The Guardian 26 October, 2005

Arbitrary arrest, detention.
Now it’s "shoot to kill"

Peter Mac

The Howard Government has included in its latest "anti-terrorist" legislation horrific provisions that allows police to "shoot to kill" anyone they claim to be involved in terrorist activities.

State Premiers have rejected these provisions, which were not included in previous federal/state discussions over the legislation.

The existing ASIO terror legislation already threatens basic human rights. Last week former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser commented scathingly: "Any of us can be detained merely because authorities believe we might know something that we don’t even know we know. The authorities do not have to believe we are guilty of any crime, or are planning any crime, or have consorted with any suspicious persons. …"

"You can be detained for one week, but then on another warrant for another and another and another week. Unless it is approved in the original warrant … you are not allowed to contact your wife, your husband, your child, your mother, your father, and of course not a lawyer.

"If you don’t answer ASIO’s questions satisfactorily, you can be charged and face five years in jail. If a journalist heard that you had been detained and sought to report it, he or she would go to jail for five years. If a detained person was released and talked to anyone about his or her experiences, he or she could go to jail for five years."

The latest legislation also allows federal police to detain people without charge for up to 48 hours, and to restrict their movement for up to 12 months if they believe on "reasonable" grounds that they’re involved in terrorism. Orders for detention may be issued without hearing from the suspect, who will not be able to challenge the detention, or to seek release with the help of an external organisation before the detention period is over.

Legal specialists Andrew Byrnes, (Professor of International Law), Hilary Charlesworth, (Professor of International Law and Human Rights), and Gabrielle McKinnon, from the Regulatory Institutions Network, have also criticised the new legislation. In a report to ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, they concluded that it breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a signatory.

Stanhope, the only state leader to seriously challenge the legislation, commissioned the report after receiving assurances from Howard that it would protect human rights. He also released the draft legislation on the Internet, for which he was savagely criticised by both Liberal and Labor politicians.

Unfortunately, by the time he received the report he had already succumbed to pressure to accept the new laws. Despite Howard’s duplicity over the "shoot to kill" text, other ALP state leaders have also agreed to accept the legislation, apart from this controversial piece of wording, on an assurance from Howard that the laws won’t be used to abuse human rights.

However, Malcolm Fraser dismissed this assurance, citing the Government’s previous deceitfulness, e.g. over the invasion of Iraq.

"Trust us"

He stated: "No part of the history of the coalition’s invasion and occupation of Iraq gives any member of that coalition the right to say on these issues ‘trust us’.

"We were told there were weapons of mass destruction. There weren’t. The British were led to believe that weapons of mass destruction could be dropped on London in 45 minutes. They could not, and the authorities knew they could not. … The laws should be opposed because they provide arbitrary power which would be dependent on trust, a trust that has not been earned."

Moreover, the terror laws could be used to suppress political opposition over issues other than terrorism, because of alleged "violent opposition" to government policy.

Anti-war demonstrations, for example, could easily be deemed to be violent if they involved a physical attack by pro-government counter-demonstrators. But there could be other excuses for government intervention. After recent anti-war protests, American Scott Parkin was "removed" (deported), on the basis that he was a "threat to national security" (in fact, simply because he was involved in anti-war activities).

Although Labor leaders have essentially caved in over the terror laws, there is widespread unease among ALP rank and file, and even among conservatives, over the issue.

Liberal MP Petro Georgiou is pressing for changes in the legislation, and has warned about the increasing alienation of Muslims from the rest of the community.

He has also warned about attacks on multiculturalism, including calls for banning the wearing of burkhas, and even for stopping the teaching of foreign languages and abolishing SBS television.

Howard and his Ministers have consistently denied that the new laws would be used to abuse human rights. So why are they being introduced, especially since the existing laws already contain adequate provisions for dealing with genuine terrorist acts?

The ability to deal ruthlessly with opponents will become increasingly important for the Federal Government as it presses ahead with its pro-corporate, anti-people agenda.

Fraser commented bluntly: "These are powers whose breadth and arbitrary nature, with lack of judicial oversight, should not exist in any democratic country. If one says, ‘But they will not be abused’, I do not agree. If arbitrary powers exist they will be abused."

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