Australia: The End of Freedom
An Essay for the Centenary of Federation
By Susan Bryce
© 2000 by New Dawn Magazine and the respective authors

Traditionally, bells have tolled as a warning of danger. On January 1st this year, millions of Australians participated in the "ringing of the bells", marking the beginning of Centenary of Federation celebrations. Bells in halls, churches, towns and suburbs chimed in unison. Few realised the ironic significance of this event. The bells that chimed in celebration might just have easily been ringing out a chilling warning - that freedom in Australia is coming to an end.1
This article examines how rights and freedoms that were once the cornerstone of Australian nationhood have been stripped away by creeping and insidious bureaucratic laws that pervade almost every aspect of our lives. Most of us believe that we are 'free' and will quickly parrot rhetoric about living in a democracy and a society that offers 'a fair go' for all. However, the reality is that Australia is evolving into a big brother totalitarian style state.
The burgeoning power of government to interfere in and determine people's lives is of major concern to civil libertarians. Political activists are increasingly raising concerns about the subtle psychological conditioning of the population which occurs as more and more citizens immerse themselves in a spurious culture of consumerism. The majority appear apathetic and indifferent, happy to let the nanny state take care of things. Academics cautiously refer to this listlessness as the dumbing down of the nation.2 Mired in the illusion of freedom, we seem to have turned into complacent participants in our own slavery.
Tracking Your Every Movement
From dawn to dusk, the routine events of life are being tracked, recorded and analysed. Cheaper computing power and a vastly expanding Internet - Australia now has the second highest Internet use in the world - have enabled businesses, government agencies and many others to watch what was once unwatchable and glean meaning and profit from everyday activities.3 Data giants such as Kerry Packer's Axciom have created dossiers containing names, addresses, incomes, purchases and other details about millions of Australians. Profile specialists make models of what consumers are likely to do or buy. All the while, data miners look for data to sell.
Tracking technologies are now ubiquitous. The revolution in information technology means that surveillance of our daily activities has become cheap and easy. In the 1970s the Centre for Strategic and International Studies declared that EFTPOS could be employed as a universal, unobtrusive surveillance system to keep track of a person's movements. Australians have embraced EFTPOS since its introduction in the early 1980s. As the financial institutions say, it is now 'Everybody's Favourite Way To Pay For Something'! Besides the potential for unobtrusive individual surveillance, EFTPOS has provided supermarkets with the ability to collect information about shopping habits, allowing stores to offer discounts and special promotions to keep profitable customers coming back.
When people visit their favourite Web sites, a computer is almost certainly watching. Most Web sites use 'cookies,' strings of numbers and symbols that enable the site to track online movements. On the way home from work, a typical family might use a loyalty card to receive a discount on groceries. The grocery store records every purchase made and adds those details to a database file. The grocery's marketers use the database to track eating and spending habits, and to make personalised offers to customers.
On the highways and by-ways the surveillance cameras are rolling. Safe-T-Cam, a network of big brother cameras installed on the highways in New South Wales, monitors entry to the state and keeps speeding trucks in check. In Melbourne Transurban, the owner of the CityLink tollway, plans to photograph cars that use the tollway illegally, without an e-tag or a day pass. The information will be passed to police for further action.
There are now more than 500,000 surveillance cameras installed across Australia. They monitor everything from shopping malls to roads, national parks and housing estates. They have even been installed in schools, on the pretext of combating drug use. These silent sentinels are akin today to what the Babushkas were to Stalinist Russia. The Babushkas where elderly women, usually grandmothers, employed by the state to sit at the entrance of apartment blocks to monitor tenants and visitors. They would report suspicious activities to the secret police.
Just 15 years ago Australians took to the streets to protest against the introduction of an identity card. Now we can't wait for our nightly instalment of Big Brother on TV. In France, civil libertarians dumped manure at the production studios where Big Brother was being made. In the land down under, Big Brother does not even disturb or challenge consciousness, as viewers switch on to be routinely chloroformed by a minutiae of celebrities' lives. Big Brother has become an entertaining spectacle, not a concept to be treated with suspicion.
