November 2015

So who saw the story about “Sovereign Citizens” on ABC’s 7.30 tonight?

The ABC program reported that a “NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment” has unveiled a shocking new terrorism threat!

“Sovereign citizens are in Australia and both their numbers and the threat they pose, are growing”

The ABC would have us believe that the US militia movement of the 1990s was about to break forth in Australia:

Police records show the number of Australian sovereign citizens in NSW doubled from 2009 to 2011 and nearly tripled from 2009 to 2012.

Interactions with police increased 50 per cent in 2011, with a “notable increase in threats of violence”.

In the United States, domestic anti-government extremists have murdered 32 law enforcement officers and the Department of Homeland Security now says they’re the number one domestic terrorist threat.

The truth is a little more mundane.

Australia’s sovereignty cranks are more likely to be engaged in banking frauds than armed violence.

Much more likely. In the ABC’s report a NSW Police spokesperson concedes that the sovereign citizenship movement has not in fact been associated with any substantial acts of violence in Australia:

Australia had not experienced any of the high impact violence resulting in death or casualties associated with the movement overseas

Sovereign citizens might annoyingly drive around “displaying homemade registration plates”, but they are not the US militia movement of the 1990s. So why the terrorism beat up?

Detective Superintendent John O’Reilly is the commander of the Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Operation Group for NSW Police.

He said…

“Sovereign citizens are people that don’t buy into our legal framework, our system of government,” he said.

“They consider themselves individuals and operate outside the law and outside our tax system.”


I’d be really keen to read the NSW Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics command assessment in question. Who else do they consider potential terrorists?

How about land rights campaigners? An increasing number of Aboriginal people take the slogan “Sovereignty Never Ceded” seriously.

Are First Nations Liberation, Black Nations Rising, or Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance included on some list of potential terrorists?

What about anarchists? (I ask rather self-interestedly!) Or communists? Or Socialists? What about the growing elements in the environmental movement, trade union movement, or anyone else who has come to see in whose interests our government governs?

Sovereign citizens are cranks, but within Australia they have always been harmless cranks. The idea that Australia’s sovereign citizen movement is capable of anything more than vexatious litigation and creative financial scams is patently absurd. The fact that NSW Police classify them as a terrorist threat is just more evidence of how widely the Australian state is now casting the terrorism net.


The Monthly, 6 Sept 2014, Freemen movement targets Indigenous Australia.

Living the Dream, 12 Oct 2015, Evereything You Know is Wrong – Conspiracy Theory (podcast).

Cartoon by Randall Munroe, xkcd.
Cartoon by xkcd.

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TD;DR, Use of a standard hashtag for tracking ticket inspectors, and specific hashtags for routes and stops, would improve the level of information available to commuters on social media.

Approximately 5.9% of public transport users fare evade. I’m surprised it isn’t higher; there are plenty of good reasons people fare evade.

Consider the rate of poverty; 13.7 of Melbournians live below the Henderson poverty line. All of the current welfare payments fall below the Henderson Poverty line. If you are on any form of welfare payment, you’re likely subsisting on <$20/day after rent. A concession myki daily in zone 1 is $3.76. Everybody need some basic access to transport, and until there is some form of free public transit, a sizable minority of public transport users will be forced to either fare evade or walk.

I am surprised that so many living on so little scrape together the payments demanded by the private operators of our supposedly public transport system. But then, consider the level of policing. As a recent report in The Age highlights:

“More than 13 million tickets have been checked since October 2013, with authorised officers checking around 400,000 more tickets per month than the same time a year ago,” Mr Fedda said.

Fare evasion peaked in 2011, during the transition to the myki smartcard system, when 12.7 per cent of passengers fare evaded. Since then the number of fines handed out has soared 46 per cent, with 158,000 infringement notices issued in 2013-14, Mr Fedda said.

The daily experience of ticket inspection has been one of harassment, intimidation, and more than occasional violence.

Whether it’s disgust at violence by inspectors, a $1.5 billion dollar ticketing system paid for with public money for the gain of private contractors, ongoing boycott in protest at the sacking of Connies, or the simple fact that we all need to travel whilst not all of us can pay – there are many good reasons to fare evade.

There are also many good reasons to want to know where the “chaps” enforcing this farce are at.

