The news of the Australian terrorism raids was breaking as I drove north. It was all very dramatic, with eye witness accounts of helicopters hovering while heavily armed police raided houses. We will have to wait for the court cases (or the absence of them) to know how much truth there is in the whole thing, but certain things made me extremely uncomfortable.
To begin with, the force applied seemed excessive. This judgement may be incorrect, it depends upon the facts, but I don’t like the increasing militarisation of our police forces. It makes me personally uncomfortable to see police kitted out in flack jackets and festooned with weaponry watching for fare evaders at railway stations. I keep wondering if they will use that gear on me. It may be irrational, but I feel threatened.
More importantly, the language used by the Government and the press to describe the raids was, to put it mildly, quite extreme. Again, we have to wait for the facts. It may be that we were dealing with an extreme threat, although that is not clear at this point. The intent to seize and behead a few individuals, while dramatic and unpleasant, does not constitute a threat to national security. It is a criminal matter.
As a small l liberal, the coincidence of the raids with the Government’s plans to introduce legislation giving increased powers to Australia’s security agencies makes me very uncomfortable. I am not suggesting a conspiracy, that the raids were intended to reinforce the need for new powers. Australia is not Nazi Germany, Rather, the coincidence reflects locked in views in which the response to a threat leads to an automatic reaction that we must have more powers, must do more. This leads to a disproportionate response that can threaten civil liberties and that, at the extreme, can actually create the very demon that the response was intended to protect us against.