The Guardian May 28, 2003


ASIO Bill returns to Senate

The Federal Government is now using the climate of fear that it has 
deliberately created to reintroduce its "ASIO Bill" to the Senate. The 
Government says it needs the Bill to fight terrorism. In reality the Bill 
will legalise terrorist acts  by the Government.

The ASIO Bill is part of a raft of legislation presented to Parliament 
during 2002 that stripped Australians of many of their democratic rights 
and freedoms.

John Howard conceded temporary defeat on the ASIO Bill on December 12, when 
the ALP, Greens, Democrats and One Nation successfully passed 35 amendments 
to the legislation, resulting in a Bill that Mr Howard rejected as 
"unworkable".

The Greens and Democrats, however, then rejected the Bill in its entirety.

Secret Police

The proposed new laws will effectively turn ASIO  the Australian Security 
Intelligence Organisation  into a secret police.

ASIO will gain the power to detain people without charge for up to seven 
days.

It removes the right to silence for people under questioning.

Refusal to answer questions could lead to five years in prison and access 
to a lawyer is limited. All lawyers must receive a security clearance 
before they could represent clients detained under this Bill.

ASIO would move from spy agency to secret police. For the first time in 
Australia we would have our own legally "disappeared" people  detained by 
a security agency without knowledge of family and friends or lawyer.

In such circumstances the door would be opened to torture.

The use of such powers would not be restricted to those suspected of 
terrorism, but applied to anyone (including journalists, human rights 
workers and activists) whom ASIO merely thought might have information 
regarding a "terrorist activity".

We are already protected

Legal experts tell us that existing criminal law is adequate to address any 
offences that fall within any common sense definition of terrorism.

Possession of firearms and explosives, aiding and abetting, conspiracy, 
murder and serious injury are all charges available to police, with serious 
penalties attached.

This new legislation is unnecessary and dangerous, and may be abused to 
suppress domestic dissent with government policy.

Greens Senator Bob Brown said, "The potential for these powers to be 
misused is too great. It would be too easy in the future for the term 
'terrorist' to be extended to any groups in Australia which the government 
of the day did not like".

There have been three parliamentary inquiries intensely critical of the 
Bill.

Tens of thousands of people have spoken out against the plan, joined by 
hundreds of community organisations, including churches, unions, 
environmental, student, legal, community services and ethnic community 
organisations.

The need for security should not come at the price of those democratic 
rights that have been won through centuries of struggle  nobody should be 
detained without being charged. This is a violation of our fundamental 
human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political 
Rights, including the right to a lawyer of one's own choosing and the right 
to be free from arbitrary detention. Defeat it again!

When last debated in Parliament the Labor Party passed amendments that 
merely softened the harshest aspects of the ASIO legislation.

But the Bill is rotten to the core and no amount of amendments can change 
the dangerous essence of the Bill.

Labor still supported the detention of innocent people and has admitted 
that their previously proposed version of the Bill is not fundamentally 
different to the Government's.

Make an urgent appeal to Labor leader Simon Crean and Labor's John 
Faulkner, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and Labor's spokesperson 
on Home Affairs, and demand they reject the legislation in its entirety.

Email: S.Crean.MP@aph.gov.au
write to: PO Box 5295, Clayton VIC 3168
Tel: (02) 6277 4022
Fax: (02) 6277 8495

Email: senator.faulkner@aph.gov.au
write to: Suite 1, 1 Park Avenue, Drummoyne NSW 2047
Tel: (02) 9719 8100
Fax: (02) 9719 8078

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