New Privacy Violations
Australians are becoming more and more willing to give up their privacy for whatever degree of convenience they can get. The revolution in information technology has resulted in mass acceptance of computer technology, applied in all aspects of life. Things which even a decade ago would have revolted most Australians - microchipping domestic pets, smart cards, biometric identification, surveillance cameras - are now embraced as the triumphs of the information revolution and an imperative element of the 'safety' society. Soft sister has replaced big brother.
Continuing privacy invasive proposals by the federal government are omnipresent. Proposals for the use of political control technologies frequently used in tin pot dictatorships are a high priority on the agenda. There have been numerous proposals for Medicare databases, to be operated by the Health Insurance Commission. In 1996, the Australian Electoral Commission, drawing on advice from ASIO, proposed the introduction of a biometric voter identification card "for democracy". In the wake of the country's first DNA testing of an entire male population at Wee Waa, there were renewed calls for a national DNA database for criminals. Most recently, a new ID card proposed by the federal Justice department would force every Australian citizen to provide DNA samples and undergo eyeball retina scans which would form part of the card.
The unleashing of Australia's New Tax System, supported by both political parties, has consigned millions of small and micro businesses to relative insignificance when compared to the powerful institutions which spy on their incomes. Masses of people feel deeply insecure in this world of dislocation and rapid change. The New Tax System, the cause of economic strangulation for many, has forced taxpayers to become unpaid tax collectors, drowning in a mountain of paperwork imposed by trivial record keeping and documentation requirements. Under the new system, payments in cash are becoming suspicious, the implication being that 'legitimate' businesses will conduct transactions electronically.
While government scare tactics had everyone clamouring to 'register' for an Australian Business Number (ABN), few stopped to investigate the real significance of the sweeping changes that were being introduced. The ABN is a public number that anyone can verify. The real big brother bogey is the Digital Signature Certificate (DSC), issued to everyone who applied for an ABN. At present, only those who do business with the Australian Tax Office online have received their DSC's - the rest lie in wait. In the context of the Internet, digital signature schemes are being devised to force individuals to identify themselves consistently when communicating electronically. No one is yet proposing that possession of a digital signature be compulsory, and some might think its 'optional' or 'voluntary' nature, as a tool for business and the technologically literate, would remove privacy concerns. However, if individuals increasingly find it necessary to provide digital signatures for mainstream transactions, and to participate effectively in cyberspace, it is likely that they will be forced to establish their identities with one or more certification authorities in order to do so.
More Powers for Spooks
Surveillance of citizens financial affairs is not just the exclusive domain of the Australian Tax Office. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) had its powers greatly expanded in the lead up to the 2000 Olympic Games. Under the ASIO Legislation Amendment Act, Australia's internal spy agency now has access to banking and tax records and can obtain financial transactions data from the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC). AUSTRAC itself routinely reports 'suspicious' transactions of $10,000 or more to law enforcement authorities for further investigation.
This dramatic "functional creep" in the role of ASIO has seen the organisation take on some of the activities usually in the domain of State and Federal police forces. ASIO has powers to open citizens mail, intercept communications, place listening devices in peoples' homes and offices, and tap phones. The Olympic Games provided the legislative go ahead to obtain emergency warrants, plant tracking devices on people, and hack into computers. ASIO also has authority to collect foreign intelligence and can intercept articles delivered by private couriers and Australia Post. ASIO is also authorised to crack and modify password control systems and encryption programs in computers. This provides the opportunity for the sabotage of web sites, email facilities, and internal communication systems.
In a submission to federal parliament about ASIO, the Australian Civil Liberties Union warned:
While a trust in the agencies of a democracy is appropriate, history and the experience of other countries have established that rogue intelligence-gathering agencies are uniquely placed to fabricate evidence, blackmail officials and engage in individual espionage. Only an extra-agency review of these powers can provide safeguards against the possibility of ASIO abusing the powers for the government of the day, for the agency or an agent's personal purposes.4
Also in the lead up to the Olympic Games, Australians saw the passage of the Defence Legislation Aid to the Civil Power Act, which gave wide ranging new powers to the military operating in civilian situations. The military now have legal authority to seize buildings, places and means of transport; detain people; search premises; seize possessions and shoot to kill. Opponents of the bill argued for a sunset clause, but were overruled by the majority in Canberra.
