POLITICS

What Our Political Leaders Are Saying About Losing Civil Liberties

Turnbull said leaders had no higher responsibility than to keep people safe.

05/10/2017 12:55 PM AEDT | Updated 05/10/2017 2:55 PM AEDT
Andrew Meares/Fairfax
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews: "Notional considerations of civil liberties do not trump the very real threat, the very real threat of terror in our country today."

CANBERRA -- As Australian governments seek a strict new terror crackdown, including a national facial recognition database, there is another thing they are in furious agreement about -- that civil liberties can fall by the wayside.

The delicate balance between civil liberties and national security is a modern conundrum, but it is shifting. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists safety and privacy go hand in hand, but appears to be moving away from the rights of the individual and towards the security of the majority.

There's little to no sympathy for terrorists, even suspected terrorists, it seems. That should surprise no one. What is curious is the leaders' universal belief that the public will readily accept increased surveillance and security measures for increased public safety.

COAG Counter Terror Agreement

  • Access to all photo IDs in setting up a national facial recognition database;
  • Nationalise pre-charge detention laws to hold suspects for up to 14 days;
  • Nationalise move towards a presumption against bail and parole;
  • New offence to deal with terrorism hoaxes;
  • New offences for possessing instructional terrorist material

We know what are our political leaders are saying about terrorists, but just what are they saying about civil liberties?

Working with the acknowledgement that the terrorist threat in Australia remains elevated and the scale and tempo of the threat is evolving, here's the Premiers, Chief Ministers and Prime Minister at the terrorism-focused Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

"I think we have to cut straight to the chase here. There's going to people out there talking about civil liberties today, they're going to talk about the thin end of the wedge and all this sort of stuff. Well, frankly, that talk is a luxury that may be available to them but it's not available to political leaders in this country. Notional considerations of civil liberties do not trump the very real threat, the very real threat of terror in our country today. We are going to have to curtail the rights and freedoms of a small number of people in order to keep the vast majority of Australians safe. That is challenging. But it is necessary. And it's critical to effective leadership at this time."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

"We're gathered here together with a common purpose and a recognition that we have no higher obligation, no higher responsibility, than to keep our people safe and to keep Australians safe. We need to ensure that we give our police, intelligence and security agencies the tools they need to keep us safe."

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian

"All of us are having to reconsider our civil rights and compromise on those things but I think the vast majority of the public wants us to put security first and they appreciate that, because of the unusual circumstances and unfortunate circumstances in which we find ourselves, that we have to resort to these laws. Obviously we must always, always, be conscious of individual rights and civil liberties. However, public safety and security must come first."

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

"I think people would be very comfortable with the fact, I know I'm personally very comfortable with the fact, knowing that our law enforcement agencies have the equipment and have the necessary mechanisms to keep people safe. And, unfortunately, we've seen the tragedy that has happened overseas and my heart goes out to the people who lost their lives in Las Vegas. But what we do need to ensure is that we have the toughest and the strongest measures in place."

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman

"There's no doubt that we live in very uncertain times and this is the new world order. We have to adapt and we need to ensure that our nation, its law enforcement agencies, its governments are ahead of the game and that includes, on occasions, needing to put private concerns and privacy concerns alongside protecting our communities and keeping them safer and when it comes to that choice, it's the latter that Tasmania and I think the nation should choose."

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan

"Our legislation changes over time so our view of civil liberties and those sorts of things change over time depending on the threat level and obviously considering the threat level is now significantly higher in relation to these issues then it was once, once upon a time. Laws change to reflect that, so the traditional view of some of these things is not immutable, it is not unchangeable."

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

"We have sought to highlight the importance of privacy and of civil liberties. I respect the position of many of my colleagues that the threat level has changed and it is more perhaps in sorrow than anger that we can reflect upon the change in our community and the society in which we live that necessitates these sort of action, but nonetheless all jurisdictions have signed up today and it reflects a need for a joined up and collective response to critical issues."

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