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Personal liberties

The Australian Border Force and civil liberties


In the Drum yesterday I warned that the new Australian Border Force, which comprises of Customs and the Immigration Department’s border operations – announced in this budget may prove to be one of the most dangerous long term consequences of this budget:

Bumping Immigration and Customs up the bureaucratic hierarchy will give those two organisations new influence, ambition, and ultimately power.

And by recasting them as part of our national security infrastructure, those agencies will orientate their core business towards that new, sexier, and more threatening security role.

Why easy to predict? Because that’s exactly what happened when the United States created the Department of Homeland Security. That monstrosity is expensive, expanding, and working to gain new powers. Until recently, its Immigration and Customs Enforcement division was lobbying for the power to track citizens’ movements through licence plate scanning.

The last thing Australia needs is yet another grand and ambitious security bureaucracy pushing for powers that reduce our civil liberties.

Millions for the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner – but to do what?

budget2014The 2014-15 budget includes $2.4 million over four years to fund the government’s proposed Children’s e-Safety Commissioner. See the expense measures in the Communications portfolio here.

As we explained in our submission to the inquiry into this policy, the proposal won’t do anything to stop the harm from bullying, is a clear threat to free speech, and may have some serious counterproductive consequences.

However, it’s not clear what the budget is suggesting here:

The independent Commissioner will provide a national leadership role for online safety issues for industry, families and groups responsible for the wellbeing of children. This measure delivers on the Government’s election commitment.

Well, not quite. The government’s proposal has always involved giving that commissioner some sort of power to force the removal harmful social media content from the internet.

There are problems with the very idea of a national cyberbullying commissioner – see our submission for details – but the most pressing and significant issue is whether that commissioner has the power to censor the internet. The budget papers casually skip over this key issue.

Hopefully that ambiguity reflects some doubt within the government that this anti-free speech policy will be pursued. We await the legislation.

In defence of the right to boycott

do-not-buy The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Richard Colbeck, has floated once more the possibility of removing the exemption that environmental and consumer groups enjoy from the general ban on secondary boycotts.

On the ABC’s World Today I responded to this proposal. Boycotts, whether primary or secondary are a completely legitimate form of political expression. Any government that is pledged to support free speech should also support the right to boycott.

I also spelled out this argument in greater detail in the Drum in September last year.