There's a chat I had last month with a Labor Party pollie about this below. The army was called out once in 1978, after a bomb went off and killed a couple of garbage collectors rather than a couple of Commonwealth Heads of Government (I think Morarji Desai might have been the target, but my memory ain't what I remember it used to be like). I'd forgotten that detail in what I wrote below - anyway, here 'tis.
Apropos the state, and whether the left should trust the state (and its 'left wing') with optimising/delimiting democratic rights - the sorta stuff Chas and Justin were chatting about. Here's a chat I've been having on Shadow Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner's (Left faction of the Opposition Labor Party) mailing list ...
Me to Tanner::
I've just been reading we're permanently to authorise Australian soldiers to move against Australian citizens on Australian soil in case of an undefined event falling under the undefined category of 'domestic unrest'. Or so, I'm given to believe, goes the wording of the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civilian Authorities), as passed by the Lower House *with Labor support* on June 28. Apparently section 119 of the Constitution is reckoned enough to legitimate this, er, precaution.
That can't be right, can it, comrade?
Apparently, the pathetically-handled GST 'debate' drowned this precious moment of bipartisan solidarity in the Lower House. But is the alleged 'Olympics fever' going to be enough to let Labor abandon yet another of its erstwhile defining principles when this gets to the Upper House in a week or two? I've more faith in the electorate than your 'strategists', mate, and I think this might just cost you. And us.
Last time our betters set out to destroy a union, they had to use ex-military types, who were rather held back from properly deploying their, er, conflict-resolution skills by their civilian status, reliance on public airlines, civilian visas and those poxy little capsicum spray cans.
Far more efficient to use serving soldiers and Steyer automatic rifles, eh?
I realise no Labor Party could actively participate in constructing the platform for such a scenario, and I'm sure I'd not be alone in appreciating a gentle clarification.
Tanner to me:
The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civilian Authorities) Bill actually restricts and regularises an existing arrangement which is extremely open-ended. Existing Legislation provides a very wide scope for the call out of defence forces to aid the civilian authorities either State or Commonwealth. This Bill imposes some safeguards, such as requiring the Prime Minister to sign off on any deployment. Labor will be moving amendments in the Senate to strengthen these safeguards, such as requiring automatic parliamentary scrutiny of any such decision.
The Legislation is broadly in line with the recommendations of an inquiry by Justice Hope many years ago. If troops are called out to assist a State Government they must act under the instructions of the relevant State police force.
To some degree I share Rob's concerns about this, but I accept that there may be legitimate circumstances where troops might be needed. For example, if racist gangs are instigating widespread attacks on a particular ethnic community to a point where the State police cannot cope with the situation, I would have no problem in supporting assistance from the military.
The real dilemma for Labor is that if we defeat the Bill in the Senate, we are left with the status quo, where the power exists undeterred by worthwhile safeguards.
Me to Tanner:
Thanks for the reply, Lindsay.
A couple of quibbles, though ...
>The Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to the Civilian Authorities) Bill
>actually restricts and regularises an existing arrangement which is
>extremely open-ended. Existing Legislation provides a very wide scope for
>the call out of defence forces to aid the civilian authorities either State
>or Commonwealth. This Bill imposes some safeguards, such as requiring the
>Prime Minister to sign off on any deployment. Labor will be moving
>amendments in the Senate to strengthen these safeguards, such as requiring
>automatic parliamentary scrutiny of any such decision.
Er, last time I remember the military getting called out was to break the pilots' strike back in '89. Before that, it was to break the lefty unions in '49 - sad moments in Labor history, I'm afraid. Menzies was going to use 'em to round up lefties and stick 'em in concentration camps back in '50, but there, a Labor man stopped it. A prouder moment.
>To some degree I share Rob's concerns about this, but I accept that there
>may be legitimate circumstances where troops might be needed. For example,
>if racist gangs are instigating widespread attacks on a particular ethnic
>community to a point where the State police cannot cope with the situation,
>I would have no problem in supporting assistance from the military.
Well, unlike the attacks on organised labour I enumerated above, this hasn't happened of late has it? And how many racist gangs would be necessary to outnumber the state police, anyway? It's workers and the unemployed who outnumber the police so, not neo-nazis. It is they who our betters have in mind. You're defending the Bill on distant possibilities rather than the historical truths which so compellingly warn against such an undemocratic step, Lindsay. Might as well say we need ICBMs in case of an asteroid alert ... or is that next?
And, anyway, if the PM, the AG and the MofD are the safeguard , they'd have done it to the MUA. To use the Australian army against Australian citizens is, I submit, as much as to admit to totalitarian tendencies (and, perhaps, it's also a pointer that our betters realise their neoliberal wet-dream will one day produce the sort of volatility and trauma for which soldiers might admirably be equipped).
They're using a silly two-week overblown pseudo-event to provide cover for something we're gonna have to wear forever. The government never calls out the troops to do anything other but break strikes and hurt/kill demonstrators (so my friends from Jackson and Kent State U tell me). And that, sadly, includes Labor governments.
>The real dilemma for Labor is that if we defeat the Bill in the Senate, we
>are left with the status quo, where the power exists undeterred by
This ain't an improvement, comrade. Please make a stand for us, eh?
Tanner to me:
I don't agree with Rob's view that the possibilities for domestic engagement of the military are all on one side of the political spectrum. The police have lots of things to do. If an upsurge of mass racist violence occurred, they can't all stop chasing murderers and rapists to deal with it. Just because it hasn't happened recently doesn't mean it won't. It happened at Lambing Flat in 1861, for instance. It's also worth pointing out that some people argued for use of the military to clear the timber industry blockade of Parliament House in early 1995. I would not have supported this course of action, but the possibility of use of the military in defence of a Labor Government's attempts to protect Australia's forests was more than hypothetical.