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Three years ago the Sydney tabloids breathlessly reported on a sinister new mobile app that was going to tell us all where the ticket inspectors were at. The Spector app hasn’t been updated since 2013 and receives little in the way of traffic.

More recently the Herald Sun and others have reported on Facebook pages warning commuters of the location of authorised officers:

THOUSANDS of Melbourne fare evaders are dodging ticket inspectors with the help of social media snitches that track their whereabouts.

More than 4700 people have liked a Facebook page that posts the whereabouts of inspectors and encourages others to do the same.

Two of the larger Facebook groups are Report Ticket Inspectors live and Where are our mates, Melbourne’s PT ticket wardens today?.

Both of these groups are interesting projects, but it’s a bit of a lucky dip as to whether you will find the information you want by trawling these groups when you are traveling. The same is true for information on twitter.

Public transport users interested in tracking, monitoring, or avoiding (for various reasons) Melbourne’s ticket inspectors need a more reliable system. My earth shattering proposal: basically what everyone is already doing but with some standard hashtags.

There should be a general hashtag for tracking authorized officers in Melbourne (as opposed to the generic #ticketinspectors, which whilst intuitive is just as likely to give you information about scum on the tube), and then specific hashtags for every tram, train and bus service.

For want of a better solution, I propose #AuthOffMelb. It’s a bad attempt at a bad pun.

I’d then propose that all reports of ticket inspectors locations include a hashtag for the service. For buses, #bus and then the bus number, eg. #bus903. For trams, #rt and then the route number, eg. #rt19. For trains, #[destination]line, eg. #WerribeeLine. If used consistently, this would give people the ability to check ticket inspector locations on their line.

It would also be useful to use standard hashtags for stops and stations. Stations are easy, #StationnameStation, eg. #FlemingtonStation. Both trams and buses have stop numbers, but I’m not sure how many people pay attention to either. It’s probably easier to encourage people to use the most common name for stops, eg. #MelbourneUniStop.

So the long and short of all that rambling: if people chose to Facebook and tweet reports on the location of ticket inspectors in a standard format with some standard hashtags, more people might be able to make use of that information in various ways.

Examples (entirely fictional):

Chaps at #VicUniStop. #bus550 #bus551 bus#250. #authoffmelb

There are delightful people on #rt57 to city, just passing #ChildrensHospitalStop. #authoffmelb

The #CranbourneLine that just left #SouthernCrossStation is crawling with them. #authoffmelb

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Attempting to avoid or track ticket inspectors is not a long term solution. Every person living here needs to be able to move about the city. Public transport is a public good that should be provided for all, yet at present we live in a city where hired goons extort money from public transport users who (where they are fare evading) largely can’t afford it. Public transport built and maintained at public expense has been contracted out for private gain.

In the long term we should demand free public transport. As an anarchist, another interesting question is that of direct action. How can public transport users take collective action to demand or create free public transport?

The basic idea that springs to mind is some kind of payment strike. Mass non compliance with ticket inspectors, perhaps backed up by the collective action of commuters to eject ticket inspectors from public transport vehicles, could render public transport fares meaningless. Any such campaign would have to involve both the majority of public transport workers and a sizable proportion of commuters to be successful.

A payment strike is not practical at this point. Until it is, we should continue to raise the demand that everyone has the right to move about this city, whether they have $3.76 or not.


Check out this handy flow chart, “Can I ride the tram?”.

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Six years after the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, an estimated 650 Tamil political prisoners remain imprisoned in Sri Lanka, indefinitely, and without charge:

They are being held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which allows the security forces to detain people for up to 18 months without bringing them before a court.

But some have been jailed since 1997.

The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a landmark report last month that the government had acknowledged holding 258 men and women under the PTA but only 54 of them had been convicted of anything.

Nearly 30 prisoners of varied ethnicities died in prisons during rioting in 2012. – BBC, 12 Oct 2015.

Expectations that Tamil political prisoners would be either released, or charged and tried, had been raised as a result of recent political changes in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s war time authoritarian leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost to Maithripala Sirisena in January elections in Sri Lanka:

“the country’s numerical minorities voted overwhelmingly for Sirisena during January’s presidential election” – The Diplomat, October 19.

