THE PEAK BODY representing lawyers across Australia has supported concerns raised by former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser that new powers given to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) have the potential to jeopardies the rights and freedoms of Australian people.
The latest raids by ASIO highlighted these concerns, Fraser said, revealing that their new questioning and detention powers ran contrary to the rule of law. These are sentiments that have been repeatedly expressed by the Law Council of Australia (LCA), it said last week.
“Fraser’s concerns, which he has made publicly, back up what we have been saying for some time. The fight against terrorism is an important one, but it should not be waged at the expense of the basic rights of individuals,” said LCA president John North.
The new legislation gives ASIO enhanced policing powers that it has not had up until now, according to Fraser. This would be a concern if those powers were misused, he said.
“Terrorists have got to be hunted down. But do we have to put aside our basic democratic principles, our belief in the rule of law, our belief that people should not be judged guilty until proven guilty in a court of law?” Fraser asked.
Speaking at a Parliamentary joint Committee earlier this month, the LCA’s North said ASIO’s new questioning and detention powers, which came into effect last year, represented a significant inroad into long held and “hard-fought for” human rights.
“Now we have a former leader of the nation expressing very similar concerns. That is certainly a sign that these new powers need reviewing and amending — otherwise people’s basic liberties will continue to be infringed,” North said.