys that matters to police and prosecutors. The Australian media and public lavishly swallow up the reporting on successful operations where drugs are denied entry onto Australian streets.
Every banned and controlled substance is treated with the same level of danger and threat. The ever expanding list of banned substances creates less choice for individuals and gives the police and government greater control and means to intrude into their personal lives. A resentment of those who profit from the drug trade helps to spurn on the prohibition war. It is one of both envy of those who are able to make a tax free income while also, as in many cases those involved in the trade are less than noble human beings. Lost in the middle, as always, is the real victims and room for reasonable debate and consideration.
The ‘Bali Nine’ are Australian citizens who were arrested in Indonesia for transporting drugs. Two of which have been executed by firing squad, one dying of cancer in prison another being deported while five remain likely to rot for the rest of the lives inside an Indonesian jail. The Australian Federal Police were responsible in tipping off the Indonesian authorities which lead to the extrajudicial killings of the Australian citizens and heavy punishment that the others have received. The widespread indifference to the plight of these individuals at time revealed a savage forecast of things to come, where those who go against the laws of the land are viewed with no or little regard and empathy at all.
“This is the harsh reality for Australians who go overseas and become involved in serious crimes,” Australian police commissioner Andrew Colvin, 2005 to the media over the fate of the ‘Bali Nine’.
The Australian government exhibits both an at times caring and paternal attitude to those who have drug addictions with extensive treatment plans, out reach and free needles for users. Those who ‘deal’ and are involved in party or performance enhancing drugs the attitude is stern and extreme. Personal liberties are crushed. If one has a sudden spike in their electricity usage or a sudden income change, these can be grounds for a police raid or search. The onus is on the individual to justify and prove their innocence regardless of actual evidence. Or credibility in the war on drugs itself.
As an example in NSW, part of the ‘Music Festival Harm Reduction’ police officers detain and search anyone suspected of being in possession of drugs while at a music event. Including those under the age of eighteen. In February 2020, Forty-four teenagers from ages 13 to 17 were searched, twelve were stripped searched of those six were found to have drugs on them. To have armed adults of the NSW police kidnap teenagers, hold them against their will, strip them and then molest them in the name of public health is a typical example of the measures that are often accepted.
Because six were found to be violating the law, this some how justifies the humiliation and trauma suffered by others. The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission said that police officers conducting strip searches on children was ‘potential unlawful’. But they do and get away with it, despite their own laws. In 2019 at the same music festival 30 teenagers were strip searched, but the amount who were in possession of an illegal substance is unknown. In some cases armed adults forcibly taking the virginity of a teenager because they need to internally search them for a banned substance is rationalised because it is somehow going to keep that individual and the wider community safe.
“What we know is that in the majority of strip searches absolutely nothing is found, and what we do know for sure is that strip searches are traumatic, invasive and … therefore should only occur as an absolute last resort,” Samantha Lee, Redfern Legal Centre.
When the police are used it is always the last resort it seems, it is for the discretion of the police to decide what measures to take. They are used by the government in all means and especially for health matters and in doing so they have an authoritarianism that is of good conscience, because it is for the ‘greater good’. This will ensure that what civil rights are violated are done with a measure of greater consideration. The abstract of “good” transcends the humiliation, shame and worse of the individual in those intimate moments when they are violated. Many in the pubic support the cops and what they do, regardless.
“Prohibition has not worked. Our lawmakers know it, and admit it privately. Should they fail to countenance change publicly, they will merely be putting their own misguided self-interest above the public interest. That is a cruel betrayal.“ The Age editorial, 29 November 2016.
With QR codes and contact tracing, the discussion of further surveillance of Australians to minimise the spread of Covid and in the case of the war on drugs, placing members of the public on lists and denying them travel and the ability to mail or receive items from abroad. All measures that are accepted and condoned. In time they will be quaint memories of a more liberal time, when the future brings far more dire and extreme measures of law and order. It will be done as an act of benevolence, for health and safety and the mob of Australians in the greater community will welcome it with closed borders and locked down cities. Because it is for the greater good, and that is apparently the Aussie way. And now in the twenty-first century, to quote Dr. Steve Brule everything can now be done “For Your Health.”
End of Part One.