Australian authoritarianism

Beneath the beach, the barbed wire


Wherein I witness various suggestive tendencies in Australian politics.

credit: Wowser Nation

Resistance to anti-corruption reform

Various community groups, e.g. WTFUAustralia are highlighting the continued resistance to an anti-corruption watchdog. A case has been made that business-as-usual in Australia contains many opportunities for politicians to distribute public assets as payments to their supports. This is not corrupt, in the sense that the appropriate legal protections are in place to enable and protect government figures in such use of public assets. Whether the Australian taxpayer would regard it as moral and just that ministers can give public value away without recompensing the public is another question; the issue is not regularly discussed.

Some of the recent behaviour of the government has seemed more suspect, in that investigations have been dropped into government ministers who appeared to be doing actual illegal things. At the same time, erosion of existing corruption watchdogs proceeds.

Decaying press freedom

There have been enough recent movement on this front that some analysts have suggested 1 Australia is on a trajectory, regarding the legal protections for journalists and researchers which will suppress public criticism. Some coverage of recent incidents in this vein are the following

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh at the University of Queensland asserts, that raids on the free press are a threat to democracy.

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.

Suppression 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.

Public speech by public servants is punished by sacking in an opaque and unclear fashion.

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. At the same time, when a state starts granting themselves power to intercept communications without oversight, and in particular criminalises oversight, what reason do we have to suppose that they are in fact using their powers to fight terrorism? 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. 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.

Also of interest: new bills empowering the state the use tracking devices without warrant, and to interrogate children.


  1. NB I’m not endorsing the analysis in this link, but the collection of resources it points to is a useful starting point↩︎