While Kevin Rudd is big on saying sorry, it appears neither his Attorney-General Robert McClelland nor the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty is. In fact, officers in the Attorney-General’s Department, the AFP and ASIO are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief this morning as they realise that Mr McClelland is, well, no different than his predecessor Philip Ruddock when it comes to snubbing victims of government abuse.

Yesterday, Mr McClelland told a Senate Estimates Committee that the Rudd government has no plans to make an apology or offer compensation to Sydney student Izhar Ul-Haque for the appalling treatment meted out to him by ASIO officers who wrongly thought Ul-Haque had participated in terrorism training.

Here’s what New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams found about the treatment of Ul-Haque in a judgement delivered in November last year:

At 7.25pm on 6 November 2003, twenty or so ASIO and four or five police officers, all in plain clothes, attended with a search warrant at the home where the accused lived with his parents and three brothers.

ASIO met Mr Ul-Haque and his 17-year-old brother in a railway station car park on that November day. They told Mr Ul-Haque he was in serious trouble, bundled him into a car, took him to a local park and forced him to answer questions. They took his frightened brother along as well – an action described by Justice Adams as “highhanded”:

The officers were dealing with a young man of twenty-one years. It is obvious that any citizen of ordinary fortitude would find a peremptory confrontation of the kind described by the ASIO officers frightening and intimidating. Furthermore, the fact that he was being taken to a park rather than any official place would have added an additional unsettling factor. I do not think it can be doubted that this was precisely the effect that was intended.

Then the ASIO officers took him back to his home, kept him in his parents’ bedroom and proceeded to interview him again until 3.45 the next morning. None of which impressed Justice Adams who observed:

To my mind, to conduct an extensive interview with the accused, keeping him incommunicado under colour of the warrant, was a gross breach of the powers given to the officers under the warrant.

One would have thought Mr McClelland would be bending over backwards to apologise to Mr Ul-Haque and his family. And that Mr McClelland would be offering compensation with a promise that on his watch such behaviour by ASIO or any other agency is unacceptable.

Mr McClelland’s pigheadedness was echoed by Mick Keelty yesterday who, despite admitting that the Haneef case cost the taxpayer a cool $7.5 million and that at one point there were 475 police officers working on the case, doesn’t think Dr Haneef has any entitlement to compensation.

The signal being sent by Mr McClelland to law enforcement agencies is essentially this – don’t worry if you breach an individual’s human rights, we won’t punish you. Sounds just like Philip Ruddock, doesn’t it?

Peter Fray

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