Max Opray reports: Department of Home Affairs officials demanded that independent researchers water down a report critical of counterterrorism powers allowing individuals to be imprisoned for a crime they had yet to commit, newly revealed documents show. In 2018, the Home Affairs Department engaged leading researchers at the Australian National University to review the accuracy of tools designed to assess the risk of someone committing a future terrorism offence. Australia’s preventive detention regime for terrorism offenders allows individuals to be imprisoned for up to three years to prevent a future crime.
The report was damning, finding a lack of evidence had “serious implications” for the validity and reliability of the assessment tools. New freedom of information disclosures show that Home Affairs ordered the researchers to “reconsider how to express your finding” and “revisit the writing tone” to avoid suggestions that “the Australian government should dispense with both tools”. The report was published with some changes, though it remained scathing and the ANU said “no changes were made to the fundamental research outcomes”. The former Coalition government was handed the report in May 2020 but sat on it and did not provide it to courts in cases where continuing detention orders or extended supervision orders were being considered.
A parliamentary committee is reviewing the use of preventative detention orders, with a Liberty Victoria and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties submission calling for their abolishment (read our submission here). We say it can never be acceptable to deprive a person of liberty for what they might do in the future, when there is no valid or reliable way of assessing the likelihood of future re-offending.