Prime Minister Julia Gillard made an outstanding statement recently, setting a clear test for Australia’s counter-terrorism measures: they must not change Australians’ lives or lifestyle, or lessen our freedom and democracy. CLA’s Australia Day letter 2012 asks her to back up her own words, and establish an inquiry to evaluate the positive and negative impacts anti-terror measures have had on Australia and Australians since 9 September 2011.
PM asked to back up her comments about Australian life, lifestyle lifestyle by launching inquiry into Australians’ freedoms and democracy
On Australia Day 2012, Civil Liberties Australia has highlighted an outstanding statement by Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, on not allowing terrorists to change our lives and lifestyle or to lessen our freedom and democracy.
CLA is calling for the PM to follow-up her memorable words by establishing an inquiry to measure whether and how the lives and liberties of Australians have been changed by 10 years of counter-terrorism measures.
CLA’s annual Australia Day letter this year asks her to announce the inquiry early in 2012, to report on or by Australia Day 2013.
“Her words are memorable, even inspirational…but have gone unreported,” CLA’s CEO Bill Rowlings said today. In an answer to a journalist’s question at CHOGM in Perth last year, the PM provided a blueprint for evaluating how Australia stacks up as a society a decade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bali bombings and other atrocities. Prime Minister Gillard said:
“We in our country have had to work through our own domestic responses and international work on counter-terrorism. But we’ve always brought the perspective to that, that the purpose of terrorism is to cause us to be afraid to live our lives and enjoy our freedoms. We shouldn’t, in any response to terrorism, effectively give terrorists what they were seeking in the first place, which is driving us to live differently, or with less democracy, or less freedom than we had initially.”
(See full transcript below)
Mr Rowlings said the next logical step in the PM’s strong leadership on the issue was to set up a national inquiry to evaluate how anti-terrorism measures have impacted on the lives of Australians since 2001.
“She poses the crucial question: how much has the intensive legislative, bureaucratic, diplomatic, police, security, defence and corporate response to the fear of terrorism in Australia since September 2001 curtailed the ‘freedom and democracy…we had initially’. “
Until a detailed public inquiry is held into the issue, we do not know the answers to the questions the PM has put on the agenda:
Civil Liberties Australia and other human rights and privacy bodies believe Australians have less democracy and less freedom than we had in September 2001.
BACKGROUND: CLA believes:
Terrorism laws have caused us to lose traditional democratic rights such as freedom of speech by people detained/arrested, and media freedom to report and comment. Actions allied to terrorism laws – like three times the number of domestic ASIO agents, about double the number of federal police and the mushrooming of CCTV cameras – have created a more fearful Australian society, under greatly increased surveillance.
Our traditional freedoms are restricted in minor and major ways: under ASIO detention, you can be held without being charged with an offence, and you’re restricted on what you can say (one phone to one family member, even if held for a week). More than 40 per cent of people charged with major terrorism offences in Australia have been found by courts to be totally innocent…yet they have spent up to two years in prison on remand, subjected to ‘supermax’ prison hardships.
Australian citizens and residents have had their rights trampled by foreign governments, and by our own: Haneef, Habid, Hicks.
We are all subjected to more intrusive and revealing personal, body and luggage searches; our homes can be searched secretly, police can give evidence in false names, and our electronic activities – email, SMS, phone calls – are recorded by law, stored and can be secretly ‘security analysed’ by agents with licence to pry.
Government departments, revenue agencies, local councils, dog and taxi registration and enforcement bodies, security entities and state and federal police have been given major new powers to cross-reference and analyse all sorts of personal data, from tax returns to bank statements and online purchases.
Our cities are locked down, with sizable portions of the CBD barred to their own local citizens, whenever a major group of international politicians decide to meet in our country. Our federal parliament has become a fortress, ringed by steel barricades and a massive security presence, with the Australian people more restricted and more watched whenever they visit.
Our media representatives must get special passes, sometimes months ahead of the event, to allow for double and treble vetting of already-cleared journalists to attend media conferences, or they are barred from attending. At stage-managed press conferences, those who can ask questions are limited in number, and pre-ordained.
All the small and large new impositions on the way we live – curtailments of the traditional freedoms from personal intrusion we enjoyed a decade ago – are fabricated on the presumption of potential guilt, rather than how it used to be when we were presumed innocent until proven guilty, the pre-2001 test.
How an inquiry might work:
The inquiry could be chaired by an eminent serving or retired judge, or an academic, and have perhaps two-to-four other panel members.
People suitable would include Father Frank Brennan, who chaired the national human rights consultation in 2009, and Mary Kostakidis who was also a member of the panel. A leading Indigenous representative, such as Dr Kerry Arabena of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, could contribute to questions on whether Indigenous Australians have been affected by terrorism measures.
CLA believes a leading civil liberties person, such as CLA President Dr Kristine Klugman, could also be an excellent appointee to such an inquiry.
The inquiry should have nine months to conduct research and analysis, including holding meetings in each State and in regional areas, and should report after 10 months, by December 2012. This would allow the PM a month to consider the findings, and report to the Australian people on or before Australia Day 2013.
CLA would be happy to help by drawing up the terms of reference, and suggesting a short list of 10 people from whom to create the inquiry panel. We would be prepared to act as inquiry secretariat, with appropriate funding, to ensure the important national evaluation was kept clear of politics and propaganda.
Here is the full exchange, in a press conference given by PM Gillard and Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma on Friday 28 October 2011, in Perth:
Reporter: Good evening. This is [indistinct 0:17:27.6] from India Radio. We talk of human rights violations in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Terrorism is one issue which affects all of us. India has been the victim of terrorism for a long time now and Australia has also experienced terror attacks. What does the Commonwealth propose to do to reign in the countries which are supporting terror outfits like Pakistan? Thank you.
Kamalesh Sharma: I can explain to you because this is, if you like, an institutional question you asked. Ever since the relevant Security Council resolution on terrorism was passed, the Commonwealth has engaged with its member states into those areas of assistance where it has a certain comparative advantage or where this kind of assistance is sought. This is basically in looking at domestic laws which are comparable with the new situation that has been created in legislative drafting. We have been working on that and also on any aspect of international collaboration that may become necessary in order to implement it. The world is full of activity in [oil 0:18:44.3] and many different areas. Every institution must seek out that in which it has strength and do it. This is what we’ve been concentrating on.
Julia Gillard: Can I say just from our Australian perspective, we do know what it is like to lose people through a terrorist incident, we’ve lost Australian lives. We in our country have had to work through our own domestic responses and international work on counterterrorism. But we’ve always brought the perspective to that, that the purpose of terrorism is to cause us to be afraid to live our lives and enjoy our freedoms. We shouldn’t, in any response to terrorism, effectively give terrorists what they were seeking in the first place, which is driving us to live differently, or with less democracy, or less freedom than we had initially.