The Guardian January 29, 2003


ASIO Bill down but not out

by Andrew Jackson

The Federal Government is certain to regroup and make a third attempt at 
pushing through its ASIO Bill. John Howard conceded temporary defeat 
following a 25-hour Senate sitting on December 12. During this sitting the 
ALP, Greens, Democrats and One Nation successfully passed 35 amendments to 
the legislation, resulting in a Bill that Mr Howard rejected as an 
"unworkable" response to "the current situation".

However, once the amendments were passed, the Liberals were forced to vote 
for the "unworkable" amended legislation to be sent back to the House, 
because the other three ???? parties then voted against the Bill in its 
entirety.

Labor's "watered down" Bill, as passed by the Senate and rejected by John 
Howard, stipulated:

* a three-year sunset clause;

* that nobody under the age of 18 be subject to the legislation;

* that the purpose of detention be only for questioning and not for the 
purpose of detention without charge;

* that a single detention period, under a single warrant, last no longer 
than a total of 20 hours of questioning, broken into three periods of four 
hours, eight hours and eight hours;

* that questioning be carried out only in the presence of a "prescribed 
authority", i.e. a judge or retired judge; and

* that any person detained under investigative warrant have the right to 
immediate legal representation of his or her own choice.

ALP leader Simon Crean crowed: "The truth of it is, the (amended) 
legislation before the parliament provides the toughest powers that ASIO 
has ever had  unprecedented powers for ASIO, and powers that no Western 
democracy gives to its intelligence-gathering organisation".

Yet Mr Howard countered that the watered down Bill would allow terrorists 
to attack children over Christmas.

"What the Senate has done to this bill is nothing short of security 
vandalism", Mr Howard declared. "If this bill does not go through (in its 
original form) and we are not able to clothe our intelligence agencies with 
this additional authority over the summer months, it will be on the head of 
the Australian Labor Party."

Attorney General Darryl Williams, demanding the right to "disappear" 
children as young as 14, appeared to be taking a lead from the Israelis.

"We know that suicide attacks occur throughout the world. We know the 
devastation that they bring. We know they can involve people as young as 16 
or 17, and yet the opposition is seeking to deny our intelligence agency 
the capacity to gather intelligence in order to prevent suicide attacks."

In the midst of their rantings though, the Liberals did make a salient 
point.

As John Howard said, "Under the Labor bill passed in New South Wales the 
New South Wales Police have the power to strip search children between the 
age of 10 and 18 years without a warrant . [and that] can occur with the 
authority of Michael Costa, the Police Minister. You don't need a judicial 
approval for it. We have built in judicial approvals.

"Now, for Daryl Melham to say that [our Federal Bill] is Augusto Pinochet, 
if he feels that way why didn't he say that about Bob Carr." Touchi.

Yet it has been clear from the outset that ASIO does not need extended 
powers to deal with real terrorism, their current powers  combined with 
those available to other security agencies  are sufficient to deal with 
any domestic threat.

The cross-bench parties, when voting down the final draft of the Bill, put 
the case clearly and firmly:

As Senator Brian Greig, Democrats, WA said:

"Despite many hours spent amending the Bill with several strong 
improvements, it remains rotten to the core."

"This legislation still means that people not suspected of any crime, could 
be immediately detained simply because they might have information relating 
to terrorism.

"A detainee would bear the burden of demonstrating that they do not have 
the information ASIO is seeking. This reverses the presumption of innocent 
until proven guilty."

Or as Senator Kerry Nettle, Greens, NSW pointed out:

"The powers ASIO and the AFP (Australian Federal Police) already have are 
clearly sufficient to allow them to do their job properly, these laws are 
an unnecessary and dangerous attack on Australian's civil rights.

"These measures establish a very serious precedent in Australian law that 
goes well beyond any comparable country's response to the worldwide 
terrorist threat."

Senator Andrew Bartlett, Democrats, Qld noted:

"There is an increasing tendency for Governments in Australia to remove 
basic legal rights of the people, whilst putting Government decisions and 
officials beyond the reach of the law in many areas.

And finally, as John Howard  realising his Bill had failed  spat 
vitriol at the Senators on ABC Radio National, Bob Brown (Greens, Tas.) let 
fly in Parliament:

"This idea that anything the Prime Minister puts forward in these 
increasingly tense and dangerous days cannot be countermanded, even by the 
elected Parliament of Australia, is a very dangerous mistake... it is 
democracy itself that is being questioned by the Prime Minister."

No surprises there.

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