Thursday, November 03, 2005

Terror Australis

Last night the news reports said that the Federal government claimed to have discovered a new and credible threat to Australian security, giving this as a further reason for rushing their appalling anti-terror legislation through parliament. Apparently (I have been told by a reliable informant) this threat is neither new nor imminent: in fact, NSW Police have been working on the case for some time, and officers at high levels are dismayed at the way the government is seeking to use their ongoing investigation as a political football. That's all I'll say, because if the legislation does go through I won't be able to protect the identity of the source of my information or myself.

At the same time, I finally received an answer to my email (it was a copy of what I wrote here) from my local Federal representative, Tanya Plibersek.

Thank you for contacting me about the proposed anti-terrorism laws. It is important to note the legislation has not yet been presented to the Parliament by the Howard Government, so I have still not seen a finaldraft. It is disgraceful that the government plans to introduce laws which it expects Members of Parliament to vote on immediately, without even having time to read the legislation. It is undemocratic and it undermines my ability to do my job on behalf of my constituents. Like all members of the ALP, I have grave concerns about the legislation and I am determined to see a number of changes in the Bill from the time it was posted on the internet by ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope.

Federal Labor has been calling for strong safeguards on any new anti-terrorism laws since before the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Premiers on 27 September.

Kim Beazley has called for safeguards such as:

* A sunset clause for the entire legislation to ensure these new powers will not be permanent and will need to be revisited by Parliament for them to continue (and that susnset clause to be shorter than the ten year one proposed by the Prime Minister for just one section of the legislation);
* Meaningful judicial review of the substance of claims, not just on points of law, and an independent oversight and appeal process for control orders and preventative detention;
* parliamentary oversight to ensure the use of the powers is accountable to Parliament,
* expanded resources for watchdogs like the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security to investigate any abuses of the powers,
* new watchdogs like a national Public Interest Monitor, and
* an independent statutory body to oversight the Australian Federal Police.

Federal Labor and the Premiers have successfully forced some of those changes in the draft legislation and we are hopeful we can force more. We are determined to keep up the pressure by exposing the flaws in these laws.

Kim Beazley has also called for a proper parliamentary process so this legislation can be debated in the community and we have said we will look to move sensible amendments to reflect commonly held concerns about issues like the sedition provisions.

Kim has also made very clear when a final binding agreement between the Premiers, the Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister is reached, the Federal Labor Caucus will examine the Bill and make a final decision. Kim, like many members of the community, genuinely believes (based on intelligence briefings) that Australia is at more risk today from terrorist threats than we have been at any time in the past.

That is at least in part due to this Government's negligent foreign affairs policy, including our wrong-headed, foolish decision to follow America into the debacle of the Iraq war. Kim has written to the Prime Minister restating Labor's concerns about
the Bill and calling on the Prime Minister to put politics aside and work in the national interest, so that strong safeguards can be attached to extra powers to protect Australia from terrorist incidents. I have attached a copy of the letter for your information.

We are asking the Prime Minister to make the required changes to the Bill, allow proper time for debate, and then turn his mind to the practical measures highlighted by Labor, which will make a real difference to prepare Australia for the threat of terrorist attack: measures like increased intelligence resources, better security at
airports etc.

For your information, I have attached a number of recent media statements from Federal Labor addressing these points, as well as a copy of Kim Beazley's letter to the Prime Minister.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I agree this is very important legislation and that our future as a decent democratic society depends on not giving away the rights and freedoms we hold dear.

I post it here without comment, because I promised to do so, and I haven't had a chance to digest it and decide on my response to it yet. On first read, she seems to be saying, "don't trust the Liberal Party, trust the Labor Party" but I am inclined to do neither in the current political climate.

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