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A century of civil liberties

By Daemon Singer - posted Wednesday, 6 March 2013

September 11, 2001 is one of those dates where most of us remember exactly where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with. What few of us remember is what was different the day before. Those of you who are old enough, whilst not remembering the actual date in 1969, will remember what we were doing when man first walked on the moon.

The day before that, we could go to the airport, show our ticket, get a boarding pass, and board a flight to wherever we were going, without being subjected to a body search or having to go through a backscatter scanner or a sub millimetre wave scanner. We could send an email without worrying that if we were talking about an old car which had been declared a "bomb" that we would have an organisation populated by tall men in Black with helmets and guns knocking down our front door at 6 o'clock in the morning. If we were a truckie, sending an email to a mate, whingeing about people in caravans on the highway at night, normally referred to by truckies as "terrorists", we wouldn't have the same situation occurring the next morning.

September 11 taught us many things, but it left behind a situation where we have given away a large proportion of our Civil Liberties without so much as a moan. The governments we elected to guide our nations abrogated their responsibilities in favour of kowtowing to the United States, to ensure that that "great" country would still do business with us. But they did not do it alone.


Supported by an essentially subservient media, we were forced into a position of fear, which made us as a nation more manageable - we argued less in favour of our Civil Liberties knowing that our government in its wisdom was looking out for us. And in that looking out for us they saw us coming. We were pliant; we didn't argue or call for enquiries into the wholesale removal of things which had been our right. Part of those rights that we lost was the right to call the government to account.

Australia is in an invidious position politically speaking. It doesn't matter whether we are normally voters to the right or to the left, the "representatives" we elect are really just two shades of the same cloth. There is a program in place where the conservative side of politics tries to wedge the liberal side and vice versa, all aimed at being one notch more conservative than the other, and as the "wedging" continues, we are the losers.

There was a time when you could sit down in the pub and have a politically-based discussion amongst three or four people, and so long as some were conservative and some were liberal, there would be strong differences of opinion as to how the current incumbent was going, what should be changed, what could be changed, and what it was pointless even thinking about doing work on. An example of that might be changing the mind of a manufacturer about the process of involving his staff in the decision-making and planning that went around the manufacturing process, knowing full well that the workers on the line had the best ideas going about how to get more done in a given space of time. That has all gone. Now, big business spends half its life in court fighting the unions to not be allowed onto a worksite, to enable the business to do exactly what it wants, no matter the cost to the employees and, frequently, irrespective of the cost to the manufacturing process of not involving those who know in the decision-making.

It's only when we sit and contemplate what life was like before, that we realise the damage done by those planes. It wasn't just about terrorism, it was about governments deciding that they had been given a perfect opportunity to manage us somewhat differently - the planes meant we could automatically be ruled by fear, and rather than paying attention to what we want, our "elected" representatives then took it upon themselves to do exactly what they want, howsoever they want, to whomever they want, whenever they want. And we, like sheep, accepted that change without so much as a whimper.

In Queensland, many community action groups were formed during the 1960s to keep an eye on the likes of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Russ Hinze, an utterly corrupt police force and a public service which didn't provide much in the way of "service".

There have been many occasions when submissions have been requested by various parliamentary committees, to enable those committees to at least be seen, to be taking into account the views of the public. QCCL is regularly asked to comment on new legislation, and generally speaking, some form of submission is presented to the Parliamentary committee involved. Generally, those submissions do not appear to be even read, let alone taken into account during the implementation of legislative change. It's almost as though it doesn't matter what we say. The government of the day accepts our submissions with polite thanks, and they disappear, with rarely any reflection of those submissions being seen in the enacted legislation. And this has been true of both the Bligh and Newman governments in Queensland, as well as several Federal Parliamentary committees.


As Queenslanders, or Australians more generally, these days we tend not to worry too much about our personal privacy/security. Evidence of this can frequently be seen in online fora, where a comment by a correspondent regarding an issue raised by Civil Liberties, is met with howls of "if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about", and the always edifying "where there is smoke, there is fire". Both of these of course are rubbish in the greater scheme of things, but as Australians we stop thinking about and insisting upon our rights as citizens in deference to successive governments keen to take the easy way out in terms of population management. Our governments are extremely keen to be seen by the United States as a "good friend and ally", despite there being a greater likelihood of absolutely no change in the United States view of us as a nation, irrespective of a population which does not blithely handover hard-won liberties on the altar of this fatuous "war on terror".

Today, it seems our greatest enemy in terms of Civil Liberties are our own governments, and our complete disregard, or ignorance perhaps, of what is being done to us in the name of the "war on terror". The old adage "we get the government we deserve", springs readily to mind as I watch the media and the government together demolish our Civil Liberties, take away our human rights and treat people from across the planet in difficult circumstance as criminals to be locked up for years on end, preferably at the bottom of someone else's garden.

That having been said, it must also be taken into account that these same governments are put in place by electors who really don't care enough or don't take any interest in the electoral process. The general "I vote as my father did" is almost as universal as the shrug of the shoulders at a change of government, because we all realise that it doesn't matter who gets into power; to the average man on the street, nothing will change, no matter what political persuasion that government is.

I will long remember sitting down with my foster son, watching the rotation of the news broadcast as those planes hit the buildings in New York. His limited English required me to explain to him that no, this was not some sort of digital trickery, but rather, someone had taken into their heads to make a very loud statement against the United States. I wonder how much different our thinking would be today if those four planes had not handed Western governments our rights as human beings on a plate.

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About the Author

Daemon Singer is an executive member of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties. His views expressed here are his own and do not represent the formal views of the Council. For more information on the QCCL, visit their website:

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