more on NSW's Terror laws and the Australian Labor Party

Kim Bullimore k_bullimore at hotmail.com
Fri Nov 29 13:47:03 MST 2002


Article by Margo Kingston from the Sydney Morning Herald on the NSW's ALP's
new proposed "anti-terror" laws and the free reign it will give to Michael
Costa, the NSW ALP police minister.  Kingston, a self declared "leftie" from
way back,  was a long time member of the ALP, but is now a member of the
Greens.
Kim

                 Be warned; Carr's terror law is an abuse of power

                 By Margo Kingston, Sydney Morning Herald
                 November 29 2002

                 Unaccountable power always produces abuse of power.
                 Abuse of power means innocent people get hurt. It means
                 people lose more trust in the integrity and trust
worthiness of
                 their government, and that they come to fear it instead.
The
                 deliberate or careless fostering of fear within a fearful
                 community facing a terrible threat to its collective
security is
                 the antithesis of leadership, and a recipe for the
disintegration
                 of our democracy.

                 We live in a time of national crisis, when our safety is
                 threatened by terrorist attacks without warning. Often the
first
                 instinct of government in such circumstances is to grant
itself
                 more power and control over us and to sweep away the
                 checks and balances which keep government honest. There
                 are three main constraints on this.

                 The first is the official opposition. The second is the
power of
                 the courts - the arbiter of disputes between citizens and
the
                 State - to ensure that the State apparatus acts within the
                 powers granted to it by the people through the parliament.
                 The third is open, public discussion on the merits of
                 increasing state power and the accountability expected for
its
                 exercise.

                 Bob Carr released his Terrorism (Police Powers) Bill 2002
                 last week. It is a profoundly shocking document. It lets
the
                 people of NSW down, it betrays our democracy, and it lays
                 the foundation for State terror on innocent citizens.

                 Bob Carr solemnly asserts that he is deeply committed to
our
                 freedoms and liberties. If this is so, I ask: Why do you
exempt
                 the police minister from any accountability whatsoever - by
                 the courts or anyone else - for the exercise by your police
                 minister of the new powers you want to give him? If you
were
                 committed to the protection of our civil liberties while
ensuring
                 our safety from terrorist attacks, wouldn't you want
judicial
                 oversight? Wouldn't you want a citizen who believed he was
                 wronged the right to test the validity of Mr Costa's
actions?
                 Wouldn't you want to be sure that the new police powers you
                 insist are now necessary are properly exercised, and not
                 abused?

                 Remember, this bill gives any police minister, at any time
in
                 the future, these powers. This is a fundamental structural
                 change in the relationship between the citizen and the
State.
                 Neither Australia or NSW has a bill of rights. When rights
and
                 liberties are removed in NSW, there is no way back.

                 Mr Carr wants to give the police minister, for now the
                 confrontational, controversial and openly divisive Michael
                 Costa, the responsibility for authorising what are, in
effect,
                 serial states of emergency. Target areas, people, and
objects
                 can be declared, allowing police untrammelled power to
                 break into your home or vehicle and search it, and to frisk
or
                 strip search you. Giving any minister this power, let alone
one
                 with Michael Costa's record, is too awesome to also give
him
                 total immunity from scrutiny. It's called absolute power.

                 Section 13 of Mr Carr's bill states: "An authorisation (and
any
                 decision of the Police Minister under this part with
respect to
                 the authorisation) may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed
                 or called into question on any grounds whatsoever before
any
                 court, tribunal, body or person in any legal proceedings,
or
                 restrained, removed, or otherwise affected by proceedings
in
                 the nature of prohibition or mandamus."

                 There it is, in black and white. Michael Costa can, quite
                 literally, do what he likes. You have no redress. Mr Carr
has
                 knocked out the judiciary as a check on power. What of the
                 NSW opposition?

                 I spoke to the shadow police minister, Andrew Tink, today.
He
                 said he would not "go down the road" of commenting on Mr
                 Costa's record as police minister, or his actions regarding
                 protesters against the WTO two weeks ago. He opposed
                 requiring an independent person to oversee the police. "In
the
                 terrorist situation there has to be someone exercising the
                 powers.The police minister is the logical office holder to
do
                 it," he said.

                 His only amendment in this regard will be to make the
police
                 minister subject to the jurisdiction of the Independent
                 Commission Against Corruption. He is otherwise happy with
                 Mr Costa's immunity from accountability. He said the
                 opposition had not decided whether or not to pass the bill
if
                 his amendment failed.

                 Not only does Mr Carr want unaccountable police powers put
                 in place, he doesn't want to give the public the right to
know
                 what's happening under them. He wants secrecy, too,
                 another subversion of a key mechanism to maintain our
                 democracy, that of transparency and public debate.

                 There is no requirement under the bill to report to
parliament
                 or the people on what authorisations have occurred, what
                 they involved, and the results of them. Mr Carr's lack of
good
                 faith is also proved by the fact that he wants the bill
rushed
                 through parliament next week without ANY inquiry to allow
                 public discussion and input, and with no sunset clause.

                 Given that emergency powers need to be rushed through,
                 wouldn't a Premier deeply committed to our liberties and
                 freedoms order an immediate parliamentary or independent
                 inquiry to report back so considered legislation could be
                 passed to replace the emergency laws?

                 No. Mr Carr wants these police-state powers to remain on
                 the books indefinitely. I asked Mr Tink why the opposition
                 would let the bill pass without a sunset clause to allow an
                 inquiry. "Because I believe we face an emergency terrorist
                 threat," he replied. I suggested that given this, there was
no
                 reason not to pass the bill as a temporary measure now,
with
                 a sunset clause. He said he was happy with section 36. It
                 says: "The minister is to review this Act to determine
whether
                 the policy objectives of the Act remain valid and whether
the
                 terms of the Act remain appropriate for securing those
                 objectives". He is to table a report within a year of each
years
                 review.

                 So, the police minister reviews himself and reports to
                 parliament what he reckons.

                 Mr Tink believes this to be an appropriate way of ensuring
                 that these emergency powers don't stay on the books at the
                 government's convenience.

                 The opposition has bowed out of its democratic
                 responsibilities.

                 We live in dangerous, frightening times. Emotions are high,
                 prejudices aflame. There is deep division within our
society
                 on the correct approach to take to win the war on terror.
The
                 suspension of the citizen's protection against abuse of
State
                 power may be necessary, but it is fraught with terrible
                 dangers to the way of life we are fighting to preserve.

                 There are several, very basic ways to improve Mr Carr's
bill
                 to ensure that our personal safety is protected without
                 trashing our rights with impunity. The opposition, it
seems, is
                 too frightened to put them up or mount the case for them in
                 the current climate. The lack of leadership in NSW has
never
                 been more obvious, or more dangerous for us all.




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