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The public rhetorics of policing in times of war and violence: countering apocalyptic visions

Abstract

Public debate about post 9/11 policing presumes for the most part that the world changed fundamentally at that point and that policing powers and tactics have altered in response. For some people, largely defenders of the necessity of a strong security stance, the changes have been possibly not enough. For others, opponents of the security state, the changes represent a latest instalment in an always threatening rise of totalitarian policing. Seen in macro-perspective these views represent the politics of security, helping to shape, modulate, contain, expand, limit the powers available to police, and the possible uses of them. These opposing views, very often highly antagonistic in expression, are part of the politics, and do not stand outside them. They have also been heard before. In seeking to understand what policing means for stable societies under threat of political violence, this article examines some key transitions in the development of security policing over the last 100 years in Australia, highlighting some of the contextual features that have shaped them. In doing so it will suggest that apocalyptic rhetoric is part of the politics of policing, shared by both advocates and opponents of tougher policing, and in tension with the more sober realities of a policing that operates within a framework of enabling as well as limiting conditions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Nathaniel Peffer to JV Barry, 30 Sep 1954, NLA MS 2505/1/2206, cited in [22]: Peffer referred here to the defection in 1954 of the Australian-based Soviet intelligence agents Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov.

  2. 2.

    Debates that continue to this day—see [33, 45]

  3. 3.

    Hocking [34]. See also [25], for a like critique of what they call the ‘human security’ approach that rights and liberties are conditional on a security state.

  4. 4.

    The temper of the time can be gathered from the unique historical incident in November 1920 of the expulsion (on the motion of the Prime Minister) from the Federal Parliament of Irish–Australian parliamentarian, Hugh Mahon, for statements made outside the house regarding the Irish grievance against England: [18, 23].

  5. 5.

    National Archives of Australia (hereafter NAA) A816 (A816/1), 11/301/270, Conference of the Police Commissioners of the Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand with military officers, regarding national emergency, Brisbane, 1 Aug 1939.

  6. 6.

    See e.g. the fumbling government attempts to use the migration language test to exclude the visiting Czech writer Egon Kisch in 1934: [44]

  7. 7.

    Maurice Blackburn (1939) cited in [29]

  8. 8.

    For the administrative history of the CSS see ‘Agency notes for agency CA 660’, NAA (online at http://naa12.naa.gov.au/scripts/AgencyDetail.asp?M=3&B=CA+660); on Duncan and wartime policing see [28]

  9. 9.

    On relations between the newly formed ASIO and State police see ‘History of ASIO by Bob Swan’, vol 10, fols 7–11, NAA A6122/2076. In 1965 the State police commissioners rejected a suggestion for an annual gathering of Special Branch heads (in parallel with the CIB meetings which had been held since the 1940s), on the grounds that the ASIO co-ordinated meetings made this proposal redundant: Minutes of Conference of Police Commissioners, 1965, p. 249 (AFP Library, Canberra).

  10. 10.

    Minutes of Conference of Police Commissioners, 1964–1966.

  11. 11.

    In 1968 the national Conference of the Police Commissioners discussed establishment of a National Police Research Unit; their discussions suggest that one concern was to combat the dangers of outsider research. The brief reference to this discussion in the memoirs of the most independent and forward looking of the Commissioners, Ray Whitrod, fails to convey just how resistant were the police to outside scrutiny: [65]

  12. 12.

    Charter attached to letter of RG Menzies to Spry, 6 July 1950, ‘History of ASIO by Bob Swan’, volume 12, NAA A6122/2078, fols 35–38.

  13. 13.

    A comparison of the two charters was made in the 1977 Hope Inquiry: Australia. Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security [4].

  14. 14.

    See Swan, Vol 13, Minute to Regional Director, Victoria 29 July 1970 from undisclosed officer, fol 114–115; and see [47]

  15. 15.

    On the State special branches, much criticised during the 1970s, see especially: [24, 26, 48]

  16. 16.

    For the development of non-confrontational styles of policing and their contingent conditions see e.g. [7, 9, 10, 20], but the temptation to adopt more aggressive tactics is evident in more recent contexts: see e.g. [46]

  17. 17.

    Some indication of the scope of the changes can be gathered from the official Commonwealth information statement, ‘Australian laws to combat terrorism’, at http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/agd/www/nationalsecurity.nsf/AllDocs/826190776D49EA90CA256FAB001BA5EA?OpenDocument (accessed 5 March 2008).

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Correspondence to Mark Finnane.

Additional information

ARC Australian Professorial Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security, Griffith University. Research for this article has been carried out with the support of the Australian Research Council (DP0771492). I am grateful to John Myrtle for his research assistance.

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Finnane, M. The public rhetorics of policing in times of war and violence: countering apocalyptic visions. Crime Law Soc Change 50, 7 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-008-9125-5

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Keywords

  • State Police
  • National Security
  • Civil Liberty
  • Security Threat
  • Political Violence