Civil libertarians appalled by anti-terrorism regime Print E-mail
Wednesday, 28 September 2005


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.

ALEXANDRA 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.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr von Doussa says the new terrorism laws are tough on terror, but also tough on human rights, sacrificing individual rights for security.

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 constitution.

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.

And 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.

President 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.

JOHN 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.

TERRY 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.

WALEED 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.


Alexandra Kirk

AM ABC Radio, 28 September 2008

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