The Guardian 19 October, 2005

More draconian laws, more secret police

Marcus Browning

ASIO is to double its number of spies and the Federal Police is to increase its numbers as well. Without offering any evidence Attorney-General Philip Ruddock stated as the reason for the ASIO boost, and a new list of anti-democratic laws, "Home-grown terrorist threats are a greater reality to the Australian people now than we would have thought to be the case six or 12 months ago." The Government won’t give details of the threat because — an echo of the non-existent WMDs that took us into war and heightened the terrorist threat to Australia.

The Government also keeps referring to the bombings in London in July as a reason to take rights away from Australians. If there is a connection it can only be that both Britain and Australia are in Iraq with the US, i.e. our participation in the war is endangering us here. The fact is, the laws are not about preventing terrorism — the Government is putting in place the means for the state apparatus to crush dissent and opposition to the Government’s social and economic agenda.

We need to look no further than the fascistic laws being introduced to attack the trade union movement to see that the legislation being introduced under cover of anti-terrorism is to be used against ordinary Australians.

There is to be a huge ASIO funding increase of $500 million on top of the $171.7 million it gets now over the next five years. The increased funding and spy numbers came from a review commissioned by the Government, the Taylor review (Allan Taylor is a former director-general of the Australian Security and Intelligence Service). But it is a classified document, so the most unaccountable government in Australia’s history is now using a secret report to bolster the secret police.

More detail have been made public of the new laws agreed to in broad outline by the obsequious state Labor Premiers last month. The detail of the legislation was to remain under wraps until next month when a Senate inquiry will get only one week to review it. But the legislation was made public by the Greens, and the ACT Chief Minister placed it on his website last week.

There are new sedition offences aimed at hobbling and shutting down the anti-war movement (Iraq is only the beginning of George W Bush’s "endless war on terrorism"). The Federal Police will be able to detain suspects for up to 24 hours and up to 48 hours with the approval of a judge or magistrate.

Police are not required to give the suspects or their lawyers reasons for the detentions, which will be secret although detainees may be able to contact their employer or family to tell them they are "not able to be contacted for the time being". Disclosure of the detention can bring a five-year jail term.

An Australian Federal police office officer can use lethal force — shoot to kill — in taking a person into custody

Advocacy of terrorism is an extremely broad definition that will be used to gag vocal critics of government policy, such as the war in Iraq.

New control orders to be applied to suspects who have not been charged include house arrest, no access to the telephone or internet, restricted social contact and access to work and the fitting of tracking devices. Lawyers for the suspect can be shown the control order but not the reasons for it.

Police cannot question detainees but ASIO officers can (the new secret police can "interview" suspects behind closed doors, opening the way for the use of torture). Control orders can be for up to 12 months and can be renewed any number of times.

Laws protecting privacy and legal rights are to be thrown out with the introduction of wide-ranging search powers for the Federal Police and ASIO.

The Law Society of Australia condemned the Government’s decision to rush the laws through Parliament. "The removal of effective public consultation in relation to one of the most important pieces of legislation in Australia’s history on criminal law demonstrates contempt for the rights of Australian", stated Law Council President John North. "Anti-terror laws of this draconian kind need to be justified and be proportionate to the potential threat rather than forced through by government with indecent haste."

ACT chief Jon Stanhope was adamant he has done the right thing posting the legislation on his website. He said it was nonsense for the Federal Government to claim it owned the legislation, even though it needed the approval and authority of the States and Territories to make it law. "He’s [Ruddock] not going to lead me around by the nose and say ‘Here’s a piece of secret legislation that I want you to agree to and I’ll consult on as I see fit and I’ll release it on my timing’."

NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon said the Bill confirms the worst fears of the community. She called on NSW Premier Morris Iemma to reconsider his support for it. "Today I have called on the Premier not to agree to introduce similar legislation into the NSW Parliament or to cooperate in the implementation of these dangerous laws. The legislation is anti-democratic and attacks fundamental freedoms."

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