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Sacrificing freedoms in the war against terror

  • 22 September 2014

While I do not know what evidence lies behind the anti-terror raids which swept across major cities in recent days, they should prompt all of us to ask serious questions about the 'war on terror' and its offspring.

It is important to note at the outset that terrorism, by its nature, is horrific. The act which it is alleged was prevented by these raids would have been a random killing of a person for no better reason that they lived in Australia. A spectacle killing carried out for the brutal purpose of a propaganda video. It is the right and duty of security services to act to prevent such things with all the arsenal that a state based on the rule of law allows. 

Acts of terror are, however, criminal acts and a society that ditches the hard won democratic safeguards which surround the criminal law and prevent it from being abused rapidly becomes indistinguishable from the barbarities it attempts to fight.

At present, laws are being rushed through Parliament which, if passed, will have a major impact both on personal liberty and on the freedom of speech which the Government claimed to champion so vociferously when the field of discussion was racism and the Attorney General’s famed 'right to be a bigot'.

Section 35K of the ASIO Act 1977 inserted by Sch.3 of the new National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014 protects participants in any 'special intelligence operations' from civil and criminal liability for any 'special intelligence conduct' during these operations. What sort of actions are included? Well, anything authorised by the Director General of ASIO or a Deputy Director-General that does not:

causes the death of, or serious injury to, any person; or involves the commission of a sexual offence against any person; or causes significant loss of, or serious damage to, property;  or induce another person to commit a crime against the Commonwealth or a State or territory 'that they were not otherwise planning to commit'. 

Clearly this covers all manner of crimes, ranging from kidnapping to holding people in solitary confinement (false imprisonment) up to physical torture which does not kill or amount to a sexual assault. The field is pretty broad and would cover everything from water boarding to force feeding to sleep deprivation to solitary confinement. In case this is thought fanciful, it is worth noting that while Australia is a party to the Convention Against Torture, it has so far declined