Australian PM says proposed Anti-Terror Laws are Constitutional

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

John Howard has dismissed the claims made by the Queensland's Solicitor General that the Federal Government's proposed anti-terror laws could be unconstitutional. He has also come under criticism for planning to introduce the laws on Melbourne Cup Day, a day when most Australian’s will be paying attention to a Horse Race, and not politics.

In an unusual move, the government will compel an instantaneous debate on the legislation, giving the opposition 10 minutes to scrutinize the draft laws rather than the usual fortnight.

Opposition homeland security spokesman Arch Bevis told The Age newspaper "This is an extraordinary abuse of power, the likes of which I don't think anyone would remember,"

"John Howard now has control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and if he wants to use his power in an arrogant, bloody-minded way we don't have the numbers to stop him."

Earlier today Queensland’s Peter Beattie told ABC Radio that the Prime Minister's proposals could face legal challenges. Other State Premiers are seeking their own legal advice, with only the Western Australian Premier also raising similar concerns

John Howard told ABC’s World Today “The advice we have is that these laws are constitutional. There's never been any doubt raised by our legal advisers”.

The Prime Minister added he would be willing to talk through the issue with the State Premiers. Agreeing this morning that the solicitor-generals from the states will consult along with the national equivalent to work through these issues .

The QLD Premier who supports the principles of the bill told ABC radio “I'm not interested in making this a public issue, or pursuing some sort of silly public debate. What I'm interested in is resolving these issues, ensuring that we actually protect Australia, protect the nation, and protect Australians as well. That's why we've insisted on a public interest monitor. Any of these legal issues we will deal with and we'll deal with them sensibly.

Independent supporters of the bill are urging the government to push ahead. Neil James from the Australia Defense Association says that the legal precedents recognized during World War I and World War II would indicate that most of the reasonably contentious provisions would be constitutional.

However Constitutional lawyer John Williams says that judges and magistrates could argue that the proposed laws undermined judicial independence. Dr Williams believes a High Court challenge to the laws was almost inevitable.

Telling ABC Radio that "I could not see that this legislation could operate for long without a challenge being made,"

The Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley calling on Mr Howard to exercise vigilance as it would exasperate Australian taxpayers if people mistakenly subjected to his anti-terror laws were then paid thousands of dollars in damages.

Interviewed by Melbourne’s Herald Sun Newspaper, he said, "You have to, when you are introducing laws like this, make absolutely certain there are checks and balances in it."

Mr Beazley also says that the Anti-Terror Laws aren’t the action the Government could be taking to protect Australians..

"We have yawning gaps, yawning holes in the protection of the Australian people."

He cited Australia's coastal borders as being unprotected, with habitual illegal fishing incursions, a sign of the country's vulnerabilities

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