Police State Measures
As social conditions and standards of living decay, the political establishment is increasingly turning to police state measures to maintain control.
Long-standing legal and democratic rights are being clawed back while police are being handed far-reaching powers, designed specifically for use against ordinary citizens. The sweeping increases to police powers recently proposed by New South Wales Premier Bob Carr will repudiate one of the traditional principles of the English-based legal system - that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.
Under the guise of cracking down on drug related crime, it will become an offence, punishable by up to five years' jail, to enter or leave a dwelling identified by police as a "drug house". No evidence has to be produced that illegal substances are on the premises, or that anyone sold, handled or used them. Instead, those arrested will be obliged to prove a negative - that neither they nor the building have any association with drugs. Officers will be able to subject anyone arrested under the legislation to a forced medical examination to detect traces of illicit drugs, and people can be convicted regardless of whether or not evidence of drugs is found. The penalties will be one year's jail for a first offence and five years for a second offence.
NSW Law Society president Nick Meagher described the NSW legislation as "Nazi-style" because it "rips out the basic legal tenet of innocence until proven guilty." NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy commented: "The criminal justice system in Australia was built on principles designed, above all else, to protect the innocent. These principles are now being eroded and the rights and liberties of ordinary citizens are being removed."
Extra police powers are often justified by the perception created by governments, the police, the judiciary and the media that society is under siege by crime, and everyday life proceeds under a cloud of fear. The revolution in information technology means that almost anyone, regardless of whether they are literate or not, can be alerted to the 'crisis of crime' via television, radio, newspapers or the Internet. Many Australians are now virtual prisoners in their own homes. Paralysed by fear of criminal activity, they are apprehensive about venturing out alone in their cars, or on public transport - let alone on foot. Instead, they are voluntarily detained and have become prisoners in their own homes: barricaded by iron grills, security screens, deadlocks, motion detecting lights, alarms, padlocks, dogs and high fences. The rising popularity of 'gated communities' is a testament to these fears. Designed to keep out the 'riff raff', gated communities are completely enclosed by perimeter security fencing and accessible only by swipe card. In some instances, a staffed 'check point' marks the entry. Inside, security officers are 'on patrol' and surveillance cameras roll. Despite paranoia about crime, figures compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal that between 1993 and 1998 there was no statistically significant increase in the main crime categories - household break-ins, attempted break-ins, motor vehicle theft and sexual assault.
Federal and State election campaigns now typically involve a joust between political parties trying to outbid each other in areas such as boosting police numbers, enhancing police powers and requiring the judiciary to deliver harsher sentences. These campaigns divert attention from the relentless cuts to education, health and public services that have left many Australians with little or no forms of social support - the real cause of much petty crime. The resulting despair and destitution is blamed on the individuals who suffer the consequences of official policy.
Today, police work is regularly augmented by 'community policing', to 'prevent crime' and create a 'safer' environment. Community Consultative Committees have been established in many areas of New South Wales, with committees made up of the local Patrol Commander and people interested in becoming - as critics have described it - 'keystone cops'.
The NSW Community Policing initiative urges: "Community Based Policing relies on your input into police work. Without your participation in solving the problems being faced by your community the police will not be able to address your concerns."
Australians are becoming a nation of tittle tats through policing 'initiatives' such as Neighbourhood Watch, Rural Watch and Business Watch. The nightly news urges bored sticky beaks to phone 'dobber' hotlines including Operation Noah for drugs and Operation Hot Wheels for car theft. Crime Stoppers, an international network headquartered in the United States asks citizens to "ring in if you have information about any crime or any suspicious activities or if you think you have useful information that may help prevent a crime." From July 1999 to June 2000, Crime Stoppers received 128,185 phone calls, resulting in 2,187 arrests and 13,078 charges. Crime Stoppers pays cash rewards for certain information.
