New book by UWS military law expert questions domestic deployment


Date: 01/06/2009

A University of Western Sydney expert on military law says the turmoil produced by the global economic crisis could result in increased internal use of the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Associate Professor Michael Head, from the UWS School of Law, has released a book on the issue of domestic deployment of the armed forces entitled, 'Calling out the Troops - The Australian Military and Civil Unrest: the legal and constitutional issues'.

"The issues raised in this book are of increasing concern under conditions of economic crisis, which the federal government's recent Defence White Paper warns could lead to social and political unrest, necessitating domestic use of the armed forces," says Associate Professor Head.

"The White Paper announced the greatest expansion of the ADF since World War II, with an outlay of more than $100 billion on new military hardware over the next 20 years. Crucial to this spending was the re-definition of the security threat as potentially coming not only from outside Australia but also from within Australia."

Associate Professor Head says the Australian military has been mobilised in recent years for events including APEC in 2007, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2002, US Presidential visits and sporting events such as the 2000 Olympics and 2006 Commonwealth Games.

"The use of troops against citizens is widely associated with authoritarian regimes not democratic states. Yet legislation was introduced in 2000, and extended in 2006, giving Australian governments, the Governor-General and the chief of the Australian Defence Force explicit peacetime powers to call out the troops on such grounds as 'domestic violence' and 'Commonwealth interests'," he says.

"Once troops are deployed, military commanders have sweeping powers to shoot down civilian aircraft, use lethal force, interrogate people, raid premises and seize documents.

"Little is known among the general public about the extent of the expanded powers."

The issue of Australian domestic deployment has been a long-standing area of interest for Associate Professor Head.

"As a young man, my interest in these issues was shaped by the terrible experiences of the civilian casualties from the military interventions in Vietnam and Northern Ireland, and by the 1978 call-out of the Australian military after the Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing, which the federal and state governments of the day declared marked a 'new era of terrorism' in Australia."

His book, published by the Federation Press, examines the legislation, its historical background and moves to broaden the concept of national security to encompass threats to political and economic stability, and reviews the constitutional and legal uncertainties around the call-out laws.

Ends

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Kristy Gleeson
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