Diverse interests, from Muslim groups to CLA, have combined to ask the government to delay its latest tranche of terror laws to allow more consideration and consultation.
Don’t rush through unnecessary counter-terrorism laws that erode democratic rights and freedoms
Joint statement on the Counter Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 15 October 2014
The Australian Government has an important duty to protect the community from terrorism. At times, laws can legitimately limit the rights of individuals for the purpose of countering this threat, provided the limitations are necessary and proportionate.
In fact, national security laws and the protection of human rights share complementary goals; both are concerned with protecting Australians from harm.
The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 currently before the Senate proposes many significant changes to Australia’s counter-terrorism laws. The stated aim is to improve the Government’s ability to respond to the threat posed by Australians who return from overseas after fighting in conflicts or training with terrorist organisations.
The Government is seeking to rush this law through Parliament by the end of this month. Doing so will deny our elected representatives and the community the opportunity to fully debate the proposed changes.
The Government must explain why all of these changes are needed. Australia already has laws to meet the threat posed by foreign fighters. Indeed, the Government and its agencies have formidable powers to combat terrorism. In light of this, it is not clear why some of the changes in the Bill are necessary, particularly where they could have a major impact on the human rights of every Australian.
Additionally, aspects of the Bill are not urgent and do not address the threat posed by foreign fighters. The Bill extends the sunset clauses for existing counter-terrorism regimes relating to control orders, preventative detention orders and ASIO detention and questioning warrants. These regimes risk encroaching on rights to freedom from arbitrary detention, free speech, movement and association, without specifically addressing the threat posed by foreign fighters. In any event, none of these regimes is due to expire until the end of 2015.
The aspects of the Bill that specifically target foreign fighters contain new offences, such as the offence of travelling to declared areas, which effectively reverse the onus of proof and threaten the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. Another new offence of advocating terrorism threatens the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression.
Given the extraordinary nature of this Bill, the undersigned call on the Australian Parliament to not pass the Bill without a more comprehensive public consultation on the necessity of the laws and their compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.
This statement has been endorsed by the following 43 academics and religious, community, legal and human rights organisations:
- Afghan Australian Development Organisation
- Amnesty International Australia
- Assoc Professor Greg Carne, University of New England
- Asylum Seekers Resource Centre
- Australian National Imams Council
- Australian Privacy Foundation
- Australian Tamil Congress
- Castan Centre for Human Rights Law
- Civil Liberties Australia
- Dr Nesam McMillan, University of Melbourne
- Dr Nicola McGarrity, University of New South Wales
- Federation of Community Legal Centres (Victoria) Inc
- Human Rights Law Centre
- International Commission of Jurists Victoria
- Islamic Council of NSW
- Islamic Council of Western Australia
- Islamic Egyptian Society of New South Wales
- Lebanese Muslim Association
- Liberty Victoria
- Mahboba’s Promise
- Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
- Medical Association for Prevention of War
- Mohamad Tabbaa, University of Melbourne
- Muslim Legal Network (NSW)
- Muslim Legal Network (Vic)
- Muslim Legal Network (WA)
- National Association of Community Legal Centres
- National Foundation for Australian Women
- New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties
- Professor George Williams AO, University of New South Wales
- Professor Ben Saul, The University of Sydney
- Professor Hilary Charlesworth, The Australian National University
- Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services Inc
- Queensland Council for Civil Liberties
- Right Now Inc
- RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees
- South Australian Council for Civil Liberties
- Tamil Refugee Council
- The Australian Lawyers Alliance
- United Muslim Women Association Inc
- Uniting Justice Australia, Uniting Church
- Western Australian Muslim Lawyers Association
- Women’s Electoral Lobby Australia