Mar 27, 2003

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism)


27 March 2003

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10.23 a.m.) —I want to begin with a quote in my contribution to the debate on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 [No.2]:

Naturally, the common people don’t want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

These are the words of Hermann Goering, Hitler’s Reich Marshal, at the Nuremberg trials. They are very relevant to this debate here today. Just yesterday, in the Senate, Senator Vanstone said:

At least one Labor MP recognises the evil of the Hussein regime—

as if there is just one Labor MP who recognises that. The fact is that people on this side of the House have been defending the human rights issues of Iraqi civilians, of the Kurdish population and of minorities within the Islamic population for decades. Yet here we have buttons being pressed. This is what this legislation is about. It is about wedge politics.

The quote from Hermann Goering is so similar to the doctrine that this government has employed in an effort to denounce those who seek to raise legitimate concerns about the implications of the bill currently before the parliament. I congratulate the shadow minister, the member for Banks, and Senator Faulkner, the Labor Party leader in the Senate, for the courage that they have shown in taking a principled stand on these issues, because opponents of this legislation are neither unpatriotic nor are they naive about the threats that confront the security of our nation. To the contrary, our opposition is based solely on the defence of the values and rule of law which generations before us have built up and successfully defended.

Terrorism is a scourge. The murder of innocent people for political ends—whether by individual terrorist groups or by the state, whether in New York, in the Middle East or on the Indian subcontinent—is an unspeakable horror. But it is intellectually dishonest to exploit public fears and anxieties about terrorism to introduce laws for which no justification has been or could be made. This should come as little surprise to anyone, for this has been the basis of the government’s electoral strategy since coming to office. They are the masters of immoral wedge politics. The government modus operandi is clear and unavoidable, whether it be generating fear amongst country people that Aboriginals were coming to take their farms; attacking multiculturalism and anything that smacked of political correctness in order to generate fear amongst Anglo-Australians that their way of life was under threat from an inner-city intelligentsia; fabricating the Tampa crisis in order to create the perception that we were being swamped by illegal refugees with subversive intentions; or the extraordinary children overboard affair.

This is a government that has only maintained power by dividing our society, by cultivating an environment of fear and insecurity, and by denouncing as unpatriotic those who question its intentions. This strategy was clearly exposed by the Prime Minister himself when, following the Senate’s refusal to allow passage of this bill unamended late last year, he told parliament:

Labor are very weak on this issue, just as they were weak on border protection.

He said that Mr Crean:

… is weak on this issue, he does not have the courage to tell his party what is in Australia’s interests. … Australia’s interests require a strong bill—

The government could have had a strong bill last year, had they been prepared to adopt a balanced view. Since the events of 11 September 2001, governments across the Western world have rushed through `tough new antiterrorist laws’. The United Kingdom has enacted the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. The United States has introduced a raft of new measures under what has been called, by the Bush administration, the USA Patriot Act—a name that would no doubt satisfy Mr Goering, whom I quoted before. President Bush has also established secret military tribunals to try suspected terrorists. It is the obligation of democratic governments to provide for the security and safety of their citizens. However, the invocation of `national security’ should not act as a justification for the undermining of fundamental democratic rights and freedoms. To employ such verbal trickery is to put at risk the very democratic and legal structures the antiterrorism measures are purported to protect.

Unfortunately this most recent assault on basic liberties is not unparalleled in our history—in particular, the internment of Australians from Japanese, Italian and German backgrounds during the Second World War, the attempted outlawing of the Communist Party of Australia in 1951, the surveillance and harassment of antiwar protesters during the Vietnam War and the outlawing of street demonstrations by Queensland’s Bjelke-Petersen regime. Some may say that we have come a long way since those days of infringements on basic civil liberties, but the legislation before us today provides ample reason for concern. This latest assault provides ASIO with the power to arrest, detain and use coercion against people for up to 48 hours without legal representation and without access or information provided to family members. This draconian measure even applies to those not even suspected of any offence. In other words, a person may by detained and questioned by ASIO simply because of the activities of a family friend or a university group of which they were once a member.

When a similar measure was included in British antiterrorism legislation it lead one member of the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas, to make the following observation about the history of terrorist internment: Detention without charge or trial was tried in Northern Ireland in 1971 and then abandoned by 1975 because it creates more terrorism. The fact that you lock up people on inadequate evidence because you can’t prove a charge against them, gives rise to all sorts of tensions and difficulties and it’s a more dangerous way to go than by proceeding in the normal way by proving charges.

Similar draconian arrest and detention regimes have in the past facilitated the mistreatment of refugee detainees. Not only does this contravene the most basic of civil liberties; it also applies to children.

This legislation is without precedent in Australia’s post Second World War legal history. Its provisions potentially allow for the mistreatment of ethnic minorities, the suppression of dissent and the detaining and investigation of wholly innocent Australians. Labor is committed to developing the strongest of measures to combat terrorism. But equally Labor is determined to defend Australia’s hard won democratic freedoms. Through poor drafting and a general disregard for civil liberties, the Howard government has got the balance between security and democratic principles wrong. The bills are riddled with unintended consequences.

It is now up to this parliament to get the balance right. After all, the conflict which we see at the moment in the world is an ideological struggle. An ideological struggle in favour of democracy and freedom cannot be won by giving up democratic values, freedom and respect for civil liberties. This is not a new struggle. Way back in 1800, British parliamentarian Edmund Burke told parliament: `Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny’. That statement is as true today as it was when such a far-sighted legislator first uttered it. The legislation before us today is bad law introduced by a government—and, unfortunately, by a minister who has abandoned principle—which is prepared to cynically exploit people’s fears that our national security is threatened by a peril from the outside. In fact what this legislation represents, indeed, is a threat from the inside. It represents a threat to the very democratic values which we say, quite rightly, distinguishes us from authoritarian, undemocratic regimes.