Muslim community open letter and AMCRAN correspondence with AG 2004 Print E-mail
Sunday, 11 July 2004


On 14 June 2004, AMCRAN coordinated a joint open letter from leading Muslim organisations to Federal MPs and Senators raising concerns about the effects of the anti-terrorism legislation on the Muslim community. A media release was sent out about these concerns. 


Many MPs and Senators responded to the open letter.  Most of the replies were form responses, but several took the time to address (to various extents) the issues raised in the open letter.  The Attorney-General Mr Philip Ruddock's response in particular was of concern to AMCRAN and follow-up correspondences ensued. 


The parliamentarians who replied (with their letter if appropriate) were:


Note: Some of the letters are addressed to Mr Subhi Al-Shaik, as he was the first signatory listed (signatories were listed by alphabetical order of organisation).


In response to the Attorney-General's letter above, AMCRAN wrote again: 


The Hon Philip Ruddock MP
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Your ref: MC04/7349


23 August 2004


Dear Hon Mr Ruddock,


I refer to your letter dated 2 August 2004 in response to our open letter to all federal ministers of parliament on 9 June 2004. I thank you for your detailed and long-awaited response.


We are all too aware of the details of anti-terrorism laws in this country that you have painstakingly outlined in your letter, as we have recently released a know-your-rights guide that outlines people’s rights and responsibilities under these laws, a copy of which we have forwarded to you previously.


However, we are not convinced that your response adequately deals with our concerns as raised in our original correspondence.


Firstly, you claim that “the laws target terrorists regardless of their religious, ideological or political motivation. Terrorist organisations listed for the purposes of the criminal law have been shown to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act.”


Your statement may be correct, but it is not complete. While it is arguable that organisations on the current list are “terrorist” organisations, there are other organisations that are considered by many other governments to be terrorist that are not on the proscribed list.


We refer you to the report produced by the Parliamentary library , which finds the process of proscribing terrorist organisations under Australian law to be largely subjective. It poses the question why organisations such as the Shining Path, the Tamil Tigers, Real IRA and Kahane Chai are not listed as terrorist organisations, while Palestinian Islamic Jihad is. We contend that your department is not applying a level playing field, as it is not applying the same criteria to Muslim organisations as it is to non-Muslim organisations. We specifically ask for clarification as to why the four organisations mentioned above are not listed as terrorist organisations while Palestinian Islamic Jihad is.


Counter-terrorism legislation

You stated that “it is appropriate to treat suspected terrorists in the same way that we currently treat suspected murderers”. We do not disagree that terrorists should be treated in the same way as murderers, but the problem lies in the breadth of the definition of a ‘terrorist’ and possible terrorist offences under Australian anti-terrorism legislation. It is unjustifiable that people should be treated the same way as murderers for merely being a member, an informal member, or taking steps to become a member, of an organisation. With the introduction of the new offence of associating with terrorist organisations, why should a person who does nothing more than speak to someone twice be treated in the same way as a murderer? We seek clarification as to why you insist on conflating many different offences, ranging in punishment from 3 years to life, with the offence of murder punishable by imprisonment for life.


ASIO legislation

You stated that “the Government will continue to monitor the adequacy and effectiveness of the legislation in light of any issues that arise from further experience in its implementation. The Government is determined to take appropriate action to ensure relevant authorities have the tools they need to be able to safeguard Australia’s national security.”


It is not evident what measures have been put in place to monitor the adequacy and effectiveness of the anti-terrorism laws. We are yet to see the outcome of any review or monitoring of the laws. We believe that the issues we raised in our original correspondence, as well as the undeniable infringement of human and civil rights warrant investigation and review of the laws, yet the Government has made no such commitment.


Indeed the government has indirectly reduced the necessity to report on the effects of anti-terrorism legislation by allocating police-style powers to a security and intelligence organisation. While the Australian Federal Police are governed by laws that require them to provide and record much information, ASIO does not have the same obligations and can eternally hide behind the overused claims of “national security.”


We request clarification about what specific mechanisms the Government has put in place to monitor the adequacy and effectiveness of the legislation, particularly from the perspectives of individuals questioned under this legislation, and what reporting obligations you intend to place on ASIO to ensure the protection of Australian citizens’ rights.


Civil Rights

You stated, “In creating laws to respond to the new security environment, the Government is striving towards the twin goals of security and justice. The Government does not assume that protecting national security is opposed to protecting our civil rights, particularly the most fundamental right of all – the right to human security. The achievement of these goals should not be seen as separate ideals. Indeed, Australia’s human rights obligations under both the ICCPR and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include the right to security.”


