Alarmist push on C-T powers –need for considered approach

Next week the Abbott Government will be seeking Parliamentary approval of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014.  

NSWCCL and the other civil liberties organisations across Australia- along with human rights, legal, media and community bodies- are deeply concerned about and opposed to major elements of the new counter-terrorism proposals in this bill. But at least we have had some time to consider them and present our views–even though the time (20 days) to react to a large and complex bill with such significant new powers and offences was seriously inadequate.

Now it appears the Government will also seek to rush through the, as yet unseen, new bundle of counter-terrorism proposals it has been flagging piecemeal over recent weeks.

This has become clearer in the aftermath of the major counter-terrorism raids in Sydney last Thursday and the resulting very high level of media hype and commentary by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government. This is precisely the wrong moment and the wrong kind of context to be rushing through as yet unseen significant new counter-terrorism legislation.  

It would appear from media accounts and Government announcements that this new tranche of legislation will include:

  • significantly lower threshold for police to arrest a person for terrorism offences without a warrant
  • easier criteria to apply for control orders
  • new passport suspension powers
  • a range of measures to be contained in a ‘foreign fighters’ bill

In passing, the Prime Minister also announced that the Government would introduce legislation to extend existing extraordinary counter-terrorism powers which are scheduled to lapse under sunset clauses next year. These powers were only approved with sunset clauses because they are ‘extraordinary’ and should not remain on our statute books. They undermine fundamental civil liberties (most significantly the freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention). They have always been controversial and NSWCCL has always queried the need for them.

By next year they will have been on our books for 13 years. The media reports the Government wants to extend them for another 10 years. They are beginning to look permanent.

They should not be extended and certainly not without a proper, considered review.

Australia already has one of the most (if not the most) extensive suites of counter-terrorism laws among liberal democratic nations. These will be significantly extended by the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill already before Parliament.

We urge the Government and the Parliament to slow down the hype-driven rush to further extend extraordinary counter-terrorism powers. The Australian people and the Parliament must be given adequate time to properly and responsibly consider the need for and the implications of proposed new counter-terrorism powers and offences.  

The Government’s proposed new laws should be referred to a Parliamentary Committee and community and independent expert views should be sought.