In line with increased policing, Australia's prison population has risen dramatically over the past two decades.5 The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), a government-funded research organisation, recently reported that the number of inmates rose by 102 percent in the 17 years from 1982 to 1998. Its study, "Imprisonment in Australia: Trends in Prison Populations and Imprisonment Rates", found that, on average, the prison population rose by 4.2 percent per year, two-and-a-half times the increase in the imprisonable population (18 years and over). This rate is over 30 percent higher than Britain's at 94 per 100,000 and almost seven times higher than Indonesia with 22 per 100,000. The annual growth rate in prison numbers is twice that of England and Wales, although only half that of the United States.
The AIC identified some of the interrelated factors contributing to the rising prison population as: policies favouring imprisonment for offences that could otherwise be sanctioned with less severe forms of punishment; policies that impose tougher sanctions on convicted criminals, such as longer terms of imprisonment; prisoners spending longer portions of their sentences in prison due to reduced use by executive authorities of parole and other early release mechanisms; an augmented flow of individuals being processed by police due to legislative changes that create new offences or increase the seriousness of unlawful behaviours already defined as offences.
The soaring incarceration rate points to a society that has no solutions for growing social inequality or the resulting human problems. The official answer is to demonise, criminalise and punish the victims. At the same time, the erection of an ever-greater police and prison apparatus reveals a fear of growing social tensions and an attempt to intimidate and suppress the inevitable development of popular unrest.
At a local government level, the focus on 'crime' continues through Council by-laws enacted in the interests of the 'common good'. Most of these laws are designed to do little more than generate revenue via fines for petty offences. Some local government authorities, for example Lithgow City Council, have Council Rangers which patrol and issue on-the-spot fines for breaches of relevant legislation such as littering a public place; skateboards, scooters and bicycles in the main street areas; unregistered animals and pollution of waters, which includes washing cars in the street. In Queensland, Caloundra City Council has banned people from wearing political slogans on t-shirts eg. Vote 1, Joe Bloggs. Maroochy Shire banned recycling of grey-water onto gardens. People found carrying a water pistol, playing cricket or kicking the footy in Melbourne's zoological gardens can be fined $50.00. There are laws covering when you can and cannot switch on air conditioners, swimming pool pumps and vacuum cleaners. Boroonda Council cites health reasons for demanding a permit for keeping more than eight guinea pigs. Stonnington Council has kept a by-law urging swimmers not to wear 'unclean' or 'unsuitable' bathing costumes in its pools - offenders can be fined $100.00. In the same shire, homeowners caught with a shopping trolley outside their homes stand to lose $200.00.
In his article "Media Freedom verses the Nanny State", Professor McKenzie Wark6 notes:
Sometimes it seems as though living in contemporary society means nothing but being beset by dangers. When citizens are persuaded that they are hopelessly at risk, then all too often the next step is to propose the enhancement of the powers of government to make life safe. This gives rise to what I would call the therapeutic state governments that restrict the liberty of their citizens in the name of their own good are therapeutic states.
Ten years ago, at the end of her seven-year tenure as chief film censor, Janet Strickland told the Herald we were entering a period of social conservatism and predicted that by the mid-1990s the climate of censorship would be stronger than it had been for three decades.
'It's undoubtedly so,' Strickland says today. 'I think that's exactly what has happened. And it's speeding up. It's going to get worse. God knows what kind of society we'll be living in 10 years' time. It could be like Victorian times again, with all the hypocrisy and double standards.' - Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1996
Nowhere is the therapeutic state more evident than in the area of censorship, where the Australian government has a long history of intervention. Unlike the United States, Australia has no First Amendment, nor any similar guarantee of free expression. Contrary to popular belief in some circles, Australians have no right to freedom of expression under the Australian Constitution.7
Australia's system of 'classification' for books, films, videos, magazines and television programs is a censorship system in that information 'refused classification' is banned, or sections/scenes are cut in order to obtain a classification. It is a criminal offence to sell or exhibit films, videos and computer games unless they have been pre-rated by the government Office of Film and Literature Classification. In order to obtain a rating, a fee must be paid.
The Internet is now seen as a media source in its own right, an alternative to television and newspapers, providing independent information. The Federal Government's Internet Censorship Act, or known by its correct title, the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Online Services) Act, is ostensibly a means of preventing access by minors to violent and pornographic material. However, the Act's preamble is much broader. It states that the legislation aims "to restrict access to certain Internet content that is likely to cause offence to a reasonable adult."
