A cascade of more than 50 Acts tackling ‘anti-terrorism’ – short-term reactions to then-perceived threats – have engulfed Australian society since 2001. Over the next decade or so, there’s a need to re-balance the legislation to better reflect the considered rights and responsibilities of Australian society. We can do that best, CLA says, by holding a national inquiry into civil liberties in Australia, deciding what our liberties/freedoms and responsibilities should be, then reforming the rushed legislation to make sure our laws match the type of society we want to live in.

The following is the text of the to the Prime Minsiter:

Senate Inquiry into civil liberties in Australia                           

The Prime Minister
Mr Kevin Rudd
Parliament House

Dear Prime Minister

Since 11 September 2001, there has been a cascade of legislation in Australia (and in other western democracies) aimed at thwarting terrorists.  In Australia, the volume of anti-terrorist legislation reached 50 Acts by early 2007 (Alford Report, http://www.cla.asn.au/pages/students.php – a CLA study undertaken in conjunction with the Senate).

The Acts deal with issues from police and security matters to opening bank accounts, donating to charities internationally, sending and receiving email, and the still-extant sedition provisions. Some of these Acts and parts of Acts were, in hindsight, rushed and an over-reaction, CLA believes. The sedition provisions, which the Rudd Government has undertaken to correct, illustrate the point.

There is a need longer-term to restore a better balance in Australian society by producing more considered versions of this security and associated legislation, with the benefit of more time to analyse national and international needs in an ‘age of terrorism’, and the opportunity to involve the Australian community fully in the decision-making. This opportunity did not exist, or was not taken, in the reactive rush to legislate which began immediately after 11 September 2001, and lasted for more than half a decade. It is to be hoped that it is now over.

Amending each of 50-plus Acts piecemeal over a period of 10-25 years will not produce robust, positively interactive and the most effective legislation. What is needed is a better way to achieve the best-possible Australian society, balancing danger and security without unnecessary restrictions on liberties, and without inducing a constant and debilitating fear in the community as a by-product of government actions.

CLA believes that the best way to achieve the appropriate balance will be to start by analysing what Australians’ civil liberties should be. This has never been done, to our knowledge.

The analysis would draw on international human rights treaties Australia has signed, as well as the traditional cultural mores, values, customs, standards, liberties and responsibilities of the nation and its people.  It would ideally be drawn together after an extensive period of national discussion and debate, possibly of 2-4 years duration. The Senate, CLA believes, is the ideal organisation to facilitate this process.

CLA proposes that you arrange for the Senate to hold an Inquiry into Civil Liberties in Australia as outlined in this letter.

The basic Australian standards established by this considered process would inform an overall review of Australian ‘anti-terrorism’ and associated legislation. New, balanced legislation would pass in the period from about 2011 to 2015, some 10 to 15 years after the start of the first rushed, out-of-kilter legislation. 

As a useful by-product, the national civil liberties discussion and debate between about 2008 and 2011 could lay the foundation for, and inform, a subsequent decision on whether or not Australia needed a Bill of Rights (BoR).  Holding the BoR consultation in this manner may be preferable to a straight-out concentration on ‘rights’ issues, without firstly restoring the rights/restrictions pendulum to a more central position.

Thank you for your attention to our request,

Yours sincerely

Kristine Klugman

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