This has been a very tough year for Muslims in Australia, but new anti-terror laws put forward by the Prime Minister could make it even tougher. AMCRAN has prepared this document to assist the Muslim community to understand the impact of the proposed laws. Please circulate widely through your networks. The proposed new laws don’t just affect terrorists. They affect all Australians, but will have a particularly difficult impact on Muslims.
The laws are yet to be drafted so no details of the proposals are available. However, we are very alarmed by what we have been told. It is important for us to understand what the implications of the proposed laws are. It is the responsibility of everyone to contribute to the campaign to stop these laws.
What is the status of the laws?
The Prime Minister John Howard has called a meeting with State leaders to discuss these proposals. It is expected that they will be introduced formally some time after that. If there is enough opposition from the community, we can stop them before they get into parliament.
What do the new laws say, and what are their impacts on the community?
There are 12 broad areas of proposed new anti-terror laws. This e-mail will only focus on the most serious concerns.
"Control orders" would allow the police to go before a closed court and ask for restrictions to be placed on someone who "poses a terrorist risk". The restrictions can limit who they can talk to, where they can go.They may also require the person to wear a tracking device such as a electronic foot bracelet, or report regularly to a certain place as if they were on bail. These restrictions can last for up to 12 months.
This treatment is not even imposed on convicted murderers, but it is now going to be imposed on people who haven't even been properly tried, simply on the basis that they may "pose a terrorist risk". The problem is that this phrase is very vague and many innocent people may be thought by police to pose such a risk even though they do not.
Where does your Zakat go?
They are also proposing that new systems be in place to make sure charities are not misused to channel funds to terrorists.This would likely increase surveillance of Muslim charities that collect money for the poor and the needy. Financial services are already expected to develop risk-assessment tools to identify “Politically Exposed Persons”.
When similar laws were introduced in the United States, many legitimate Islamic charities had their assets frozen (for example, the Holy Land Foundation). This stopped them from continuing to operate Muslim orphanages around the world and many thousands of Muslim children suffered.
Preventative detention powers would allow people to be detained without charge for up to 14 days. This actually violates the Australian Constitution so the Federal Government has to ask the States to help them with this part of the law.
This means that if there was suspicion that a terrorist attack would occur, hundreds of people could be detained on very thin grounds. They would not be able to go to work, or to communicate with anybody, if the existing laws are any guide.
Tougher ASIO powers
The current ASIO powers would be toughened under new proposals. Search warrants would be valid for 3 months instead of only 28 days. Instead of having to get a warrant to gain access to your mail every 3 months, they would only need to do it every 6 months. This means that there is less oversight over these processes, and will open the door for police corruption. This is important as any student of Australian history knows, police have not always been free from corruption in Australia.
Loss of free speech
Under the proposed laws, it would be a criminal offence for someone to incite violence against the community "in support of Australia's enemies". So it would be a crime to say "Iraqis should resist the occupation by the US, UK and Australia", and they could face up to seven years in prison.
This isn't just about Iraq. It is about the right of Muslims to speak up about injustice anywhere in the world and to support nations who want independence from occupying forces, even if those are forces of Australia or its allies.
Furthermore, the laws would be extended to make organisations that "advocate terrorism" illegal. The problem is that "advocate terrorism" could be very broad. For example, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) has consistently denied that it supports terrorism, but because it says that people who live in occupied Muslim lands have the right indeed the obligation to resist and remove the occupation, this could be interpreted as "advocating terrorism". If HT is listed as a terrorist organisation, all the members of HT could go to prison for 10 years, and under current laws it would be an offence to “associate” with any of its directors, promoters or members.
Potential profiling of Muslims with “stop, question and search” powers
The new laws would extend "stop, question and search" powers of the police. These would give the police the ability to stop anyone in the street, search them (possibly even including strip searches) and ask them questions when police suspect a person might be about to commit a terrorist offence.
Studies have shown that laws like these are applied based on stereotypes and racial profiling. It is very likely that these laws would be applied to people of "a middle Eastern appearance" more than any other group.
There are also other changes, including: "notice to produce" powers that allow police to ask for information, police having access to airline passenger information, and the laws around citizenship will be toughened.
What can be done?
Unfortunately, an opportunity has been missed to do something about this. When the Prime Minister invited 13 Muslims to attend his summit, the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network and more than 50 other organisations pleaded with those invited to convey to the Prime Minister that they were deeply concerned about new anti-terror laws being introduced. This was not done.
However, we must move on. There are things that every Muslim can do:
- Participate in AMCRAN's campaign against these laws. AMCRAN is working closely with academics, legal and civil liberties groups to develop a strategy as to how to best deal with the threat of these new laws.To keep abreast of this campaign, subscribe to AMCRANfirstname.lastname@example.org. You can do that by visiting here.
- Write to the following people before the Council of Australian Governments meeting on September 27 expressing your concerns:
- Nicola Roxon
Parliament House, Canberra
Fax: (02) 6277 8405
- Morris Iemma
Premier of New South Wales
Fax: 02 9228 3934
- Bob Debus
NSW Attorney General
Fax (02) 9228 3166
For those in Victoria:
- Steve Bracks
Premier of Victoria
Fax: (03) 9397 7227
- Rob Hulls
Vic Attorney General
Fax: (03) 9379 4434
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