New terror laws: no one will be safer

Friday, February 26, 2010 - 11:00

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd released a new counter-terrorism white paper on February 23 that dramatically increases the powers of Australia's spy agency ASIO, attacks civil liberties and does nothing to improve the safety of Australian citizens.

There are three key proposals in the government's "anti-terror" strategy. The first is to spend $69 million to add biometric data, such as fingerprints and face scans, to passports of people coming from 10 as-yet-unnamed countries.

The second proposal, announced on February 24, is to expand ASIO powers to allow it to also act against "people smugglers", drug smugglers and organised crime.

Finally a "counter terrorism control centre" will be set up to "improve the ability of agencies to operate against terrorism and to detect and prevent terrorists' threats", News.com.au said on February 23.

Rudd told reporters on February 23: "[The terror] threat is not diminishing. In fact, the government's security intelligence agencies assess that terrorism has become a persistent and permanent feature of Australia's security environment."

Rudd said that since 2001, 100 Australians had been victims of terror attacks, with the main current threat to Australia being from "home-grown" terrorists.

He didn't mention that none of these deaths were on Australian soil or that there has never been a successful terrorist attack in Australia.

None of the whitepaper's proposals, which focus on people coming to Australia, would have saved any of the 100 killed. But this hasn't stopped the government increasing ASIO's budget every year over the past seven years.

An October 28 Crikey.com.au article said ASIO now receives eight times the funding it had in 2001.

ASIO is largely unaccountable to parliament. The proposed changes would give it the power to intervene in cases of "people smuggling" (again, no refugee or boat person has been convicted of a terrorist offence), drug smuggling and organised crime. For an agency with little accountability, this represents a huge attack on civil liberties.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlum attacked this in a press release on February 23: "With every word of the Howard-Ruddock terror legislation still on the statute books, there is nothing in the white paper about improving accountability of rapidly expanding agencies like ASIO, or bringing our legal frameworks back into line with long established principles of the rule of law."

This comes on the back of the harsh February 15 sentencing of five Sydney men for an alleged terrorist conspiracy — a conspiracy with no target, no weapons and no plans. The men were sentenced for up to 28 years for thought-crimes. Key evidence was a selection of movies supporting Islamic fundamentalist violence overseas.

Five men will spend up to half their lives in prison as a result of watching movies about "jihadist terrorism".

But it is Rudd's own foreign policy that gives credence to its message. Australia's ongoing support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is itself a form of terror.

From GLW issue 828