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Democrats: You Do Not Have The Right To Remain Silent

The Australian Democrats today launched a major campaign against the Government’s anti-terrorism legislation, which is set to be debated during the budget sitting in May.

“This legislation is an attack on the basic rights and freedoms of Australian citizens,” said Australian Democrats’ Leader, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja.

“The ALP must join with the Democrats in opposing these bills to ensure they are blocked in the Senate.”

The legislation:

  • allows ASIO to detain people incommunicado without trial, legal representation or the right to remain silent;
  • allows the Attorney-General to ban organisations, a power which would extend to many organisations devoted to human rights and lawful protest; and
  • creates terrorism offences that could be used to prosecute dissidents and protestors.

“The provisions of this legislation are exceptionally broad, and confer upon the Government the power to terrorise and oppress its own citizens,” said Senator Stott Despoja.

“Under the detention power, ASIO will become a secret police force able to take people in the dead of night and force them to answer questions or face 5 years imprisonment.”

Democrats’ Justice spokesperson, Senator Brian Greig, expressed concern about the Attorney-General’s power to ban organisations.

“This power could be used against any number of political and human rights organisations. The power is astonishingly arbitrary and lacks proper safeguards,” said Senator Greig.

“The terrorism offence could see political activists and dissidents jailed for life.”

Senator Stott Despoja said it was impossible to know how future governments would exercise these extraordinary powers.

“Not since Menzies’ Communist Party Dissolution Act has an Australian Government produced such profoundly undemocratic legislation. This legislation attacks the very way of life we are supposed to be defending,” concluded Senator Stott Despoja.

Statements from Organisations Opposing the Terrorism Bills

The following statements are drawn from submissions made to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee.

* * *

“This legislation, in its severity and the enormous power it gives to the government, defines itself as the most inappropriate of responses to the events of September 11. It is self-defeating in its construction as it attempts to outlaw terrorism but in doing so it provides the government with the unchecked power to terrorise its own citizens… It has no place in a democratic nation such as Australia where we value dissent and political discourse as cornerstones of our democracy.” – New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties

* * *

“The Law Council is concerned that critical aspects of the proposed legislation are inconsistent with fundamental aspects of the rule of law and with core international human rights obligations… In significant respects, the legislation fails to strike an appropriate balance between the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and legitimate concerns for national security.” – Law Council of Australia

* * *

“… most of the legislation represents an attack on fundamental democratic rights and freedoms. Unless we are successful in safeguarding these rights and freedoms, we risk the very democratic and legal structures we are supposedly protecting from terrorism… We are also concerned that this proposed legislation could be used to unfairly label members of Arab and Muslim communities as terrorists.” – Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic)

* * *

“Amnesty International fears that legislation such as this threatens the protection of human rights, and reminds the Government that it is imperative that the legislature is scrupulous in its adherence to such principles during such challenging times.” – Amnesty International Australia

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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