Does the threat of terrorism in Australia justify recent Australian government policy responses to terrorism?

Its been a few months since I last posted. Here is an essay I have recently written about the Australian Government and Terrorism in Australia.

Since September 11th 2001 Terrorism has been a forever present threat in our modern world. However, the real question is whether the threat of terrorism justifies the Australian Governments’ policies, and legislations that respond to the said threat. It is possible to argue both ways, but the primary argument and conclusion that can be found is that the Australian Government’s response to terrorism cannot, and is not justified. First, it is important to understand what terrorism is. Then it is important to understand how the Australian Government’s actions can be justified by discussing how the majority of Australians are afraid of terrorism, as well as the media’s sensationalisation of terrorism in Australia and the world. Subsequently it is important to understand how it is not possible to justify the Australian Government’s response to terrorism by discussing and analysing the amount of legislation passed through Australian government since 2001, then the physical changes to parliament house, the changes to rights and liberties in Australia, the treatment of Asylum seekers and children in detention, the breach of human rights by the Australian Government, and as well as discussing the money spent on terrorism when compared to domestic violence even though one has greater damage on the lives of every day Australian.

To begin with, it is important to understand what Terrorism actually is. Terrorism by definition is the act, or the threat to act that meets two requirements. The act has the intention to influence, or pressure the public, or any institution through intimidation to advance a religious, ideological or political cause. AND it causes any of the following; serious danger, harm or death to person/s, causes major damage to property, is a serious risk to the health/safety of the public, and/or severe destruction, disruption, or interference with critical infrastructure (e.g. telecommunications, electrical network, water supply, etc.). (Attorney-General’s Department, n.d.) Therefore, terrorism is a serious act that many Australians do fear, however, the threat in Australia does not justify the Government’s policy response to it.

The argument can be made for justifying the Australian Government’s policy response to terrorism is the fact that over half of Australians are afraid of terrorism. In 2015 56% of Australians’ believed there would be a terror attack in the future. (Kerin, 2015) This demonstrates and explains how the Australian Government can justify their responses to terrorism as the Government is supposed to protect its people, but also put through legislation that their constituents believe to be important. Thus, the Australian Government prioritises anti-terrorism legislation that generally is seen positively by the general public. This reasoning can be argued to justify the Australian Government’s response to terrorism.

The argument can also be made that this fear has been extenuated due to the media’s sensationalisation of terrorism, and extensive coverage of terrorist attacks. According to a study performed by the University of Alabama and Georgia State University, terrorist attacks perpetrated by people with Islamic beliefs receive on average 357% more coverage than any other attacks. (Kearns, Betus, & Lemieux, 2018) This could be the case as ‘bad news sells.’ According to the Pew Research Centre news of tragedies gains the greatest interest amongst the general public. (Robinson, 2007) The selective discriminatory coverage of these events can help to explain the fear of terrorism that Australians feel, but also why other threats, and newsworthy events do not receive the attention that they may deserve. Furthermore, if the media had a greater, more equal coverage of world events; the general public’s perception could become closer to the actual reality of the world. (Robinson, 2007) Therefore, the current media’s portrayal of current events could justify the Australian Government’s responses to terrorism due to it being of interest to the Australian people.

It is important to note that due to the level of fear within society, the Australian Government has passed at least 70 pieces of anti-terrorism legislation since 2001. (Connors, 2017) No other Western country has passed this much legislation, and according to Michael Cope the President of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties the more legislation that is passed, the more liberties (freedoms) Australians are losing. It is believed that tougher, more extensive legislation will be seen in the near future, (Connors, 2017) which will see to the loss of even more Australian liberties. Hence, by passing 70 pieces of legislation, a large number of liberties have been lost, and is not justifiable for the Australian people to lose gross freedoms due to the threat of terrorism. Accordingly, the Australian Government’s policy response to terrorism cannot be justified.

The loss of liberties that Australians have been facing has been condoned and announced by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. During a speech to the House of Representatives Turnbull stated that Australians would have to be prepared to give up some of their rights and freedoms to protect Australia from Terrorism. This is a completely different approach to former Prime Minister Robert Menzies who stated during World War II that “it would be a tragedy if you fought a war in defence of liberty and in the course of doing so, lost your liberties.” (Connors, 2017) Robert Menzies was Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, (National Archives of Australia, n.d.) compared to Malcolm Turnbull who served as Prime Minister for less than 3 years. Menzies saw the importance of Australian Rights, and he saw the tragedy in losing them. This high regard to the rights of Australians seems to have been lost with modern day Ministers and Policymakers, as seen by Malcolm Turnbull. Consequently, the recent Australian Government’s policy responses cannot be a justified response to terrorism as Australian’s rights are just as important now as they were during World War II.

