ADF role in terror response criticised Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 January 2006


Police and civil liberties advocates have criticised new laws allowing the military to be called out in the case of a major terrorist attack.


A Senate committee is inquiring into changes to defence laws to improve the way the Australian Defence Force (ADF) can respond to domestic security incidents.


Dr Ben Saul, from the University of NSW's law faculty, said in a submission to the inquiry the government needed to ensure that the laws were in line with Australia's international human rights obligations.


Dr Saul said a clause in the draft bill said an ADF member must not do anything likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm unless they believe on reasonable grounds that doing so is necessary to protect life or prevent serious injury.


They were also prevented from subjecting a person to "greater indignity than is reasonable and necessary".


"While allowing force in these exceptional circumstances may be necessary, the wording of this clause suggests that it may be permissible to inflict torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on a person," Dr Saul said.


He said considering the mistreatment of suspected terrorists and enemy combatants by the United States in recent times, a change was needed to ensure the laws complied with United Nations human rights conventions.


The bill has also been condemned by police, who have called for it to be postponed until federal, state and territory police forces had a chance to discuss it.


Police Federation of Australia chief Mark Burgess said in his submission the laws largely ignored the role of states and territories.

Mr Burgess said ADF members may be able to avoid prosecution if they broke state laws during an emergency.


The Defence Department told the inquiry the ADF would only be called in as a last resort and safeguards were in place.


"The bill provides the ADF personnel with the legal authority to take those actions necessary to achieve the objectives of the call-out and provides appropriate legal protection to those personnel involved in those actions while making it clear they do not operate outside the boundaries of Australian criminal law," its submission said.


Defence said terrorists were more often targeting civilians with the aim of taking mass casualties and giving authorities little or no warning.


The Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network said the bill should be rejected outright because existing laws were adequate.

The network said there were innate problems with police working alongside the military, as had been shown in Northern Ireland in the 1970s.


"Events such as these elucidate the dangers in deploying highly armed soldiers, trained and equipped to kill, into civilian areas," the network's submission said.


© 2006 AAP

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