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Reviewing the reviewer: anti-terror laws revisited

Reviewing the reviewer: anti-terror laws revisited

AS ADVOCACY groups debate the merits of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws Bill, Shadow Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has expressed concern that a review of terror laws in…

AS ADVOCACY groups debate the merits of the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws Bill, Shadow Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has expressed concern that a review of terror laws in Australia might become “politicised” if the Government does not support the Bill.

The Bill would see the appointment of an independent person to review anti-terrorism laws, including the consideration of the effectiveness and continued need of existing laws. Put forward by Liberal MP Petro Georgio, the proposal before the senate has sparked diverse reactions from the legal community and civil rights groups.

Brandis made his comments as Attorney-General Robert McClelland delivered a speech saying Australians could expect to see a broadening national security agenda, with an “all-hazards approach” that recognises that threats can come from all angles, particularly with the evolution of technology.

Although the Attorney-General has previously proposed that such a review of existing terror laws be handed to Ian Carnell — the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) — Brandis said Carnell has repeatedly questioned his department’s suitability to take on the position.

“There is an inherent tension between the IGIS’s current role of operational oversight and a reviewer’s role of examining the policy behind the legislation under which the operations are conducted,” said Brandis. “The policy element may result in IGIS becoming politicised, which would have a detrimental effect on the office’s primary role,” he said.

Meanwhile a recent inquiry into provisions of the Bill by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, sought to extend their reporting date from September to 14 October, as submissions are evaluated.

Stephen Blanks, secretary of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, told the inquiry the legislation could actually be counterproductive, noting that the anti-terrorism laws that have been passed involve significant digressions from ICCPR rights. Blanks asked if an independent reviewer would be the best means to working on what he already believes is an unsatisfactory legal situation.

But other submissions were more positive: Professor Andrew Lynch, from the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of public Law said the centre supports the passage of legislation to establish the ongoing independent review of anti-terrorism laws, but made recommendations in line with how the independent reviewer has successfully worked to date in the United Kingdom.

Sarah Moulds, policy lawyer from the Law Council of Australia, suggested that they would like to see the review draw attention to components of terrorism laws that have not previously been subject to review — especially, the National Security Information (Criminal And Civil Proceedings) Act.

The Human Rights Law Resource Centre (HRLRC) said it supported the adoption of an independent review, modelled on that operating in the UK, but that inherent in the function of the UK reviewer, is the obligation to have regard to international human rights standards in assessing the implications of terrorism laws. In a statement online, the HRLRC said that even without a legislative or constitutional Charter of Human Rights the independent reviewer should “have regard to international human rights standards and obligations”.

Although the Bill came from an opposition member, it has also been backed by Labor Caucus Chairman Daryl Melhma — who said it was an important way to keep existing support for the anti-terrorism laws.

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