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.