While the proposed “shoot to kill” powers
in the draft terror laws
are getting the press, surely there are other key threats in the legislation.

The main causes for concern have to be:

  • The threat to due process – the effective removal of habeas
    corpus, confronting the accuser and testing the charges;
  • The reversal of the burden of proof, the reversal of the
    principle of innocent until proven guilty allowed in the proposed laws and
    in existing ASIO legislation;
  • The right to adequate early – and continuing – legal
    representation; and
  • Most significantly, the absence of any evidence that the
    removal of democratic liberties will uphold liberty by reducing or
    removing the threat of terrorism.

We are being told by politicians that we
must trust them and that the changes are needed. This “need” is based on secret
evidence provided by government agencies who will be the primary beneficiaries
of the increases in power – let alone funding, personnel and other resources –
and reduction in accountability the new laws will bring.

This is condescension at its very worst.
Arch paternalism. The arguments for secrecy and control without a need for public
accountability are those of autocratic, undemocratic, authoritarian regimes both now
and throughout history.

The rule of law – which incorporates freedom
of speech, freedom of association, habeas corpus, legal representation, no
detention without charge and the presumption of innocence until guilt is proved – is
exactly what constitutes western democracy.

We diminish it at our peril.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Audit of
Australia site at the ANU wraps the terror bills debate, including Jon Stanhope’s latest outrage. He has
published a review of the human rights implications of the Bill, commissioned
from human rights lawyers Hilary Charlesworth, Andrew Byrnes and Gabrielle
McKinnon. They conclude that the Bill breaches a number of Australia’s
obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Peter Fray

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