It will take generations to reclaim the progress on human rights that has been lost due to the Federal Government's national security legislation, claims prominent Melbourne-based barrister, Brian Walters SC.
Speaking in Queensland at the Australian Lawyers Alliance national conference over the weekend, Walters said that the continued misuse of the law under the auspice of national security will "require lawyers to be vigilant" and to "challenge conventional wisdom when it is astray, and to remind the community of the great values upon which our legal system is founded".
He added that the Attorney General, Robert McClelland's comments that the greatest responsibility of government is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens - made in relation to the delivery of a reforms package on the national security legislation back in August - were wrong and dangerous.
"What are the responsibilities of government?" asked Walters. "Should security trump everything else? What about upholding our democratic traditions, our essential freedoms, and justice?"
Walters reminded his audience that in Australia we have no legislated protection of our rights, meaning that there is no defined limit to the ways in which the government can interfere with citizens. "The statement that government's prime duty is security of its citizens has a long historic record of causing harm to democracy," he said.
Walters added that the proposed amendments to the security legislation do not consider some of the direct concerns that emerged from the Haneef Inquiry - particularly the use of control orders, the power of ASIO to hold in custody for questioning both suspects and non-suspects, as well as the offence of "association" with a terrorist organisation.
Walters also noted that the original safeguards initially outlined in the laws - such as sunset clauses - have been forgotten due to subsequent amendments.
"It will take a generation to recover the human rights ground lost through these bad laws, passed with the support of the major parties," he said.
Walters shares more from his presentation in this Friday's edition of Lawyers Weekly