THE FEDERAL Government’s proposed anti-terrorism measures, announced last week, are stoking anger and frustration among the legal profession.
The Law Council of Australia (LCA) last week condemned the Government’s raft of new counter-terrorism proposals, arguing they will infringe on the rights and freedoms of Australians. It warned the states and territories against “rubber stamping” any new legislation until the potential effect can be assessed.
“We support proper measures that protect the community from terrorist acts. However, we’re very concerned that individuals’ rights will be further constrained by this proposed legislation,” Law Council president John North said.
Terror suspects could be electronically tagged for a year or held without charge for up to two weeks, the Law Council said. As well, police and spy agencies would be given more scope to investigate threats, it claimed.
The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) last week joined the fray, warning that it will urge the Victorian Government to consider “very carefully” the loss of freedoms and rights arising from the proposals.
“Aspects of these laws, which expand on ASIO’s already extensive powers, offend all notions of basic civil liberties. They also have the potential to be enforced in a discriminatory way against racial and religious minorities who provide easy targets for random police searches and investigations,” said LIV president John Cain.
“While the possibility of a terrorist attack can’t be ruled our, there is no justification for the introduction of such extreme measures. There is certainly no evidence that the attacks in London would have been prevented if such laws were in effect,” Cain said.
“If Prime Minister Howard thinks that the erosion of fundamental civil liberties fits within community expectations then he’s seriously out of step. You can’t respond like this every time an attack happens in another part of the world,” he said.
The LCA rejected the idea that the laws are a response to the London attacks in July and that they are necessary to protect Australians’ way of life. “The Australian way of life has long been marked by a commitment to the freedoms found in liberal democracies. On the face of it, the proposals seem very heavy handed,” said North.
The LCA called on the Australian people to urge all governments to prove these laws are important. “The only way we can stop the laws being implemented is by the population demanding of their local and federal members that the Government prove that these laws will make us safer. To do this we have to continually speak out publicly and try and stop the Government from bringing laws that will further restrict our freedoms and also allow Australian citizens to be locked up for long periods of time, or shackled with ankle monitoring devises for up to a year,” North told Lawyers Weekly.
“The timing is a real concern because the senate committee which was looking into the existing terrorism laws has still not reported. And the federal Government is raising the ante even more by wanting to bring in even harsher laws. We should get a proper report to see whether any of these laws are really going to have an effect on terrorism. If not, we don’t need them,” North said.
“The Law Council can only continue to involve itself in the public debate and hope that the Government, which said [last week] it is already drafting these laws, will at least let us comment on their effect before they are enacted,” he said.
• The absence of detail about legal representation for detained people (LIV)
• The lack of consultation with the community prior to the Government’s proposing the legislation (LCA)
• The expansion of the State’s detention powers, including preventative detention powers (LIV)
• The lack of a “sunset clause” that would require a review of the necessity of the laws (LIV)
• The lack of detail about the power of the courts to oversee people’s detention (LIV)
• Any increase in ASIO powers needs a high level of justification (LCA)
• Any increase in powers of law enforcement should be focused on the Australian Federal Police (LCA)