We do not disagree that every person has the right to security, and that the Government has a role to play in protecting national security. However, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantee other rights, such as the right to liberty, equality before the law without distinction of any kind, including race, colour, religion, or political opinion, the right to freedom of movement, the right to leave and to return to his country, and the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In addition, no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention, and no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Anti-terrorism laws in this country do not have regard to these other equally legitimate and important rights.


The twin goals of security and justice should not be seen as separate ideals, but we do not believe that the Government has struck an appropriate balance. It seems that the Government is only too keen to implement laws that give ASIO and the police more power than necessary, yet there has not been any move towards protecting the other civil rights of all citizens. It is particularly worrying that the Government hides behind its rhetoric of safeguarding Australia’s national security while disregarding the real effect that these laws and their application have had on the community.


In fact, we contend that the Government also fails in protecting people’s right to security. The anti-terror laws have had a disproportional impact on the Muslim community in Australia, and have in fact created fear and division both between the Muslim community with the wider community, and also within Muslims themselves. The discrimination and vilification faced by Muslims since September 11 have been extensively documented in the recently-released Isma report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. In particular, the report documents experience of discrimination and prejudice in relation to the police and anti-terrorist laws:



  • a substantial number of young Arabic men felt that they were dealt with unfairly by Police because they were Arab;
  • community and school leaders felt that the police were stirring up trouble;
  • allegations of police engaged in discriminatory conduct “such as calling people Bin Ladens” or “terrorists”


The report on page 67 states that “Several consultation participants felt the Muslim community in Australia had been unfairly targeted in investigations by ASIO officers and Australian Federal Police officers following the Bali bombings in October 2002.” The report also documents concern about the treatment of Muslims in counter terrorist investigations. In addition the report documents that “some consultation participants believed their human rights were at risk of violation under these new laws”.


During consultation with nine young people in Adelaide, four of the participants reported being questioned by ASIO in their homes following the wake of the January 2002 national security public campaign and believed this was done solely on the basis that they are Muslim.


The report also documented participants’ concerns of surveillance by neighbours and colleagues following the federal government’s national security campaign launched in early 2003, where neighbours reported routine domestic activities and family gatherings. Initial consultation with key community groups reveals that there are heightened concerns that these kinds of incidence will continue with the current anti-terrorism provisions.

Dr William Jonas, acting race discrimination Commissioner stated in the report: “The need for action is urgent. In the current environment of fear and suspicion fostered by terrorism and the ‘war on terror’, our multicultural values of social equity and respect for diversity are at risk of diminishing”.


There is little doubt that the additional legislation has served to ostracise the Muslim community even further. This is not to mention ASIO’s behaviour, which, as indicated above, has created tension between the Muslim community and ASIO. We submit that this legislation – and particularly the recent Anti-Terrorism Bill (No 2) with its association offence – has made cooperation with authorities even harder for Muslims. Yet, according to your Department’s proscribed terrorist list, only Muslim terrorist organisations are a threat to Australia. We seek specific clarification as to how damaging relations with the ethnic group that you (somewhat dubiously) suspect is most likely to have information on terrorism related activities serves Australians’ national security.

Discrimination on the ground of religion or race


In addition, your assertion that “the Australian Government condemns discrimination on the ground of religion or race” seems untenable in light of the fact that the federal Racial Discrimination Act does not prohibit discrimination or vilification on the ground of religion, but only the grounds of race, colour, descent, and national or ethnic origin. This is significant in that it leaves an aperture in the national system of protection against discrimination on the basis of religion. The Muslim community is especially vulnerable in this context as it is comprised of heterogeneous membership, spanning various ethnic and racial backgrounds. Muslims who experience religious discrimination (but not necessarily hostility based on nationality or race) cannot avail themselves of existing anti-discrimination mechanisms. This situation is distinct, by way of example, from that of Australia’s Jewish population who can seek recourse to the Racial Discrimination Act on the basis of belonging to the Jewish race.


The absence of federal religious vilification laws becomes even more pertinent in light of extensive reports of discrimination and vilification against the Muslim community, as documented is the Isma report discussed above, which found that the majority of respondents had experienced some form of harassment and prejudice because of their religion. Given the Commission’s findings of widespread discrimination and vilification on the Muslim community, it is submitted that Australia’s failure to enact federal laws to prohibit discrimination and vilification on the ground of religion is a direct contravention of Article 20 of the ICCPR. We seek specific clarification as to how you plan to address this gap in the legislation.


We urge you to give due consideration to the issues we have raised above. We look forward to your speedy response to our specific requests for clarification.


Yours sincerely,




Dr Waleed Kadous


 Mr Ruddock's response is as follows:  Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3.


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