THE draft anti-terrorism law is so broad it could even be used
to jail members of the Australian Wheat Board accused of paying
Saddam Hussein $290 million through a front company, a Government
committee has been told.
Members of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties told a Senate
committee that by introducing the element of recklessness to a
crime of sedition, members of many organisations would be exposed
to prosecution for an offence not used for decades.
Witnesses said the laws were so wide they could be used to
prosecute ACTU secretary Greg Combet for his remarks urging
opposition to the new industrial laws, and could be applied to
those who had supported resistance movements, including Fretilin in
East Timor, and Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.
Council president Cameron Murphy said the law was "the most
dangerous threat to our democratic system in our history".
He predicted police investigations into normal crimes would
"morph" into terrorism investigations because the new laws gave
police such broad powers to search properties.
Mr Murphy agreed the AWB payments, ostensibly for the transport
of wheat inside Iraq, could constitute the sort of reckless
behaviour outlawed by the new sedition clauses.
The co-convener of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy
Network, Dr Waleed Kadous, said that under the bill, supporting
resistance groups such as Fretilin could be seen as advocating
He predicted the laws would discourage Muslims from co-operating
But the head of ASIO, Paul O'Sullivan, supported the proposed
new laws, telling senators they were "directed at strengthening
Australia's counter-terrorism capabilities".
Despite the recent arrests on terrorism charges in Sydney and
Melbourne, the threat had still not abated, he said, and ASIO
believed an act of terrorism was "feasible and could still
The deputy commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, John
Lawler, said police strongly supported the proposals on control
orders, preventive detention, wider search powers and sedition.
But he said the laws would be used "judiciously and cautiously"
to protect people. He made it clear that control orders, allowing
for possible house arrests, would be used against suspects who had
trained in terrorist camps overseas, in bomb-making and
assassination, not where there was insufficient evidence to charge
them with an offence or where the evidence would reveal
Mr Lawler said the federal police supported the proposed
sedition laws because there were people who urged others to
undertake terrorist activity.
He noted the publicity earlier this year about the sale of
publications inciting violence.
However, questioned by senators, Mr Lawler conceded that the
federal police had received no written advice from the
Attorney-General explaining why the existing laws on incitement to
violence were not sufficient to prosecute offenders.
The president of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity
Commission, John von Doussa, was particularly worried that the new
bill had no provisions on how to detain suspects suffering from
If such a person were cut off from support mechanisms, "it could
be disastrous", he said.
■ Principle dictates that naturalised Australians
convicted of terrorism should not be stripped of citizenship,
Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou said in Melbourne last
He said that leaving aside thorny practical problems such as
rendering people stateless, "all Australian citizens should be
equal in the eyes of the law".
Some Liberals, including Sophie Panopoulos, have urged taking
away the citizenship of those associated with terrorism.
But Mr Georgiou said: "If two Australians commit a serious
crime, one should not be punished more severely than the other
because of the place of his or her birth.
"Citizenship that is acquired should not be inherently and
permanently inferior in status."
Matthew Moore, Marian Wilkinson and Michelle Grattan
The Age , November 18, 2005