Beyond terrorism was published in 1993, and was prompted by the 1978 bombing outside the Sydney Hilton Hotel. Writing this in 2005, for some reason or other you’d think that security issues since the early nineties have certainly moved on. September 11 changed the world forever, we are constantly told.
Hence we are now officially in the age of terrorism. Not only that, we are fighting an actual war against terrorism. This is a war so ambiguous that we don’t know how long it will go on for, or if indeed it will ever end. Remember when George W. Bush, who promulgated the war on terror, made that slip where he told a journalist that the war couldn’t really be won. (Actually, he said it half laughing, and my impression was that he was really giving the game away, intimating that the whole war on terror was pretty much a joke, made for public consumption. What fool believed it was real?)
How relevant, I wondered, would a book on Australia’s security state be that was written over 12 years ago, considering all that has come to pass in the last 4 years. Well, it just goes to show how much of the war on terror rhetoric I must have swallowed without giving it a second thought. To my surprise I found Jenny Hocking’s book utterly compelling, and thoroughly relevant to today.
The main theme of the book is how our security agencies have expanded and been given more power, without enough democratic checks and balances on that power. Jenny Hocking pulls apart in minute detail not the agencies themselves, and how they have been used politically, but even strips down the rhetoric used. What actually is terrorism? Hocking maintains that even the idea itself of terrorism is highly ambiguous. Events and incidents are described as being terrorist, before even a proper assessment of what has actually happened is made.
Hence with the 1978 Hilton bombing. There was a rush to describe it as a terrorist event. Malcolm Fraser called out the nation's troops to Bowral (where the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting was being held, the believed target of the attack). Yet this call out may have been unconstitutional. The NSW government, according to the constitution, would need to request the troops. Yet it has never been established (I think, my only knowledge of the event is from this book, maybe there have been further developments) whether the attack was politically motivated.
Essentially, the use of the word terrorism, with it attendant vagueness, helps to create a bogey to spook people. As I write Australian David Hicks has been in detention in Cuba for four years, without any sort of trial in sight. His label as ‘terrorist’ ensures he has minimal public sympathy.
The book points out some anomalies in our attitudes to terrorist operations. For example, our security agencies didn’t get too upset about the activities of Croatian extremist members of the Ustasha. There were even Ustasha members who trained in Australia and then went back to Yugoslavia and participated in armed incursions into Bosnia. Yet these activities (there are some 47 episodes of violence that occurred in Australia, allegedly perpetrated by this group) were not considered terrorism. Why, because the Ustasha was anti-communist.
Hocking also points out examples from written documents that show ASIO is prejudiced against left wing political groups, seeing some of them as breeding grounds for potential terrorist groups.
Here’s an unusual situation. Former South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, was not even aware of the Special Branch (a state intelligence and security agency) until 1970. He was State Attorney-General between 1965 and 1968! He didn’t become fully aware of their function and the information they shared with ASIO until 1975. This can only be described as scary.
Yet scariest of all is Hocking’s end to the book. She puts forward the theory that it was the PSCC (Protective Services Co-ordination Centre), who had a vague role in providing security and advice for the CHOGRM meeting at the Hilton, that actually carried out the bombing! This done so that it could be claimed that the threat of terrorism had dramatically escalated, and that there was an urgent need to now expand security agency powers and resources. This is what actually happened.
Well, you’d have to be brave to go out and make such a claim. Jenny Hocking wrote the script to a documentary on the Hilton bombing, in which she puts forward this theory. I’m not sure what the title is, but it would be worth a look at.
This ‘conspiracy theory’ ending might put some people off, thinking the author’s a bit on the whacky side. Please don’t think so. This is a serious and high minded book worthy of close study.
Related Links in Web Experience:
Frank Hardy: Politics Life Literature, by Jenny Hocking