Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Beware the Secret State

The Australian 8 August 2014:

In 2004 the Howard government decided to take stock, commissioning a wide-ranging inquiry by respected former official Phillip Flood. Beyond recommending better language skills for ASIS and beefing up ONA’s budget, he found the level of resourcing “sufficient”. “Resources available to ASIS are appropriate for its mandate,” he said, for instance.

Since then ASIO’s budget, the largest of the group, has jumped from around $150 million and 700 staff to about $600m and 1780 staff this year. The budget of ASIS, the only federal agency not to disclose staff numbers, has tripled to about $300m. So much for Flood’s “sufficient” conclusion! ONA’s has grown from about $15m to $50m.

The Coalition government — of “budget emergency” fame — this week announced it wants to toss another $630m into the ballooning budgets to stamp out and hinder “home-grown terrorism and Australians who participate in terrorist activities overseas”.

But it refers to no analysis beyond the agencies themselves asking for more money and power. Using the “security” mantra to justify more money for intelligence services is no different from using “fairness” to justify the inane Schoolkids Bonus.

Spending on the six abovementioned agencies ignores the mammoth growth in the Australian Federal Police. Although state governments are constitutionally responsible for law and order, AFP ranks have swelled from 1327 a decade ago to about 6400 this year; its annual budget has more than doubled to $1.6bn. It has proved a costly egg hurled at PM Billy Hughes in 1917.

The welfare state has triumphed. Its successor, the security state, is the next likely incarnation of modern democratic government, one that slowly chips away at longstanding liberties and absorbs more and more public money in the vaguely reassuring name of “security”.

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