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Issue #1804      November 22, 2017

Police state powers

“This is not justice”

The means to condition the Australian public in the country’s main population centres to the constant presence of armed military personnel on city streets was given its latest promotional exercise last month. In a mock terrorism exercise – replete with the bloodied bodies of “victims” – in Sydney’s Central Station, members of the NSW Public Order and Riot Squad in paramilitary regalia locked down the Country Trains terminal. Armed with M4 assault rifles (the “weapon of choice of the US military” and the same weapon used by the Federal Police to guard the fortress that is now Parliament House, Canberra), the squad is an upgrade of the NSW Tactical Operations Unit.

Soon these heavily-armed squads will be cruising the streets of Australia’s biggest city, and their counterparts around the country.

Anti-terrorism laws threaten to criminalise social dissent. The attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York City gave greater impetus to arguments by police and intelligence agencies here and in the US and Europe that terrorism and activism are the same problem and need to be approached in the same manner. Terrorism is the justification for shutting down political dissent.

Widespread public resistance has not eliminated but has forced some amendments to proposals which create new offences of terrorism, giving the government the power to ban organisations and give ASIO (Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation) dangerous new powers.

In the early 2000s ASIO was converted from a spy agency to a secret police force. It was given powers of arrest and the right to hold people for questioning for 48 hours. People can be held incommunicado with no right to a lawyer and no contact with family or the outside world. People face up to five years in jail for refusing to answer questions, removing their right to silence.

Last month the Australian Lawyers’ Alliance (ALA) warned that draconian counter-terrorism powers such as warrantless searches and preventative detention orders do little to enhance security and serve only to further marginalise people.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security is currently reviewing legislation which gives security agencies access to control orders, preventative detention orders (PDOs) and warrantless searches.

ALA spokesperson Greg Barns said that in the interests of justice, all security powers under review should be repealed or allowed to expire next year with the passing of the sunset clause. He called for Parliament instead to introduce an enforceable federal human rights act.

“These extraordinary police powers are an unacceptable impost on the human rights of all Australians and should be repealed as soon as possible,” Mr Barns said.

“It is hard to make a case that these powers improve our national security as they have been on the books since 2005 and have rarely been used. Why do we need them? The evidence indicates that existing powers of investigation and prosecution are adequate to meet the threat posed by terrorism.”

Barns said that control orders, preventative detention orders and warrantless searches have no place in Australian society and should be repealed and that any law reform intended to enhance national security should be based on evidence and comply strictly with international human rights law. He warned that the legislation allowing control orders, PDOs and warrantless searches undermines fundamental human rights protections that have existed under the Westminster system for centuries.

Preventative detention orders allow the detention of individuals without charge or even suspicion. No other similar country allows such detention.

Mr Barns referred to a recent report by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor which pointed out that international law requires any imposition on rights to be necessary and proportionate to the risk faced.

“Given that these draconian police powers have rarely been used, even though numerous national security threats have been foiled and numerous raids and traditional arrests conducted, it is hard to see that they are necessary.

“It is also hard to see how imposing incommunicado detention, warrantless searches or the infringements on liberty and privacy via control orders is proportionate.”

“Safeguards on these powers are inadequate under current arrangements, and could potentially allow reliance on evidence extracted under torture abroad or racial profiling,” Mr Barns said.

This is not only a concern from the point of view of relying on or condoning dangerous or discriminatory practices, it will also mean that people are subjected to these powers based on unreliable evidence.

In addition, individuals detained under PDOs have very limited rights to say where they are.

“People detained under a PDO are only allowed to inform people that they are safe, not that they are being detained pursuant to a PDO,” Mr Barns said. “If they or anyone else who finds out about the detention discloses it without permission, heavy prison sentences of five years can be imposed. This is not justice.”

Mr Barns called on the federal government to urgently introduce an enforceable federal human rights act.

Next article – Editorial – YES despite bankrupt politics

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