The bulk of today’s charges appear to have been laid not under last
week’s new terror amendment, but under existing legislation on
“membership of a proscribed organisation” – that’s according to
Melbourne lawyer Rob Stary, some of whose clients were among those
That hasn’t stopped politicians jumping at the chance to talk up the
supposed significance of the terror amendment. Treasurer Peter Costello went on
television linking last week’s law change to the raids. Steve Bracks emphasised its importance in a media conference this morning.
When those charged appear before an open court and a jury (all under
the existing legislation), getting any sort of fair trial will prove a
tough challenge. With everyone from NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney to
a hyped-up media dicing with the notion of a presumption of innocence,
the seed has already been planted that the community has been saved
from a horrible terrorist attack.
“Let’s hope we have prevented a large-scale terrorist event,” Peter
Costello said this morning, pumping up the fear-factor. “This does
really illustrate that the threat of terrorism is real.”
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We await the evidence, which apparently includes telephone intercepts,
and look forward to seeing it tested in court. Of course, after the
current bill goes through, even Rob Stary, who went on Melbourne radio
this morning, might be committing an offence punishable by seven years’
The point is that it has always been illegal to conspire to cause harm
in a myriad of ways, and certainly to actually commit the offence
rather than to simply to conspire.
What is different under the new regime is that the need to prove just
cause for a warrant or an arrest is being removed; the right to
face one’s accusers and test the evidence is removed; and we are
required to trust the word of the various police and security agencies
when they tell us someone has been naughty.
This trust should be placed in the context of our knowledge and experience of such agencies around the world.