PETER CAVE: The Prime Minister describes them as "unusual laws for
Australia," arguing the sweeping new counter-terrorism package designed
by the nation's heads of government is necessary because, as he says,
"we live in unusual circumstances".
But civil libertarians say
the new regime is "appalling", with some lawyers disappointed and
concerned that politicians have agreed to sacrifice their basic
individual rights, putting politics ahead of the public interest.
Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra.
KIRK: Australia's heads of government have unanimously backed sweeping
new powers to deal with the terrorist threat. But one prominent critic
believes they've made a big mistake, former federal court judge, now
President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, John
von Doussa warning it's fraught with danger.
JOHN VON DOUSSA:
And the view that is being expressed by human rights activists widely
is that they are not necessary and you are falling into the hands of
the terrorists by adopting the very sorts of tactics which are not
central to a democratic system, and therefore you are giving them a
measure of success as it were. They are beginning to achieve what they
set out to achieve, namely, to destroy the system.
KIRK: Mr von Doussa says the new terrorism laws are tough on terror,
but also tough on human rights, sacrificing individual rights for
JOHN VON DOUSSA: For some members of the community
about whom we have the real concern are the innocent people who are in
the wrong place at the wrong time.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Most
concerning, he cautions, is the move to give state police the power to
detain terrorism suspects for up to two weeks without charge. He says
Australians should be alarmed. The States have just agreed to help the
Commonwealth get round one of the basic human rights protections in our
JOHN VON DOUSSA: There are not many fundamental
human rights embedded into our constitution, but one of them is that
which prohibits punitive action against people, detaining people
without charge or without conviction for significant periods of time.
the Commonwealth recognising that has now sought to elicit the
assistance of the States to get around one of our few constitutional
protections, and that I would have thought was a matter of very grave
concern for everyone in Australia.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Another
staunch critic, the Law Council of Australia, says yesterday's
counter-terrorism summit put politics ahead of the public interest.
John North thinks the Premiers and Chief Ministers signed up to the
Prime Minister's agenda believing they'd be blamed if they did nothing.
NORTH: The average person should be very worried indeed, because once
you give police forces expanded stop, search and seize powers, once you
give them the right to put a control order band on you for one year
even though you're not suspected of having committed the crime, we're
moving into the type of country that Australia really shouldn't become.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Civil libertarians like Terry O'Gorman say the new laws are appalling.
O'GORMAN: A system of, in effect, internment without charge for a
period of 14 days where there's been no case made out for that being
necessary, represents a sad day, a pretty black day for civil liberties
in this country.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: The head of the Council for
Civil Liberties claims terrorists have spooked the political leaders
into backing draconian proposals.
And Islamic groups are
worried, too. Waleed Kadous from the Australian Muslim Civil Rights
Advocacy Network says Muslims are the first in the firing line of these
new laws and they'll feel they're being demonised.
KADOUS: The laws are not aimed at the Muslim community. They have an
impact on all Australians. But in their application they will have a
specific impact on the Muslim community.
For example, it's far
more likely that police will search someone based on them having Middle
Eastern appearance whether or not their belief that that person may be
doing something wrong is justified or not.
It's just there's too much room in this legislation for abuse.
PETER CAVE: Muslim civil rights advocate, Waleed Kadous.
AM ABC Radio, 28 September 2008