Severely criticised by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), telecommunication experts and civil liberty groups, the Act provides for complaints about Internet content to be referred to the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), which will investigate and act against ISPs hosting "offensive content". ISPs will be directed to remove any banned content they host. If they fail to do so, or fail to take "reasonable steps" to filter out such content hosted abroad, they can be fined $27,000 per day.
So far, the ABA has issued a number of takedown notices to sites hosted in Australia. At present, the ABA is not accountable to the Australian public for its administration of the Act. The ABA's attitude of total secrecy about details of its decisions has no parallel in the administration of censorship policy of other media.
An Internet censorship bill was introduced into South Australian (SA) Parliament on 8 November 2000 which, among other things, criminalises making available online "matter unsuitable for minors", even if the content is only made available to adults. The South Australian Government is believed to be the first of the State/Territory governments to act on the Federal Government's request that they enact complementary censorship legislation.
The SA legislation dramatically broadens the scope of government regulation and intimidation. According to Electronic Frontiers Australia, the Bill makes it a criminal offence to make information available to adults about "adult themes" including "suicide, crime, corruption, marital problems, emotional trauma, drug and alcohol dependency, death and serious illness, racism, religious issues", except in a "discreet" manner, that is, "with little or no detail and generally brief."8 If you place such material on a web page, even on a password protected section of the site with the password only given to adults, you could be prosecuted under criminal law.
Several poignant examples of censorship - in the form of 'book burning' - have occurred recently. In 1999, censorship laws allowed authorities to seize material from Polyester Books in Melbourne. The bookstore stocks New Dawn magazine along with a broad range of alternative and underground magazines, books and videos. Police, customs officers and Office of Film and Literature Classification officials seized more than $3000 worth of books and videos from Polyester. The search warrant used for the raid referred to parts of the Victorian classification laws dealing with unclassified, X-rated and refused classification films and publications, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail or a $120,000 fine. Australian customs have seized vast amounts of material imported by Polyester owner Paul Elliot - costing him thousands of dollars - but this was the first police raid in the store's 12 years of operation.
In January this year, South Australian police raided the Folio Foilage bookshop and seized Pictures, a book by the internationally renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The police had been tipped off by an anonymous telephone call to Crime Stoppers claiming that the shop was selling a book containing child pornography. Unable to find the alleged book, the officers looked around the shop and decided to impound Mapplethorpe's Pictures. Mapplethorpe's photographs are freely available in Australian bookstores and the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra has more than 40 of his photographs. Police forwarded the book to the Office of Literature and Film Classification, which later resolved that it could be sold without restrictions. The police decision to seize the Mapplethorpe book and take upon themselves the role of moral guardians is an ominous development.
Internet censorship legislation is directly responsible for the filtering of David Icke's web site from Victoria's State Public Library computer system. David Icke is an international personality who speaks out on the history and activities of the global elites. Such legislation underhandedly encourages censorship, even reaching places where freedom of thought was once highly valued. In response to Internet censorship laws, a number of Australian universities have introduced wide ranging filtering of Internet access, justifying their measures by reference to the new laws.
The proposed Victorian racial vilification bill, announced recently by Premier Steve Bracks, has been attacked by civil libertarians as another draconian form of state censorship. The Victorian legislation proposes criminal sanctions for racial and religious vilification and for inciting violence against minority groups.
While criminal sanctions may be appropriate for such repugnant and obnoxious acts, the broad ranging nature of the legislation allows for prosecution of virtually anything, including name-calling, verbal or written statements, gestures, the wearing of symbols or uniforms, or anything else which a "reasonable observer" could interpret as an offense to a "racial or religious group."
The legislation potentially covers statements made or activities in private homes. The burden of proof will be on the accused, to prove that he or she was innocent. Accusations of 'hate speech' could be made by a "third party," not even the person who was "offended." Actions that may be deemed racially or religiously intolerant under the draft Religious and Racial Tolerance Legislation include: communications such as verbal or written comments; wearing of symbols or uniforms; gestures or sounds and 'conduct generally'. The proposed legislation may also cover communications that occur in any place where it would be reasonable to expect them to be overheard or seen (for example, the conversation of two people at a café).
