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 unacceptable. In referring the Bill to a Senate inquiry the ALP proposes that the Senate Committee: * 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.
* * *To get continuing updates on what's happening with the ASIO and other terror bills around the world log on to http://www.getsmart.org.au or for Damien Lawson's material, http://www.topica.com/lists/TerrorLaws/read