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.

Australia’s International Aid

Recently the Australian Coalition Government announced a 10% cut in International Aid. This may not seem like much however Australia’s aid budget is only 0.22% of its Gross National Income which equates to $3.8 billion. The economical amount may seem like a lot however it is only 22 cents per $100 in gross national income. That leads me to the UN foreign aid target.

The UN foreign aid target is at least 0.7% of a Country’s Gross National Income. This amount is so small in comparison to the National budgets and the amount of income a country is earning; however nearly all countries fail to meet this target. As of 2015 only seven countries met or exceeded this goal. Only seven countries seem to believe that foreign aid is important to them, that foreign aid is important to fund.

However, the countries that have spent the most amount of money on foreign aid is slightly different, as countries with larger economies (such as the US) have higher gross incomes and therefore can donate less when scaled to their incomes but more in numerical values. As seen below

Australia’s contribution to international aid does not make the top ten countries for contributions with either percentage or numerical amounts. Does this mean that Australia doesn’t see the importance of international aid?

International aid funds so many causes from food, medical care, drinking water to education and supporting economies. This may seem like it’s not our problem right? However, education has been proven to move people away from extremism, violence and crime, and also leads to people being more likely employed. This keeps Australia safe and can lead to better trade.

Two prime examples of where foreign aid has lead to better trade are China and South Korea. They were some of the largest receivers of foreign aid in the world; now they are some of the largest players in the international market, as well as being the top trading partners with Australia (1st and 3rd in 2017 respectively). If humanitarian, and safety reasons are not enough to demonstrate the importance of foreign aid, then economic value must be a sure fire way to. Foreign aid is like an investment and can lead to more trading partners, and economy boosts for not only the country receiving the aid, as well as the home country.

So with all this in mind foreign aid achieves a lot and would seem important. But here’s the kicker; Australia receives its own foreign aid through the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

For me it’s a no brainer. Foreign aid is important; it improves the life of human beings all over the world, it boosts economies and is along term investment for the global community. It seems simple to me, but why is this not the case? Why is Australia contributing so little to foreign aid? Why is most of the International Community failing to reach the goal of 0.7% of Gross National Income to foreign aid? Again I am left with questions that I can’t answer. Again, I am left with questions that I hope I can one day answer and fix.

The United Nations Security Council

This year I came into studying political science believing that the UN was this magical organisation that saved the world. I was incredibly idealistic; but I’ve come to understand that the UN and all of its other substitutes are still human organisations, and therefore they still have flaws, some of these critical flaws.

The biggest thing that I have learnt so far is about the UN Security Council, the P-5 and the Veto power. The UN Security Council is a council consisting of 15 members from 15 states. 10 of these members are from various countries that are on two year terms, ultimately they are rotating members and change every two years. The other 5 members are the P5 or Permanent 5 members which consist of Russia, The United States, The United Kingdom, France and China. The P5 members do not rotate and are awarded an extra level of power called “veto.” This power allows the P5 member to deny any resolution put through to the UNSC, even if there is a majority that want said resolution to occur.

In most recent times Russia has used their veto power twelve times to deny any action from the UNSC to act or intervene in the Syrian Conflict. (BBC) This has led to 7 years of conflict. SEVEN ENTIRE YEARS. Not only this, but it has also led to 11 million people being displaced. (Syrian Refugees) So instead of the UNSC being able to act or create change, Russia has prevented any action from occurring.

This leads to the realisation that these P5 have this extra power, but they still have their ulterior motives, they still have their Home Country’s interests as a primary motive, they do not act for what is the best action for the world or other states. So it leads to the thought, why do these P5 members have this power? Should the veto power be rotated? Should all members of the Security Council be on two year terms? Why is it fair that these five states have more power than the others? I am left with all of these questions that can’t be answered simply, all I know is people are dying, people are losing their homes, children are losing their childhoods and their education, and that Syria was once a beautiful country is losing everything – if this conflict does not come to an end soon, there will be nothing left.

Offshore Detention in Australia

As a global community we are suffering from a refugee crisis. That is the simple reality. While some countries are doing their part and accepting as many as they can handle, and other communities have come together and embraced multiculturalism. Others have not.

Some countries have decided that it is easier to hide the people that are seeking refuge and asylum in distant places and honestly it’s an out of sight and out of mind technique. Australia has taken this approach, going a step further by placing innocent people in unlawful imprisonment, in unsafe foreign lands.

The two destinations in question at this present moment are Manus Island and Nauru. Both of these foreign lands are responsible for housing the innocent souls seeking refuge and asylum in Australia.