Lack of Political Debate
A complete lack of political debate on issues of substance has engulfed Australia. Discussions on censorship, big brother and expanding police powers, once would - at the very least - have been hotly debated on current affairs television programs. Today, these issues remain the domain of a dwindling number of civil libertarians, privacy experts and a handful of academics and political activists. Laws are enacted with virtually no opposition. Those who do voice concern are marginalised and ridiculed as 'extremists' - of the left or right wing. The voices of dissent are virtually beaten into submission by the thesis that creeping totalitarianism provides a 'fair go' for all and that opposition to the 'government's mandate' is narrow minded, rebellious and reactionary.
An article in the May-June 2001 edition of the House of Representatives Bulletin, About the House, laments the days when "the copy was good", confirming the lack of political debate in our country. One hundred years ago, newspapers meticulously detailed the debates that occurred in the colonial parliaments, acting almost as an unofficial Hansard, transcribing and publishing parliamentary speeches in their pages, as well as providing commentary and editorial. As recently as 30 years ago, major city newspapers still regarded themselves as papers of record, covering all important events, including what happened in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Major newspaper chains employed teams of journalists who flew into Canberra to cover every sitting period. Today, a sensation-obsessed media thrives on the gladiatorial nature of question time. According to one of Australia's senior political journalists, Laurie Oaks, "these days, you know what's going to happen before it happens everyone follows the script that's been written by the executive government. Things are stage managed to the point of boredom and almost irrelevance." Political journalists generally attend only question time. Outside that one hour in the sitting day, their papers rely on one source from the parliamentary chamber, the wire service, Australian Associated Press. Even Oakes says that reliance on AAP is dangerous!
The real threat to freedom in Australia is now arising from incremental erosions of civil liberties. The rate of such erosion is speeding up and is rapidly being fuelled by the pace of technological innovation. For the large part, people seem to be mesmerised by the bread and circuses dished up by the nanny state. Appealing to false memories of a virtuous rural past, the Federal Government funds silly, pandering, childish celebrations to keep the masses entertained. Millions of dollars are doled out for schemes to 'develop' youth, the arts, sports and 'the rural revival'.
For citizens concerned about their future freedom and survival, the only answer is to psychologically disconnect from the system. As Hakim Bey succinctly puts it in his book Millennium, we must either become totally absorbed or realise that we are in total opposition. The system cannot be reformed, or saved from itself with independent political representatives, a new government in Canberra or letters to politicians.
At all levels of government, a plethora of legislation has been passed and now merely lies waiting on the horizon for a suitable opportunity to be activated in the fullest degree. As fireworks and gas filled balloons are released for the Centenary of Federation, it's time to realise that a modern police state is being unleashed.
1. More than $9.2 million worth of taxpayers money was wasted on the Centenary of Federation Celebrations. The Centenary of Federation authority says: "When the historic year is over, all Australians will be able to say 'I was there and helped commemorate this proud and memorable anniversary.'" The Centenary patron is Coles-Myer, a transnational corporation.
2. Dumbing down occurs through public educational systems which have been ransacked of their funds, resulting in poor curriculums and students less capable of thinking critically.
3. For recent media reports on the routine surveillance of daily activities, see Robert O'Harrow's article in the Washington Post, "Night and Day, Computers",, and Garry Barker's "You Are Being Watched", published in The Age, 2 June,
4. Submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)
5. This reflects trends in most developed countries throughout the world.
6. Published in The Australian, 17 March 1997. Available at
Susan Bryce is an Australian journalist and publisher of the newsletter Australian Freedom & Survival Guide. Her interests include global politics, big brother and the New World Order. Australian Freedom & Survival Guide airs the dirty laundry of big brother, big business and big government, exposing the realities and personalities behind globalisation, genetic engineering, the international surveillance regime, corporate power and military research. AF&SG is available by subscription only. Six issues for $45.00 per year. Sample issue $7.50. Send cheque or money order payable to S.Bryce PO Box 66 Kenilworth Qld 4574 Australia. Email:
The above article appeared in New Dawn No.67 (July-August 2001)


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