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Identify and Disrupt

In August 2020, while Australians were suffering through the first wave of covid-19 restrictions, a bill was passed through parliament to give authorities the ability to spy on - and even impersonate! - Australians, without their knowledge and consent.

This unprecedented legislation gives federal police spying powers, by their gaining access to social media and email accounts, where they can add and delete information, as well as send messages. All that is required is the ‘suspicion’ of criminal activity.

The proper safeguards recommended by the specially set up bipartisan joint committee were not legislated, and the bill was easily passed, thus giving authorities extraordinary powers to target individuals based on ‘suspicion’. In the wrong hands, who is to say that these laws aren’t being used against those who publicly challenge authorities, to take down and suppress opposing opinions?

It gives the AFP powers to not only spy, but also allows them to “identify and disrupt” their suspects’ messages to their online correspondents and email recipients, by impersonating the account holder. And they can do this without a warrant that is signed by a judge or magistrate, only an approval issued by the government’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020, is now awaiting Royal Assent.

The question is: How much power does the government need over its people? And will we see these powers abused, especially given that amendments originally proposed to:

  • include safeguards, so that warrants must specify the types of activities proposed, and

  • be “reasonably necessary and proportionate”, and

  • include a sunset clause that would have these powers expire in five years,

were defeated with Labor’s support.

We hear it said that guns are only dangerous in the wrong hands. Given the track record of our government and their disproportionate use of power, could their criteria for ‘suspicion’ and ‘criminal activity’ include anyone who disagrees with their heavy-handed tactics? Now, given the arrest of Reignite Democracy Australia’s Monica Smit this week, one can deduce that the chances are high.

Monica, a consistent anti-lockdown campaigner, has recently been garnering international attention as her organisation gathers momentum. Arrested and charged with incitement, and allegedly opposing the Victorian government’s lockdown policy, this is a perfect case-in-point of overreach.

It gets worse. Monica’s bail conditions are to shut down her organisation and all associated websites and social media accounts, and to cease expressing her opposition publicly. Monica has refused these conditions, so effectively she is now a political prisoner, held indefinitely for having, and expressing, an opinion that is different from that of the government. In light of this, we can no longer brag about living in a free, democratic country.

Of interest, Reignite Democracy Australia is awaiting approval from the electoral commission, to become a registered political party, which neatly leads me to my next point: the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill, which aims to restrict the small parties from being registered, or remaining registered, thereby giving greater dominance to the major parties. Clearly this is an attempt to stifle political opposition from emerging parties like IMOP and Australian Representatives, who truly value democracy.

The newly formed political party, Australian Representatives, speak about the problems with centralised, top-down government; their proposal for a more open-source model is available on their website.

They illuminate the problems with hierarchical, command-and-control structures, absent of checks and balances, allowing “those who take control of the apical” (top) ”positions” to “take control of the whole structure and easily bend it to interests other than their constituencies”.

This form of structure results in a government that treats parliament, its processes, and its very reason for existence, with contempt, and no longer properly engages with its constituents, making decisions using biased and often limited information, disregarding anything contrary to their agenda.

Any top-down system suffers from rigidity, because those operating within it only respond to those above them, and no honest feedback loop is possible to achieve. This lack of genuine, open communication will leave behind a trail of errors, but also encourages the ambitious coming up the ranks to support and exploit what is broken, further segregating their leaders from reality.

Yesterday, in another example of political control, the private members bill, No Domestic COVID Vaccine Passports Bill 2021 was defeated 46 to 2, in spite of several petitions signed by thousands of Australians who don't want such invasive and divisive laws in this country. The only two members who voted for it were Craig Kelly and George Christensen.

There has never been a more critical time to pay attention to what our politicians are doing. And with elections looming, now is the time to identify our options and disrupt their duopoly, using our votes.

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