So now that I have given you a brief (and not even close to complete) introduction. Lets now discuss the real issues at hand; The Australian Government knowingly putting innocent vulnerable people in dangerous circumstances.

Earlier this year 1,923 former and current detainees that had been illegally imprisoned and neglected on Manus Island were awarded $70 million in a class action against the Commonwealth (finalised in a settlement out of Court).  This illegal detainment and neglect had been occurring since November 2012 and the detention centre is still open. Although to at least to slightly rectify the issue, it has been set to close by the end of October.

So with the closure of Manus island looming, refugees have been invited to opt-in to a transfer to the detention centre in Nauru as the Australian Government is seemingly running out of options to where they want to imprison these innocent people.

So, now we start the topic of Nauru. It can’t be as bad as Manus right? However, the fact is that offshore detention is offshore detention and between Nauru and Manus, there is little to no difference between them. The Australian Human Rights Commission found in 2014 that offshore processing puts asylum seekers and refugees at a high risk of being forcibly returned to a country where they would be subjected to persecution. As well as the rates of self-harm and detrimental mental health being quite high in these detention centres. See more here.

At least to some extent, offshore detention does not discriminate. Men, women, and children are all sent to detention. The educated, the non-educated, the young, the old, the healthy and the sick can all be sent to offshore detention. The Australian Government has placed these people in unlawful detention because they are desperate and they need our help. Honestly, what Government could imprison innocent vulnerable people? 

So to talk about what Human Rights are being breached by offshore detention by the Australian Government;

Firstly Article 5 ‘The right to not be tortured, or treated cruelly, inhumanly, or degraded as a form of punishment.’ Australia has inhumanly treated and degraded human beings due to the simple fact that they needed a safe place to go.

Article 9 is the next human right breached with offshore detention; ‘The right to not be arbitrarily arrested, detained or exiled unfairly,’ with thousands of innocent people being detained every day, do I need to say anymore?

Article 14 ‘The right to seek asylum,’ do I need to add anything to that? Australia is not allowing human beings their human right to seek asylum for what reason? For what cause?

Article 25 ‘The right to adequate living standards and social protections,’

Article 28 ‘The right to a free and fair world’

And lastly Article 30 ‘The right to Human Rights that nobody can take away’

At least 6 human rights are breached with the Australian Government’s Offshore Detention Centres and yet they are still open, and yet people are unlawfully imprisoned. How in anyone’s mind is this okay, and why hasn’t it changed.

 

The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As many of us know, the United Nations (or UN) formed in 1945 after the atrocities of World War 2 and the Holocaust. This organisation came together to prevent such crimes against humanity occurring again and to be a Governing body of International Law. They are peacekeepers, humanitarians, educators, Lawmakers, and leaders in action against climate change.

However, in my opinion; one of the most important actions that the UN has performed was the creation and implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This important document has 30 articles (30 human rights) and declares the rights of every man, woman and child on planet earth. The articles cover a broad range of topics from slavery, to education, to religion and even living standards. Basically stating that every human being has the same rights and should be treated equally. A simplified list of these Human rights are below

  1. Freedom and Equality for all
  2. The right to be Free from discrimination
  3. The right to life, liberty and personal security
  4. The right to be free from slavery
  5. The right to not be tortured, or treated cruelly, inhumanly, or degraded as a form of punishment
  6. The right to be recognised as a person before the law
  7. The right to be seen equally in the eyes of the law
  8. The right to an effective national tribunal
  9. The right to not be arbitrarily arrested, detained or exiled unfairly
  10. The right to a fair public trial
  11. The right to be innocent until proven guilty
  12. The right to privacy
  13. The right to move freely in and out of each Country
  14. The right to seek asylum
  15. The right to a nationality
  16. The right to marriage
  17. The right to own property
  18. Freedom of religion and thought.
  19. Freedom of opinion and information
  20. The right to Peace
  21. The right to be a participate in Free Elections and Government
  22. The right to social security
  23. The right to do desirable work and to join trade unions
  24. The right to rest and leisure
  25. The right to adequate living standards and social protections
  26. The right to an education
  27. The right to culture of community
  28. The right to a free and fair world
  29. Freedom to complete Community Duties
  30. The right to Human Rights that nobody can take away

See the full document for The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Here:

It may (or may not) be hard to believe that many Western countries are in breach of at least a few of these 30 Human rights, and in their defence, some are easier to follow than others. However, as broad as the topics are that these Human Rights seem to cover, I personally believe that they are all important and should be met.

Furthermore, I think it is important that people have a better understanding of these Human Rights, why they are in place to protect all of us and to ensure that every human being is given enough to live a substantial life.