Michelle Grattan, usually one of our most measured and balanced
commentators, has morphed into something of a crusader on the subject
of anti-terrorism laws. Her campaign against them continues with this piece in this morning’s Age.

“It’s ridiculous to think the terrorism threat is so great it demands
these laws be passed at once (or, if it’s so immediate, that the new
law will head it off). Self-evidently, it would be desirable to take
enough time to get the detail right.”

Grattan is right: the argument that new anti-terror laws are urgently
required by changed circumstances just won’t hold water. The world
hasn’t become more dangerous, it’s become safer – much safer. But we
didn’t need to stamp on civil liberties to win the Cold War, and we
don’t need to now.

Nor is it plausible to argue, as Gerard Henderson does, that the
government is just responding to overwhelming public demand. The public
demands a lot of things that it doesn’t get, and this demand is too
obviously bolstered by the government’s own scaremongering.

But to ask “why” about the anti-terror laws is probably the wrong
question. Governments do these things because they can; police,
military and intelligence services always want extra powers, regardless
of circumstances. This time, the notoriety of terrorism has raised
public concern enough for them to be able to get away with it. But in
the wise words of PJ O’Rourke, “Giving money and power to government is
like giving whisky and car keys to teenage boys.”

Peter Fray

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