My speech to The Justice Project – Human Rights Forum, Dickson College, 08/11/2007

(Thanks Kurt. I thank Matilda for her welcome and I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet).

Anti-terror laws are supposedly about risk mitigation, protecting us from a present risk of terrorism. What is the “present” risk of terrorism? The government is using the perceived risk of terrorism. to frighten us. The government thrives on creating a climate of fear. It used to be “reds under the beds” in the old days of the Cold War. Now it’s “terrorists behind the lampposts” or some other such phrase, for fostering fear, and making us suspicious of anyone who is visibly different from “us” (whatever “us” may be taken to mean). The perceived risk of terrorism is high. But the actual risk of terrorism is minimal by comparison.

Accountability is all about contestable decisions being heard by a court. The right to trial, the principle of habeas corpus, is a protection of liberty and enables people to challenge unlawful custody. There is a right to be heard: for decision makers to be unbiased, the right to know the evidence used against you and the right to know the case against you. This is referred to as “natural justice” (also known as “procedural fairness”). It prevents inaccurate results and means that you are able to defend yourself in court, where only relevant information is taken into account and irrelevant information is put aside (this is why the Haneef case was such a travesty) The courts have a role to act as a balance to the decisions of the executive. They can also act as a protection of peoples’ rights against overenthusiastic law enforcement agencies. (Especially when the government and opposition collude to increase the powers of those agencies, as happened recently).

A government has a duty and a fundamental responsibility to protect it’s citizens but this must be done in accordance with upholding the freedoms it is setting out to protect.

Even in the case of a “national emergency” such as war (or terrorism), basic human rights principles, our civil rights and freedoms (whether under statute or common law) as well as International Humanitarian Laws and the Geneva Conventions must be upheld.

There can still be a presumption against bail in dangerous and drugs cases. And if necessary an arrest order or warrant can still be issued in a very short period of time (about half an hour). But that doesn’t take away the right to have a person’s status determined by a court.

Politicians have an agenda. Courts, rely on evidence and development of the law. Keeping information “protected” from the court, or the defence, and closing courts from public view (except in cases justified to the court for the protection of one of the parties involved, eg. children, (or) domestic violence) (protected Information) involves a lack of scrutiny that risks poor decisions being made.

Our worst comes out when we justify poor decisions in the name of fighting threats of terror or war. When our rights and freedoms are eroded by government actions in the name of fighting some perceived threat to our freedoms, there is also an erosion of our morality. It occurs by undermining all we have worked towards in the evolution and historical development of our justice system. We throw it all out the window in a few short years when we fail to uphold the basic principles of justice on which our civilised society is built.

There is something morally wrong with imposing gaol sentences on journalists for reporting accountability issues. It is not about protecting people from terrorists. It is playing politics. Again, we have a situation of creating a climate of fear. No one is able to say anything, journalists become frightened to report anything for fear of imprisonment. This denies freedom of expression and a free press. It places our law enforcement agencies above the law, above scrutiny. It punishes freedom of information and takes away the publics’ right to be informed by a free and independent press

We need a balance, protecting us from excessive concentration of power by government . The separation of powers and the idea of responsible government as defined in the Australian Constitution is what is meant to give us the checks and balances between the branches of government without fear or interference. However, concentration of the government in the executive has increased with recent decisions by Ministers (such as the Attorney-General or Immigration Minister) to take powers away from the courts (as referred to above). We need to address constitutional reform to give greater clarification and definition to the relationship between the Executive, the Parliament and the Judiciary.

The Australian Democrats have long been the balance between the excessive power of Liberal (and) Labor governments. We will continue to fight for balance, for human rights and protection of privacy, freedom and accountability.

(Thank you).

(Speech given by me at the above meeting at approximately 6.45pm on 08/11/2007 addressing:

Does the “present risk of terrorism” justify:

– The new control orders. Which allow a person considered a threat to be restricted to their home where the person concerned has not been found guilty of an offence by a court?

– ASIO’s new power to detain a person suspected of being a terrorist but against whom there is not enough evidence to bring charges?

– laws that impose a 5 year gaol term on a journalist who reports the fact of a person held in detention under the powers referred to in the previous question?

- the new power of the Attorney-General to close courts to public view?

– the new power of the Attorney-General to prevent a litigant from seeing the evidence used against him or her?)

(Italicised parts of the main text are additional or “ad libs” to the original speech)

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