I keep on quoting Gerard Henderson
on terror laws because he’s been strong and succinct. “Irrespective of
their personal beliefs, conservative and social democratic leaders
alike understand that there is a demand among a clear majority of
Australians for a greater focus on national security at a time of
terrorist threat,” he wrote four weeks ago.

Also strong and succinct has been Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. It’s hard to quibble with his line from Lateline last week: “Let
me tell you, if we ended up with a position where we had a terrorist
attack in this nation and we weren’t ready and we did haven’t the laws
in place, let me tell you whose heads would be on the block – the Prime
Minister and every state leader in this nation. And, frankly, we’ve got
a moral obligation to ensure that we get the appropriate protection in
place to safeguard Australians and that’s exactly what we will do.”

But
note that Mr “safeguard Australians” Beattie also had this to say: “We’ve
got a threat of terrorism in the world, including Australia. The
premiers have got an obligation to try and reach agreement with the
Prime Minister in the interest of national security. If we’ve got
issues, and we were the ones who pursued these matters – Steve Bracks
pursued it vigorously and I supported him on things like a sunset
clause. We have insisted on the most appropriate safeguards to protect
people. I’ve insisted on a public interest monitor being involved.
There are checks and balances in this that I believe protect
Australians. Of course more work needs to be done, but we’re not going
to throw the baby out with the bath water because there are issues that
need to be addressed and they will be.”

That makes this morning’s news on AMthat
Beattie has warned his state and territory counterparts the Federal
Government’s proposed new counter-terrorism laws may be
unconstitutional even more significant.

According to the ABC,
the advice warns there is a risk High Court judges would conclude
judges and magistrates should not be recruited to aid the work of
police in secretly detaining people who have committed no offence. The
suggestion has been made that the proposed laws would not stand up to a
High Court challenge.

An ACNielsen poll in today’s Sydney Morning Heraldfinds
that “Australians overwhelmingly endorse the anti-terrorism plan agreed
by the Commonwealth, states and territories, but strongly oppose the
one key point of political dispute – John Howard’s push to give police
new shoot-to-kill powers over suspects.”

As we reported last week, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has published a review
of the human rights implications of the Bill, commissioned from human
rights lawyers Hilary Charlesworth, Andrew Byrnes and Gabrielle
McKinnon that concludes that the bills breach a number of Australia’s
obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights.

Stanhope has allowed himself to be painted as a
soft-left dog in the manger. But no one can doubt Beattie’s commitment
to strong anti-terror measures – or his campaigning for safeguards
throughout this debate. So marks to the Queensland Premier for his work
on “checks and balances.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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