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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7928

Senator NETTLE (4:07 PM) —I take this opportunity to speak to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002, which is an extraordinary and, as others have said, an unprecedented piece of legislation for this parliament to be discussing. The Australian Greens do not believe that this piece of legislation has the balance right between the security concerns of this country and the individual freedoms of Australians. It is a piece of legislation that goes far beyond similar legislation in comparable countries. It is a piece of legislation in which there remains a fundamental flaw— that being the ability to detain people not even suspected of being involved in criminal activities.

If this piece of legislation were designed to deal with people who were about to commit a terrorist offence then the argument could be put that it would be very close to what was appropriate. The Greens say that it would not be so appropriate as our current criminal justice system in that it goes beyond that by extending the period of time under which people can be detained and questioned. It places further restrictions on the ability of people detained under this legislation to have access to a lawyer, and it extends the power of ASIO, which has previously been just an intelligence gathering organisation.

This piece of legislation is not just for dealing with people who are about to commit a terrorist act; it is also designed to entrap citizens who are ordinarily going about their business and who are not suspected of being involved in any criminal or terrorist activity. In that light we can clearly see how unprecedented and extraordinary this piece of legislation is and how it goes far beyond the basic tenets of our legal system. As we have said before, the Magna Carta itself says that people should not be detained unless they have come before a court and are found on reasonable grounds by that court to be guilty or suspected of being involved in a criminal activity.

This piece of legislation goes far beyond that and in doing so represents an abrogation of our civil and political rights. The amendments that have been made fiddle around the edges of what is a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation. They improve significantly the ambit claim that was originally put forward by this government in the post 11 September climate. This piece of legislation, in its entirety, really draws on the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that has been created in the post 11 September climate. It tries to use that atmosphere of fear to push through this undermining of our civil liberties.

The Australian Greens oppose this piece of legislation because, even after the amendments put forward by the opposition, it allows for innocent people to be taken off the street without warning, to be interrogated in secret and to be jailed for five years if they refuse to answer questions. These measures establish a very serious precedent in Australian law, one that goes well beyond any comparable country's response to the worldwide terrorist threat. The powers that ASIO and the AFP already have clearly are sufficient to allow them to do their jobs properly and these laws as such are an unnecessary and dangerous attack on Australia's civil rights.

The government and the Australian Labor Party have failed to make the case for extending these powers to capture non-suspects. Even in the course of two full legislative committee inquiries they have failed to make that case. Throughout those inquiries we heard from numerous prominent legal professionals and organisations about the ways in which our current criminal justice system allows us to deal with the current terrorist environment. The implications in this legislation are wide reaching for all citizens: for journalists, for political activists, for politicians and for members of the community who are under suspicion for a variety of reasons. These implications are extremely serious. This power to arbitrarily detain is a blunt weapon in the fight against terrorism and it is not in keeping with a country that values its civil and political rights.

The amended bill allows for people not suspected of being involved in a terrorist act or in a terrorist group to be detained without warning for questioning and detention. The proposals put forward by the Australian Labor Party allow for that questioning and detention regime to continue well beyond one day of detention and indeed without a time limit for that detention and questioning regime. This amended bill allows, where there is any refusal to answer a question, for a punishment of five years imprisonment. This bill is unprecedented and unnecessary and demonstrates a fundamental abrogation of our civil and political rights in this country. As such the Australian Greens will not be supporting this bill.