An overwhelmed and distrusting Australian population, repeatedly betrayed by their own government, is now being fined and threatened with jail if they gather in public in groups of more than two people. Covid-19 has provided the perfect cover for the introduction of martial law. All the fiats, storms of regulation and expansions of police powers have no sunset clauses.

Once power is seized, no one gives it up easily.

Australia’s drift towards a totalitarian state has been evident for years.

The prophets, the writers and outliers who have repeatedly warned of the dangers accumulating in Australia’s political system — the abrogation of civil liberties, the crackdown on free speech, all in the name of “keeping Australians safe” — were largely ignored.

Now it has all come to pass.

In a case disclosed by police under the new laws, a 32-year-old woman and a 27-year-old man were fined after a police patrol in the regional NSW town of Muswellbrook spotted them in a car. Their offence? Sitting in a car with no reasonable excuse for not being at home.

A man on a park bench eating a kebab. A mother breastfeeding a baby in a park. Another man sunbaking. People walking on a beach promenade.

Australians seemingly enjoying the most basic freedoms in their downtime over the past week. Except that, in the time of coronavirus, authorities have moved them on. Or fined them.

Parliament has been suspended at least until August. No normal legislative processes are being adhered to.

By agreement with his national cabinet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison decreed only two people should gather in public spaces but left it to states to enforce that limit. In NSW, “all persons in NSW must not, without reasonable excuse, leave their place of residence”.

At the same more than a billion dollars has been spent on keeping childcare centres open. Or are they about to become indoctrination centres? As if none of these people being forbidden from meeting in groups of more than two didn’t have extended families who could take care of the sprogs in times of crisis.

That hoary old saying comes into play: Families, the last bastion against the state.

Breaching the orders is punishable in NSW by fines of up to $11,000 and/or six months in prison per person and in Victoria by fines of up to $19,800 in the courts and $1,652 on the spot. Already by Friday, more than 50 people had been fined in NSW and Victoria alone.

Needless to say, if a government needs to introduce these kinds of draconian measures in order to enforce a public health measure, they have failed to carry the people with them, don’t have their support, have failed in their communication strategies, or are simply not believed.

Since the introduction of the laws, there have been inconsistencies, confusion, questions about how and why state police are interpreting the law.

Throughout my last book, Dark Dark Policing, published this month, there is a sense of the future breaking through into the present, of food riots against a backdrop of extreme abuses of power.

Could the travesties of Stasi Germany happen in a remote, bucolic place like Australia? Of course it could. It already is. Step by terrible step.

Below is an extract. The character Old Alex is a retired newspaper reporter who bears some resemblance to the author.

John Koehler, a former US Army intelligence officer who worked during the height of the Cold War as Berlin bureau chief for Associated Press, penned one of the most authoritative works ever written on the subject, Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.

He wrote that like a giant octopus, the Stasi’s tentacles probed every aspect of life.

Without exception, one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei, the People’s Police. In turn, the police officer was the Stasi’s man.

Doctors, lawyers, journalists, writers, actors, and sports figures were co-opted by Stasi officers, as were waiters and hotel personnel. Tapping about 100,000 telephone lines in West Germany and West Berlin around the clock was the job of 2,000 officers.

If a relative or friend came to stay overnight, it was reported. Schools, universities, and hospitals were infiltrated from top to bottom.

Stasi officers knew no limits and had no shame when it came to “protecting the party and the state”. Churchmen, including high officials of both Protestant and Catholic denominations, were recruited en masse as secret informers.

Absolutely nothing was sacred to the secret police. Tiny holes were bored in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents filmed their “suspects” with special video cameras. Even bathrooms were penetrated by the Communist voyeurs.

There were some good people — of course there were, the intelligent or compassionate ones — but they were few and far between, and so he cast the ancient curses against his tormentors. For, having never been truly born, they would die their own miserable deaths, these jobsworths who had tried so very hard to eradicate him.

“We were told to destroy him,” he heard one of the operatives say apologetically. But it was all too late, the worst of all possible outcomes. They had created a journalist who knew exactly how unethical they were.

He tried to fight back, as sick of them as they were no doubt sick of him, but he had grown tired of annoying his tormentors wherever he thought there might be a microphone: “Never forget: I know how incompetent and dishonest you are.”

Alex had hated bullies all his life, ever since being bullied at school and at home. It felt as if the same bullies who had tormented him in the schoolyard now tormented him in later life, queuing up to kick him in the head.

He did not want to go; not back to the cold valleys and the psychological torture of Oak Flats, not back to the place where he had been so savagely gang stalked. It had been there where the national security agencies had tried to kill him, had harassed him so badly, had hoped that with their constant carping negativity, their setups and pressurisation, the spreading of gossip and innuendo, that he would do the job for them.

“No such luck, my darlings,” he thought, accessing some arch old queen who lived in the recesses. “Every stalker can be stalked.”

And he already knew he was being gang stalked. Yet again. They never learnt.

“Gang Stalking” is, very likely, a disinformation term created by U.S. intelligence agencies. It refers to the intense, long-term, unconstitutional surveillance and harassment of a person who has been designated as a target by someone associated with America’s security industry.

Official domestic counterintelligence operations of this type are … perpetrated by federal agents and intelligence/security contractors, sometimes with the support of state and local law enforcement personnel.

Unofficial operations of this type are … perpetrated by private investigators and vigilantes — including many former agents and cops…

America and Australia’s intelligence agencies were closely linked; if not at times indivisible. Australia abrogated their own sovereignty to America in foreign policy and all things military. Why not in intelligence?

“You can barely see daylight between them.”

The website Stop Gang Stalking records that the goal of such operations is disruption of the life of an individual deemed to be an enemy or potential enemy of clients or members of the security state.

Agents of communist East Germany’s Stasi referred to the process as Zersetzung , German for “decomposition” or “corrosion”, a reference to the severe psychological, social, and financial effects upon the victim.

American and British victims have described the process as “no-touch torture”, a phrase which also captures the nature of the crime: cowardly, unethical and often illegal, but difficult to prove legally because it generates minimal forensic evidence.

Since counterintelligence stalking goes far beyond surveillance into the realm of psychological terrorism, it is essentially a form of extrajudicial punishment.

This was the secret side of dark policing, the secret side of Australia. This was a country which had been thoroughly destroyed by the wealthy end of town, the same avaricious class which regarded the rest of the country’s denizens as fools and had never even heard the phrase “dignity of labour” — those who took pride in their work whatever their pay grades, loved their families, went about their lives minding their own business and exploited nobody.

And in the lack of a national ethic, or continuity, in the fragmented and destroyed place that had once been Australia, a place which once, as a child, seemed as large as the world itself, Alex looked down on shattering circumstance and knew no peace.

Why did no one speak up as the country moved step by step towards Stasi Germany? Because almost no one ever spoke up, against injustice, against the thuggery of the mob, against the groupthink that was enslaving the population.

He had once belonged, he belonged no more.

The country was more on edge, more at war with itself, than it had ever been.

First Published 6 April, 2020.