Australian authoritarianism

Beneath the beach, the barbed wire


Wherein I witness various suggestive tendencies in Australian politics so I will know where it came from as it worsens.

credit: Wowser Nation

Resistance to anti-corruption reform

Various community groups, e.g. WTFUAustralia are highlighting the continued resistance to a watchdog even as the government moves from normal nepotism through to stuff that looks outright illegal. At the same time, erosion of existing corruption watchdogs proceeds.

Decaying press freedom

There have been enough recent movement on this front that it seems reasonable to consider Australia to be on a trajectory 1 to crush public scrutiny. OK, you are doing something that the Australian state finds threatening, such as exposing possible murder by government employees, and for which they will send you to prison. The state will mobilise the full force of the law to get at you.

The results of this and the aforementioned banning of the tools of confidential communication are that, for example, if you blow the whistle on your government abusing tax powers, or using spying to gain commercial advantage over devastated poverty-riddle neighbours the consequences are likely to ruin life for you and your family.

There is a recurring theme in recent Australian history, which is to keep oversight of the federal government to a minimum, and to impose harsh penalties for those who attempt to apply oversight.

In addition to the rapid erosion of privacy we face criminalisation of failure to turn state informer, or even counselling resistance, and attacks on the free press, all without oversight by the public.

Criminalisation of dissent

We are experiencing a slew of anti-protest laws with a worrying trend. Now the federal government can call out the army with shoot-to-kill powers to deal with protest.

Creeping surveillance without oversight

As largely irrelevant background here, I am not a tinfoil-hat libertarian who thinks that all state power is a priori bad. I think there is a role for police and security services. Indeed, I’m not a fan of acts of terrorism, which are one of the things that can exploit encrypted communication. However, when a state starts granting themselves power to intercept communications without oversight, and in particular criminalises oversight, they are using terrorism as a fig leaf. Any power, state or commercial can accumulate, and needs to be balanced by checks and oversights. In an in-principle democratic state like Australia, that means democratic oversight, which indeed seems to being white-anted by the state for partisan convenience. After a series of uses of the Federal Police for partisan political ends, the government has responded by granting themselves increased power to seize information while criminalising public oversight of that power, and consolidating power in the hands of fewer people.

On one hand I agree that making it too easy for anyone to go dark is bad in the age of Moore’s Law of Mad Science. The trouble is that making it hard for dangerous people to go dark is itself hard, and making it hard for normal people to maintain confidentiality is easy. Making it too easy for the state to backdoor incredibly pervasive spy technology with no oversight during the great democratic malaise is a fragile way to run a society. This trend suggests it is worth investing in state-resistant infrastructure now, while we still can.

In Australia it is illegal for companies to sell encryption without spyware, and where it is illegal to confess to the spyware. Private information in Australia is accessed by an unaccountable surveillance apparatus thanks to the Ass Access Bill.

No worries, mate she’ll be right, fingers crossed. Don’t feel too bad, though, aspiring terrorist, YOU can still have encryption, it is only the average citizen or business, it is no longer feasible.

AFAICT there is minimal oversight here, although that is unclear. That lack of clarity is a concern in itself. Possibly, in Australia we must break your encryption, then turn around and lie to your face about it. You can read opinions about that from various commentators, e.g. ProtonVPN, Mark Nottingham, South China Morning Post.

You can read opinions about that from various commentators, e.g. ProtonVPN, Mark Nottingham, South China Morning Post.

Image credit: Boing Boing


  1. NB I’m not endorsing the analysis in this link, but the collection of resources it points to are pretty good↩︎