Media Release: 26th February, 2010: Proposed police powers laws labelled “Draconian” by Democrats

DARREN CHURCHILL

ACT Democrats President

Media Release: 26th February, 2010:

Proposed police powers laws labelled “Draconian” by Democrats

ACT Democrats President and civil libertarian, Darren Churchill has urged Assembly members to avoid legislating draconian laws when they consider the government’s Crimes (Surveillance Devices) Bill and Serious and Organised Crimes Bill, introduced into the Legislative Assembly yesterday.

News reports yesterday stated that the government had introduced new ACT legislation to give police increased powers in fighting organised crime.

“We don’t want to see a local version of the draconian laws introduced in other States!” Mr Churchill declared.

“There need to be strong safeguards to protect against the misuse of electronic surveillance. Can we be assured that the forms of surveillance mentioned in the legislation will only ever be used with a warrant? And only ever when there is reasonable suspicion of the commission of a crime?”

“What guarantees are there that the “Emergency authorisation” provisions under Section 25 of the Crimes (Surveillance Devices) Bill will only ever be used in an emergency – and not just as an excuse to inappropriately assume extra surveillance powers?” questioned Mr Churchill

“Section 35A of the Serious and Organised Crimes Bill creates a new offence of “Affray.” This makes it an offence to threaten someone with unlawful violence or make them fear for their safety.”

“Doesn’t this already exist under the offence of “Assault”? We need to see clarification as to how the interpretation of these offences differs. Or is the government just trying to sound tough?” continued Mr Churchill.

“And surely penalties should be prescribed by the courts, not by legislation.”

“We are also concerned about the ACT Government’s plan to make it illegal to participate in a group which may or may not be labelled as illegal. Under Section 652 of the Serious and Organised Crimes Bill, it says that:

“A person commits an offence if the person—

(c) knows, or ought to have known, that the person’s participation

in the criminal group contributes to criminal activity.”

“I don’t think it is wise to concentrate heavily on membership of groups and the Australian Crime Commission has already said so in a submission to the Federal Government. Focusing on group activity is not an effective way to fight organised crime.”

“Alleged criminals should be charged for an offence they commit as individuals, but it is not right nor appropriate to charge someone for the group they may belong to and the people they associate with.”

“There are serious freedom of association issues at stake here, which echo the anti-bikie laws in other jurisdictions.” warned Mr Churchill

“A properly resourced and increasingly visible police presence would surely be more effective in combating all types of criminal activity, rather than invasive surveillance technology and draconian increases to police powers. The well-intentioned efforts to fight organised crime should not be at a cost of personal freedom. We don’t want to see organised crime legislation become the anti-terror legislation of the new decade.” Mr Churchill concluded.

Darren Churchill

ACT Democrats President

darren.churchill@act.democrats.org.au

Tel: 0412 196 473

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