The extent of these legislations, and the lack of justification for the Government’s response to terrorism can be physically seen through the development and building of greater security measures and a fence being built at Parliament House. This is so significant for two reasons; in 2017 it was estimated that these upgrades would cost $126.7 million dollars, which is a substantial amount that is more than the funding supplied to domestic violence in 2016. Additionally, Parliament House was designed and built as ‘A true people’s house,’ with the intention of allowing the common man to walk above the politicians as they work. The significance of this can be noted through the fact that the free access given to the ordinary man to walk above the politicians has been deemed too dangerous due to terrorism. (Connors, 2017) These simple security changes go against the very principles that the Australian Parliament House was built on. These changes, therefore, cannot be justified as a means of protection against the threat of terrorism.

As a direct result of terrorism, September 11 and the war on terror, there has been an overwhelming number of refugees that have been displaced internationally, along with greater restrictions on immigration. Within Australia, legislations like operation sovereign borders and the introduction of offshore detention centres have seen the gross mistreatment and unlawful imprisonment of thousands of innocent people under the pretence of protecting the Australian people. According to the Human Rights Watch 2018 Annual Report refugees and asylum seekers regularly face violence, and delayed or blatant denial of medical care. Furthermore, self-harm and suicide attempts are said to occur frequently. (Human Rights Watch, 2017, pp. 48-49) This detention and imprisonment of so many people, including children cannot be a justified response to terrorism or a justifiable way of protection for the Australian people. Michael Cope has stated that “another person’s human rights are your human rights… If they are taken away from one person, they are also taken away from you.” (Connors, 2017) This quote further demonstrates that the disregard of Human rights and liberties cannot be justified by anyone, and is not a justifiable way for the Australian Government to treat any human being, regardless of the threat of terrorism.

Through the use of offshore detention centres for legitimate asylum seekers and the implementation of so many anti-terror policies various Human Rights in the pursuit of protecting Australians have been breached. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” has been directly breached through the unlawful detention of thousands of men, women and children. Furthermore, Article 14 “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Has been directly breached as Australia is not allowing asylum seekers that come to Australia by boat the right to seek asylum. (United Nations, n.d.) Regardless of this, new legislation was proposed to parliament this year to allow police access to private information such as messages sent through apps or online services. (Doran, 2018) This could be said to breach Article 12 “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence… Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Therefore, this again proves that the way in which the Australian Government reacts towards terrorism through policy cannot be justified, as it breaches human rights and displaces human liberties.

Not only have human rights been breached in response to terrorism, but financially terrorism has cost Australia millions. In the 2014–15 Budget there was a $630 million counter-terrorism funding package. According to the Budget Review 2015–16 a further $326.4 million was provided to counter terrorism. (Barker, 2015) Therefore, over a two year period, $956.5 million was put towards counter-terrorism measures. According to an article written by Mehdi Hassan as of July 2017, there had only been 5 deaths caused by terrorist or extremist attacks on Australian soil in the last two decades. (Hasan, 2017) In contrast to this, over 70 people were killed due to domestic/family violence in 2016 alone. (Dumas, 2016) That is 14 times the amount of people killed by terrorism in two decades. The funding for domestic violence is exponentially lower. In the Australian Parliament budget review 2014-15, there is no specialised mention of domestic violence found within the report. (Parliament of Australia Research Branch, 2014) It is stated in the Australian Parliament Budget Review 2015–16, a total of $119.5 million over four years was allocated to National Initiatives for domestic and family violence. (Thomas & Dunkley, 2015). Therefore, in two years $956.5 million was put towards terrorism, and over a five year period, $119.5 million was put towards domestic violence. The Australian Government’s response to the threat of terrorism by funding $956.4 million towards it when compared to the funding of $119.5 million towards domestic violence cannot be justified as domestic violence kills exponentially more Australians than terrorism does.   

To conclude, it is possible to argue both for and against the Australian Government’s response to the threat of terrorism, but the primary argument and conclusion that has been found is that the Australian Government’s response to terrorism cannot, and is not justified. This conclusion has been reached through the discussion and analysis of legislations that have been passed since 2001, the importance of rights and liberties, the physical changes to parliament house, the changes to rights and liberties in Australia, the treatment of Asylum seekers in detention, the breach of human rights by the Australian Government, and as well as the discussion of the financial cost of counter-terrorism measures. It is worth arguing that the response to the threat of terrorism would be tragic if, in the pursuit of protecting Australians and their rights, Australians lost their rights. In the words of Robert Menzies, “it would be a tragedy if you fought a war in defence of liberty and in the course of doing so, lost your liberties.” So with that, the Australian Government’s response to the threat of terrorism cannot be justified due to the gross mistreatment of refugees, the loss of liberties for Australians, and the loss of the very basis of Parliament House. The importance of these liberties, and the principles embedded in Australian politics need to be remembered; until that moment the Australian Government’s response to the threat of terrorism is not justifiable.