Australian "terror laws" face backlash

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 One day after Jon Stanhope, the Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister, posted a confidential draft of the proposed Australian anti-terror bill to his website, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock claims that modifications have been made. Prime Minister John Howard denies that the changes are more than "minor", and denies that the legislation is "draconian". The legislation, which will only be debated in Parliament for one day, has come under attack by members of parliament (including Senator Bob Brown), civil libertarians, Muslims' rights advocates, the Law Council of Australia and members of the community.

Advocates of the proposed legislation claim that the laws are an extension of the existing criminal code. They also claim that Australia is in danger of a terrorist attack, such as the 7 July London bombings. Others have pointed out that the London bombers were not previously known to police and would not have been impacted by this legislation.

Western Australian Opposition Leader and Member for Kalgoorlie Matt Birney said "Look, let's just remember there are lunatics running around the place blowing people up and we need to take these extraordinary measures to deal with what is no doubt an extraordinary period of time in our history".

Prime Minister Howard defended the proposed legislation. He claimed that the laws had "minor" modifications (to the "leaked" document) but they were essentially the same.

"What is going to be in that legislation is what I announced and the states agreed to – no more, no less," Mr Howard told the Nine Network.

"I announced that we were going to have preventative detention, I announced that we were going to have control orders, I announced that we would be expanding the sedition offence to include incitement of violent behaviour against the community."

"All of those things have been out in the public domain.

"Now obviously people are entitled to have a look at the final form of the legislation and they will, but this idea that we have snuck in a whole lot of attacks on civil liberties beyond what I announced is completely wrong."

"We are not trying to sneak anything through under the cover of the COAG agreement."

"Given the circumstances in which we live, they're not draconian. They are unusual but we live in unusual circumstances."

Waleed Kadous of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network spoke against the proposed laws. He expressed concern that the proposed "shoot to kill" laws were too permissive, and could allow an innocent suspect to be such. He said that the "devil is in the detail and there are plenty of devils in this legislation".

"Frankly we are disappointed, because while the Prime Minister said there would be lots of safeguards, there don't appear to be that many."

"We are concerned police can shoot to kill without a crime being committed and that you can be held in preventative detention for 24 hours before you even see a judge."

Even a former Liberal prime minister has used a major speech in Melbourne to outline his concerns about the legislation.

Mr Malcom Fraser says it provides no real safeguards to protect rights.

Mr Fraser says these laws do not belong in a democracy, and is particularly concerned about control orders.

"These are powers whose breadth and arbitrary nature, with a lack of judicial oversight, should not exist in any democratic country," he said.

Mr Fraser insists there is not enough protection.

"There are no real safeguards, there is no adequate official review," he said.

"The law should be opposed because the process itself is seriously flawed.

"Instead of a wide-ranging discussion, the Government has sought to nobble the field in secret and to prevent debate."

Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou has expressed reservations about the package, calling for an independent watchdog to monitor the new powers.

Three international law experts have also criticised the proposed laws.