Prime Minister Tony Abbott will hand more power to spies and police to respond to a “dark age” of terrorism, despite the nation already having the toughest anti-terror laws of any comparable democracy.
On Monday, Mr Abbott announced he would appoint a new counter terrorism boss, simplify the terror alert system and strip terror suspects of “the benefit of the doubt” in order to counteract “the most primitive savagery”.
During the speech at federal police headquarters, he hit back at critics who have accused him of exaggerating the threat from hard-to-detect “lone actor” attacks like the Sydney siege, and signalled yet another rebalance of civil liberties.
“There is always a trade-off between the rights of the individual and community safety. We will not sacrifice our freedoms, but we will not let our enemies exploit our decency either,” he said.
Mr Abbott promised to “clamp down” on dual citizenships, legal aid, bail applications, welfare payments and “terrorist propaganda” on social media, amid warnings from legal experts and other political parties against overreach.
Leading constitutional lawyer Professor George Williams has previously told The New Daily that Australia often over-reacts to tragedies such as September 11 and the London bombings with “hyper-legislation” that would be “unthinkable” overseas.
In a new book, Professor Williams and two other high-profile experts conclude that Australia’s laws undermine democratic freedoms “to a greater extent” than all comparable nations, including those facing more severe terrorist threats, mainly because of a lack of human rights protections.
Australia is the only democratic nation without a bill of rights. Instead, the government of the day must describe how each new law clashes with internationally accepted human rights and give a reason for the clash, with no obligation to remedy the conflict.
As a result, ASIO is the only Western spy agency with the power to detain and question citizens not suspected of terrorism.
Intelligence agencies in the UK, Canada and the USA must have a good reason to call in a person for questioning, whereas any Australian can be questioned for 24 hours and detained for up to a week without evidence by ASIO.
This power was supposed to expire last year, but was extended by the Abbott until 2025.
Australia also copied the control order scheme from the UK, which are used to restrict the movements of convicted or suspected terrorists. The UK has since watered down its scheme, whereas Australia’s has been kept in full force.
Mr Abbott is already trying to push through broader spying powers and tougher penalties for citizens who travel overseas to fight with terrorist groups.
Last year, the Liberal government made it a crime to disclose information about ‘special intelligence operations’. Many media outlets criticised the loosely defined offence, as they felt it endangered free speech and their ability to hold the government to account. Spies also gained immunity from prosecution for anything except death, serious injury and torture.
Australia’s first independent national security, prominent barrister Bret Walker SC, has backed meta-data retention, immunity for spies, and laws against talking about secret operations, but has previously told The New Daily that preventative detention orders are “an infringement of liberty”.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has warned that the government’s response to terrorism must not go too far.
“I don’t believe our nation can only be safe if we get rid of the liberties of people, nor do I believe that the liberties of people in every sense should trump national security,” Mr Shorten said on Sunday.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm has also criticised the proposed crackdown, saying individual liberties should not be curtailed in the name of national security.
“Giving up our liberty in order to protect us from those who want to take our liberty basically means the terrorists win,” Senator Leyonhjelm told ABC radio.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s security announcement
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