In the years following September 11 2001, the ‘war on terror’ has led to increased powers for law enforcement and security bodies, including the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). The powers given to these organisations have resulted in the Muslim community being disproportionately affected by the laws – though not exclusively so. To identify and analyse what the Muslim community have felt and observed as a result of the extended anti-terror laws, AMCRAN conducted a survey on the Muslim community’s perceptions of and contact with ASIO, the AFP and State anti-terror authorities. The survey covered two main issues - actual encounters with authorities and perceptions of the anti-terror laws and policing. The survey consisted of a sample of 146 respondents from Sydney’s Southwest suburbs, including Lakemba, Bankstown and Punchbowl.
Encounters with counter-terrorism authorities
Though only 11 percent of people reported direct contact with authorities, half of the respondents indicated that they personally knew one or more person contacted by anti-terror authorities. There are a few issues which arise from this finding. First, amongst those who have not come into direct contact with the authorities, other people's experiences of contact appear to be widely communicated and circulated amongst the Muslim community.
Second, the level of contact with the authorities is under reported. In this survey, this may have been a result of the strong warning that was issued to respondents in relation to the non-disclosure offences relating to contact with ASIO. Although these offences only apply to formal warrants issued by ASIO, the fear surrounding them could potentially explain the non-reporting of informal contact as well.
Respondents were also asked about how the contact with authorities took place. Of the 17 respondents who indicated direct contact with authorities, 12 had been for ‘friendly’ or informal purposes. Many respondents indicated that they had not been shown a warrant, and that officers asked ‘general questions,’ about the ‘general sentiments’ of the Muslim community, ‘Muslim perceptions of current events’ or their views on controversial community figures. None of the respondents indicated that they had asked someone to come with them during the contact and none indicated they had reported the contact to an outside body.
Perceptions of anti-terror authorities
An overwhelmingly large percentage of the respondents reported feeling unsafe, specifically targeted by the anti-terror laws or worried at the extent of policing powers. An analysis of the results is outlined below:
- 57% of respondents felt that they had a good knowledge of their legal rights
- 84% of respondents reported that counter-terrorism measures did not make them feel safe
- Almost 80% of respondents were at some level concerned about the loss of civil liberties
- 82% of the respondents agreed that the community they most identified with was being unfairly targeted by authorities
- 63% of respondents were ‘somewhat’ to ‘very worried’ about ASIO following September 11 2001
- 62% of the respondents indicated that they were afraid or worried about the possibility of a terrorist act in Australia
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