Labor terrorism laws give police free hand Print E-mail
Monday, 26 September 2005


Police could lock down an entire suburb and carry out unfettered searches on homes, vehicles and individuals under anti-terrorism laws proposed by the Labor leader, Kim Beazley.


Under the Opposition's plan announced yesterday, the extraordinary powers could be executed on the basis of "credible intelligence" only, and without seeking judicial approval.

Mr Beazley called for police commissioners to be allowed to lock down an area if intelligence suggested a terrorist act was imminent or terrorists had struck.


Police could search people, vehicles and premises in the target area, demand proof of a person's identity, confiscate items, tow away vehicles, and prevent people removing or interfering with objects.


While Mr Beazley described the proposals as sensible and practical, a Muslim civil liberties advocate, Waleed Kadous, said it was a "very disappointing" salvo in a "political game of one-upmanship to give away civil rights".


Concerns, too, were voiced among federal Labor MPs, although several said they agreed with the plan. It was drawn up by a small circle that included Mr Beazley, his staff and relevant shadow ministers.


One MP questioned whether the plan ditched civil and legal rights for the expediency of "out-Howarding Howard" and another said it was "far-fetched".


Mr Beazley said he wanted his plan adopted at tomorrow's meeting in Canberra of the Prime Minister and the state premiers to discuss proposed anti-terrorism laws, including 14 days' detention of suspects without a lawyer and the electronic tagging of those assessed as terrorism risks.


The Federal Government will not offer the states sunset clauses in any consequent legislation but is understood to be willing to accede if the premiers insist on them.


From discussion and the exchange of documents, the Federal Government is satisfied that in-principle agreement exists except on the issue of so-called control orders - the means of monitoring terrorist suspects. The states want safeguards to ensure orders are not issued willy-nilly and the Federal Government regards this as the main sticking point in tomorrow's talks.


The Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, said yesterday that civil liberties would be preserved but the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, said he would abandon the talks if safeguards were not adequate.


Mr Beazley has not opposed the Howard Government's proposals but wants to go further with the search-and-seize model, which he has borrowed largely from NSW.


The powers he is seeking could be used for up to 12 hours without a judge's approval. They could be enforced for seven days without an attack and 48 hours after one.


Mr Beazley insisted this would amount to proper judicial oversight, particularly as Parliament would require a subsequent report and lawful industrial or political protest would be protected.


"These powers give police what they need to help protect our communities," Mr Beazley said.


"They are targeted and time-limited and they could be national if the Prime Minister shows the necessary leadership."


A spokesman for Mr Ruddock said Labor was "playing catch-up" with federal reforms announced last month. But these identify only "transport hubs and other places of mass gatherings", where police might be able to exercise unlimited search and seizure powers, and limit them to people and bags.


Mr Kadous, of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network, said thousands of innocent people would suffer under the Beazley plan. It could spark antagonism among Muslims and others if one ethnic group dominated the area.


Tom Allard, Louise Dodson and David Humphries

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September 2005

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