Review of police counter-terrorism powers missed opportunity to restore civil liberties

On Thursday, June 7, New South Wales Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced that the government would adopt the recommendations of a review of the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act 2002 by the Department of Justice. The report made 13 recommendations in relation to the legislation.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) notes with concern that the recommendations make little attempt to substantively change the laws, or to otherwise restore civil liberties. There is little attempt to reign in police powers in any meaningful way, which is why CCL opposed these laws in the first place.

The changes amount to tinkering, without addressing our substantive concerns about protecting fundamental principles like due process and natural justice. For example, if a 15 year old possesses an item police reasonably but wrongly suspect is connected with a terrorist attack, that teenager can be detained under investigative detention, and questioned for 16 hours every day for four days without any form of judicial review. CCL is disappointed that once again the NSW government has failed to provide any meaningful safeguards against the possibility of these kinds of powers being abused.

Two of the recommendations are about writing annual reports on the use of certain powers, so that statistics on their use can be gathered. Whilst a welcome development, this does not address our concerns about issues like detention for people who have not been charged with any offence under preventive or investigative detention.

CCL welcomes some of the recommendations, such as those informing detainees of their legal rights, enabling the Supreme Court to order the provision of legal aid, and offering improved treatment of vulnerable groups in preventive detention. Another example is Recommendation 6, that when a person is detained under an investigative detention order, they should be ‘treated with humanity’ and not ‘subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment’. It is striking that this kind of protection is needed, and was not put into the legislation originally. It demonstrates the hasty way in which these laws were drafted, and how little thought has been given to the protection of civil liberties. 


Stephen Blanks


NSW Council for Civil Liberties