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*Pic: Flickr, Krysten Newby

‘High Risk Terrorism’ anti-rights law

Parliament’s SIC body – the Security and Intelligence Committee – has waved through proposed legislation that directly dismisses traditional rights and all but kneecaps Australia’s rule of law, Civil Liberties Australia says.

The Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2016 will mean people can be kept in jail even after they have served their full terrorism sentence of say 10 to 15 years … simply because police and security operatives think they “might” re-offend in future.

The hand-picked Australian Coalition and Labor MPs who are members of SIC – formally the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, PJCIS – have sunk to a new low. Their 4 Nov 2015 report – – shows they have abandoned principle in the face of the “not on my watch” irrational fear that drives terrorism debate in this country.

As CLA said when lodging its submission to the committee on the proposed law: Make no mistake: this law allows people to be locked up for years where they have not been convicted of a crime … other than by the thought police.

Some who will probably be subjected to this unconscionable law are in jail now due to what they claim were the actions of police and security “agent provocateurs”, and a supercharged media climate of “terrorist Muslim” alarm.

“To imprison a person who has committed no crime on the basis solely of opinion on possible future behaviour constitutes arbitrary imprisonment,” CLA said in its submission.

The MPs on the committee are apparently unfazed by arbitrary jailing of Australians.

No MP of any party who believes in the rule of law as a bedrock of Australians’ rights and liberties should support this proposed law. The bill should not pass the House of Representatives.

But, if it does, it should be thrown out in the Senate, Civil Liberties Australia believes. There, Senators more frequently have the courage to vote on principle and not on unreasonable and unjustifiable fear, unsupported by evidence.

SIC has tried to salve its collective conscience by recommending a 10-year sunset clause, preceded by mandatory reviews of the legislation by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) at the five-year mark, and by the PJCIS itself, presumably in year 9.

But nothing can hide SIC’s contempt for the rule of law.

This awful law will be on the books for at least 10 years if passed by parliament: during that decade, it will become a model for other draconian legislation extended out to cover bikies, or protesting unionists, or striking nurses, or radical students…anyone the government of the day wants in jail, on the basis that they “might” re-offend.

By the way, there is NO permanent INSLM, and the Coalition government has a track record of not wanting to appoint one, or hindering INSLM’s activities by providing miniscule funding and staff support.

Equally, there is NO clear definition of any qualification required by the “relevant experts” who will advise a judicial figure on how a current prisoner “might” offend if released. There are no validated risk assessment tools to help measure how a detained prisoner “might” offend.

There are NO agreements with the States and Territories – who own and run the prisons in Australia – that they will actually lock up someone who has only been “convicted” of an “offence” he or she “might” commit.

And to top it off, the SIC recommends that the government seeks the Solicitor-General’s advice on whether the proposed law would be constitutional. A reminder: there is NO Solicitor-General, because the government has driven him to resign his post, because he does have principles. 

NOTE: The PJCIS has again illustrated its contempt for Australian law by proposing that the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying this “High Risk” bill be re-drafted to ‘make things clearer’. The PJCIS, despite being told so in a speech by the Chief Justice of the High Court a year ago, apparently still does not understand that it is the “black letter” wording of legislation that governs Australia, not the government’s public relations spin masquerading as an explanatory memorandum.

Download CLA’s submission ...


*Bill Rowlings is CEO of Civil Liberties Australia