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No Australian Should Be Imprisoned Without A Fair Trial

Yet here we are...

20/12/2016 3:34 PM AEDT | Updated 20/12/2016 3:34 PM AEDT
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Attorney General George Brandis and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

You could be forgiven for not noticing, but during the final week of federal parliament in 2016, 'continuing detention' laws passed through the Senate that will make it possible to imprison people in Australia without trial, potentially for life.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this is that most news organisations in Australia preferred to cover that great moral challenge of our times -- whether backpackers should be taxed at 13, 15 or 19 percent.

But while the new counter-terrorism laws barely received any notice here, they were considered shocking enough to be covered in some detail by the New York Times.

You don't have to be a flag-waving civil libertarian to believe that laws should have limits -- for example, that no Australian, no matter how seemingly abhorrent, should be denied a fair trial; or that police should not have unlimited powers to search us, monitor our computer use, or hold us in prison without trial. And yet, here we are.

Under the new 'continuing detention' system, various conditions must be met to achieve effective life imprisonment of someone who was not originally sentenced to life imprisonment. But it is only the good will of judges and the police that stand in the way of Australia becoming a despotic authoritarian police state. It is a precarious position to be in.

For its part, the Labor Party knows it is electoral death to appear soft on terror and is determined not to be wedged. It has offered little real resistance to the flurry of counter terrorism laws.

Not only is it fundamentally repugnant to people who believe in the rule of law, but we simply do not need continuing detention orders in order to maintain public safety. Courts have the power to impose control orders on any terrorist offender who finishes a prison term. These can severely constrain movement, activities and association, and allow intrusive surveillance. That this is deemed insufficient is tantamount to an admission of police ineptitude.

It appears the government has become subservient to the security agencies, including ASIO and the Australian Federal Police. Each of our federal counter-terrorism laws has been driven by their requests, with neither the Justice Minister nor Attorney General offering much resistance.

For its part, the Labor Party knows it is electoral death to appear soft on terror and is determined not to be wedged. It has offered little real resistance to the flurry of counter terrorism laws.

The journalists in the press gallery also have little interest in civil liberties -- even their own. Last year, I spent a lot of time explaining how legislation before the Senate could result in journalists being put in the slammer for reporting on ASIO operations. It took a long, long time before the penny dropped and they started to complain. But it took an outsider, in the form of Roger Gyles QC, before effective pressure was applied to soften -- but not eliminate -- some of these provisions.

Very few journalists have shown the slightest bit of concern about laws that would put other people in prison, with or without a trial. And the human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Commission, have proven themselves to be quite useless, entirely pre-occupied with asylum seekers and racist thoughts.

What the passing of this legislation demonstrates is that the Government faces little public resistance when it comes to eroding civil liberties. It can continue to wedge Labor to its heart's content, with no limits to the draconian legislation it can pass.

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