With the war apparently over, it would seem reasonable to demand that war-time powers be repealed:

“A range of people and groups (both on the island and abroad) have been demanding that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) be repealed for quite some time. The legislation gives the country’s state security personnel wide-ranging authority to search, arrest and detain people; without a doubt, the law has had a disproportionately negative effect on the nation’s Tamil community” – The Diplomat, October 19.

After nine months of political inaction, Tamil prisoners began an indefinite hunger strike in early October. By October 12 President Sirisena had promised to address the status of Tamil prisoners:

Tamil political prisoners who began a fast unto death six days ago demanding their release, suspended their protest temporarily yesterday after receiving a written assurance from President Maithripala Sirisena to solve the issue of their detention prior to 7 November. – Ceylon Today, 18 October

It now appears that the Sirisena government has reneged on it’s commitments to address the status of Tamil prisoners:

The Srisena regime has announced that it will not release most of the Tamil political prisoners who have been languishing in the jails and detention centres in Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe announced on Friday only 32 prisoners will be released by 9th November.

Reacting to the announcement from Colombo, Tamil political prisoners said to Ceylon Today:

“We shall launch another ‘fast unto death’ if the President fails to adhere to his promises, as mentioned in the letter, before 7 November. This is the only way we have chosen to find a solution to our burning problem. President Sirisena will be held accountable for our deaths during the hunger strike. President Sirisena will be responsible for our vital organs. He should take responsibility to donate our organs.”

A large number of the Tamil political prisoners have been kept in prison for over two decades without charge or trial by the Sri Lankan state through emergency powers granted to its security forces in the Prevention of Terrorist Act ( PTA) and Emergency Regulation Laws. Majority of the prisoners have experienced torture and been subjected to human rights violations by the Sri Lankan police and intelligence. Some of the prisoners have revealed their stories of sexual torture.

The Tamil Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council, C.V. Vigneswaran, in a press release, emphasized that good governance cannot be implanted from the outside; the government has to prove it by actions. He also said that the release of Tamil political prisoners has proven to involve no risk for the state as those released under the previous regime caused no violence. He also pointed out the discriminatory logic of the government, which provided amnesty to the Sinhalese insurgents of the JVP during the 1970’s and 1990’s while refusing it to Tamil political prisoners:

“In the time of the JVP, everyone was given unconditional general amnesty. To say that there are obstacles and delays is surprising for us. It is only by accommodating such small requests that the rhetoric of good governance can have some use, but to maintain such policies, and chanting ‘good governance’ is obsolete.”

The Srisena Government’s reluctance to release Tamil political prisoners and maintain war-time emergency laws exposes their intent to continue with the genocidal agenda of the successive Sri Lankan Governments, Tamil Refugee Council said today.

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the Tamil political prisoners, unlawfully incarcerated by the occupying Sri Lankan forces and its state in official and undisclosed detention camps and prisons.” Said Tamil Refugee Spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam.

“We demand the Australian government and it’s allies, who proved their influence in the island by instigating a regime change earlier this year, to wield the same power in pressing the Colombo government to immediately grant general amnesty to all Tamil political prisoners. The incarcerated Tamils are not criminals, and cannot be subjected to the criminal jurisdiction of the Sri Lankan state. They are rather political prisoners and Prisoners of War.”

“The western governments cannot conceive or expect a cessation to the refugee crisis, involving Tamils, without solving the political situation in their homeland. It is the Sri Lankan state terror and military occupation of their traditional homelands leads to Tamils fleeing persecution and impoverished lives towards countries like Australia” – Tamil Refugee Council Press Office, 9 November 2015

The campaign for justice for Tamils on the island of Sri Lanka continues. Within Australia I strongly encourage comrades to support the work of the Tamil Refugee Council and Tamil Fightback. You can follow Tamil Fightback on Twitter, Facebook and on 3cr Radio in Melbourne.



Trevor Grant has published a new piece on the ongoing genocide against Tamil people in Sri Lanka:

The Sirisena regime says in one forum they are going to release all prisoners, then, in another, denies there are any political detainees. The end result is preservation of the status quo, except for a few token releases designed to silence continued demands from Amnesty International and other well-informed, respected human rights groups to free these people and investigate the 146,000 reported Tamil disappearances, along with the many mass graves that have been uncovered in recent times.

Check it out.

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