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Free rein for A-G on anti-terror powers

Free rein for A-G on anti-terror powers

NEWLY PROPOSED proscriptive powers could be a carte-blanche for the federal Attorney General to ban organisations with suspected terrorist links, and they are being waved through by Labor,…

NEWLY PROPOSED proscriptive powers could be a carte-blanche for the federal Attorney General to ban organisations with suspected terrorist links, and they are being waved through by Labor, despite having at least a few other parties up in arms.

Under the new laws, contained in the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisation) Bill 2003, Philip Ruddock will be able to act on the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), and proscribe any party or group as a terrorist organisation provided he is “satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act.”

Ruddock was not a grateful recipient of his newly found free-rein, however, and berated the Opposition for prolonging the proceedings for so long after parliament had twice rejected the Bill.

“In the national interest, this measure should have been in place two years ago,” Ruddock told parliament.

The Opposition had finally dropped its demand that a ban be approved by parliament, a court or tribunal first. However, its amendments did ensure the federal Opposition, state and territory leaders would be consulted before an organisation was banished for suspected terrorism.

Under the proposed changes, banned organisations will be allowed to appeal to the Federal Court and all listings will expire after two years. But the Australian Democrats, Greens and the Australian Law Council still tagged the new developments dangerous.

The Law Council argued even the Labor amendments did not satisfy concerns about the misuse of power. In a letter to all major political parties, the Law Council argued it was dangerous for the Government to have largely unfettered powers to proscribe organisations with alleged terrorist links.

While admitting the Government had a responsibility to protect community safety, Law Council president Bob Gotterson QC said the nature of the new powers “commands some level of ‘front end’ supervision by the courts”.

The fact that judicial review would be only allowed once the Government made a decision also concerned the Law Council, which suggested an affected member would have to make an application for judicial review after their organisation was banned, thus placing them in jeopardy of prosecution should their application fail.

Proposing instead that the Government have the power to proscribe an organisation for a limited period, such as 30 days, with any extension of the period then subject to court discretion, Gotterson said this would “account for compelling and urgent cases which required immediate action”. This would also retain some level of judicial supervision over the exercise of the powers, he said.

Greens Senator Bob Brown also criticised Labor for caving in to the government’s national security agenda in the lead up to the election, adding the A-G was “flagging even more draconian bills in an election year being geared to manufacture fear”.

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