Friday, December 06, 2002

More on that Bill

Friday, 6 November 2002

ASIO has long been one of the Left's standing jokes, along with the Spartacist League whose Australian branch was so heavily infiltrated by both ASIO and the Federal Police that the membership was fairly evenly split between both organisations, with perhaps one or two naifs who thought that joining an organisation dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism was a good way to get back at daddy for being a bank manager. After the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the topic of one's ASIO file enjoyed a brief vogue as a lefty conversation topic. The general consensus was that firstly, requesting your ASIO file under FOI would ensure firstly that if you didn't already have one you soon would have, and secondly that it would be damn humiliating if it turned out that you didn't have one.

Which shows that the alleged paranoia of the Left, when it comes to our national security agencies, is tempered with a good dose of humour as well. Yes, I'm cynical about the trenchcoat mob. It's hard not to be, when the major sign of an effective intelligence effort is that nothing much happens: it's like the joke about the old eccentric sprinkling "elephant repellant" on the Collins Street pavement. When told that there are no elephants in Collins Street his entirely logical response is "See, it works, doesn't it!". So we are encouraged to assume that our intelligence agencies' spectacular failures and gaffes - such as the failure to prevent the Hilton bombing and the gung-ho embarassment of the Sheraton Hotel ASIS "training exercise" are to be weighed against a sterling history of mostly secret achievement in protecting the safety of ordinary Australians.

Pace Ken Parish, I don't believe that Labor sold out on the ASIO Bill - I believe that on this issue, as on the issue of asylum seekers, they rolled over and played dead. And, as Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams has indicated that he is unlikely to accept the committee's reccommended changes to the Bill, the attempt to reach a compromise - even the second rate compromise of a "detention for questioning" model - looks set to fail. This will leave Labor with an embarassing choice between finding some backbone or caving in to the shock jocks whose idea of defending civil liberties is to abrogate them as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Of course we will be promised that, once the current crisis is over, normal legal protections of citizen's rights will be restored as fully as possible - just as most of the regulations imposed under the 1914 War Protection Act are no longer in force. This is the way it goes with temporary measures to meet current crises: there are always one or two that governments decide they want to keep after the crisis is over.

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