The Guardian September 4, 2002

Government fails over ASIO Bill

by Janice Hamilton

The ALP caucus has decided to oppose the amended ASIO Powers Bill in the 
House of Representatives and to send it to a Senate inquiry when it reaches 
the Senate.

This is a significant victory for everyone who has campaigned on this issue 
over the last year. Opposition can be reinforced by continuing to send 
messages to Labor, Greens and Democrat Senators and to the Senate inquiry 
when it is set up.

The Government's amended Bill continues to give ASIO new powers of 
detention with no right to legal representation for up to 48 hours (which 
could then be further extended) and would permit the detention of children 
as young as 14 years.

The ALP proposes that any necessary powers should be given to the 
Australian Federal Police (AFP), not to ASIO.

John Faulkner, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Shadow Minister 
for Public Administration and Home Affairs, in a media release on August 27 
stating that the amended ASIO Bill proposed by the Government was 

In referring the Bill to a Senate inquiry the ALP proposes that the Senate 

* Develops an alternative regime in which questioning to obtain 
intelligence relating to terrorism is conducted not by ASIO but by the AFP, 
including appropriate arrangements for detention of terrorist suspects, and 
questioning of persons not suspected of any offence;

* Investigates the relationship between ASIO and the AFP in the 
investigation of terrorist activities or offences;

* Reviews the adequacy of Australia's current information and intelligence 
gathering methods to investigate potential terrorist activities or 
offences; and

* Reviews recent overseas legislation dealing with the investigation of 
potential terrorist activities or offences and whether the Bill in its 
current or amended form is constitutionally sound.

"The Senate must examine alternative ways of enhancing the capacity of our 
law enforcement agencies to counter terrorism without compromising civil 
liberties", said Senator Faulkner's statement.

Senator Faulkner said that Democrat and Green Senators are also expected to 
vote to refer the Bill to a Senate Committee. The ALP hopes that the 
referral of the Bill to a Senate inquiry will effectively kill off the 
Government's counter-terrorism legislation as the first anniversary of the 
September 11 terrorist attack approaches.

He also said, "There are serious civil liberties concerns, such as 
Australians not suspected of any offence being detained by ASIO. The fact 
that those detained by ASIO would not have any rights to legal advice; the 
proposal that ASIO would be given the powers to detain children for 
questioning, and we're also worried about the Government's proposals that 
would significantly change the role of ASIO by giving it powers of coercion 
and detention".

The ALP caucus is reported to have voted unanimously in support of Senator 
Faulkner's proposals.

Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, attacked the Labor Party's decision 
saying, "Labor is trying to have a bet each way, telling him they'd vote 
for the Bill in the House of Representatives, but [at the same time] send 
it off to an inquiry when it hits the floor of the Senate. The notion that 
it's appropriate to refer the Bill off to a Senate Committee when it's 
already been dealt with by one Senate Committee, and one joint committee, 
is ludicrous."

John Faulkner's office says Labor's position is consistent, and that the 
Attorney General has it wrong, because the Opposition has never indicated 
it would support the ASIO Bill in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile the Australian Bar Association has accused the Federal Government 
of failing the two Australians held captive by the American military in 
Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and has called on it to support their right to 
legal access.

The Association's President, David Curtin, QC, said it was "entirely 
unsatisfactory" that Adelaide-born David Hicks and Sydney man Mamdouh Habib 
had been held for nine months without charge or access to lawyers.

"The Australian Government has failed them in not supporting their claim 
for access to legal advice", he said. "We strongly urge the Attorney-
General and the Australian Government to ensure these detainees are treated 
fairly before the law."

Concern among the Australian legal fraternity is growing over the 
Government's refusal to lobby the US over treatment of the men.

The President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Simon Rice, said the 
group was considering complaining to the Human Rights Commission that 
Australia had breached its obligations under the International Covenant of 
Civil and Political Rights, which asserts that a person may be detained 
only if they are charged and brought promptly before a court.

It is essential that all concerned community groups and activists continue 
to bring pressure to bear on Federal politicians to ensure that the 
proposed Bills are not amended but ended.

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