Alarming New Anti-Terrorism Laws
by Waleed Kaodus
In the last edition of Mecca News we wrote a brief introduction of the anti-terrorism laws in this country. We talked about the knee-jerk law-making habits of the Government. We quoted Mr Ruddock, as saying that Australia’s anti-terror regime is an “unfinished canvas”, and that more laws would come.
Merely one month later, we have been proved disappointingly correct. On 8 September, the Government announced its 12-point proposal to strengthen this country’s anti-terrorism regime; within a few weeks, at least three States have indicated they want to increase their state police powers; and on 27 September,2006 they all agreed that the proposal would go ahead, having only negotiated a 10-year sunset clause, and a 5-year review.
So what are these proposals? And why should Muslims care? Mr Howard was quoted as saying that these laws don’t specifically target Muslims, they only target behaviour.
The problem is that the new laws don’t just affect terrorists. They affect all Australians, but will have a particularly difficult impact on Muslims.
If one looks at the existing legislation and how it has been applied, we see that dozens of homes have been raided, with only a few leading to arrests. These are Muslim families whose lives have been seriously disturbed.
There are even further causes of concern with these latest proposals. One example of this is the police “stop and search” powers, which would allow police to stop someone in the street and search them. In theory, these laws apply to everyone, but in practice, police will be affected by the stereotypes and it is far more likely that someone of Middle Eastern appearance will be searched. This is not mere speculation, but has been confirmed by the head of the Police Federation of Australia, Mark Burgess, who said that racial profiling will no doubt be used, and that he wanted police to be exempt from law suits.
The laws are yet to be drafted so no details of the proposals are available. However, we are very alarmed by what we have been told. It is important for us to understand what the implications of the proposed laws are.
“Control orders” would allow the police to go before a closed court and ask for restrictions to be placed on someone who “poses a terrorist risk”. The restrictions can limit who they can talk to, where they can go and what devices they can use (e.g. Phone and Internet). They may also require the person to wear a tracking device such as a electronic foot bracelet, or report regularly to a certain place as if they were on bail. These restrictions can last for up to 12 months.
This treatment is not even imposed on convicted murderers, but it is now going to be imposed on people who haven’t even been properly tried, simply on the basis that they may “pose a terrorist risk”. The problem is that this phrase is very vague and many innocent people may be thought by police to pose such a risk even though they do not.
Where does your Zakat go?
They are also proposing that new systems be in place to make sure charities are not misused to channel funds to terrorists. This would likely increase surveillance of Muslim charities that collect money for the poor and the needy. Financial services are already expected to develop risk-assessment tools to identify “Politically Exposed Persons”.
When similar laws were introduced in the United States, many legitimate Islamic charities had their assets frozen. This stopped them from continuing to operate Muslim orphanages around the world and many thousands of Muslim children suffered.
Preventative detention powers would allow people to be detained without charge for up to 14 days. This actually violates the Australian Constitution so the Federal Government had to ask the States to help them with this part of the law.
This means that if there was suspicion that a terrorist attack would occur, hundreds of people could be detained on very thin grounds. They would not be able to go to work, or to communicate with anybody, if the existing laws are any guide.
Tougher ASIO powers
The current ASIO powers would be toughened under new proposals. Search warrants would be valid for 3 months instead of only 28 days. Instead of having to get a warrant to gain access to your mail every 3 months, they would only need to do it every 6 months. This means that there is less oversight over these processes, and will open the door for police corruption. This is important as any student of Australian history knows, police have not always been free from corruption in Australia.
Loss of free speech
Under the proposed laws, it would be a criminal offence for someone to incite violence against the community “in support of Australia’s enemies”. So it would be a crime to say “Iraqis should resist the occupation by the US, UK and Australia”, and they could face up to seven years in prison.
This isn’t just about Iraq. It is about the right of Muslims to speak up about injustice anywhere in the world and to support nations who want independence from occupying forces, even if those are forces of Australia or its allies.
Furthermore, the laws would be extended to ban organisations that “advocate terrorism”. The problem is that “advocate terrorism” could be very broad. For example an organisation that said that Iraqis should resist occupation and fight to have Iraq free of Australian forces could be seen as “advocating terrorism”. If the organisation is listed as a terrorist organisation, all the members of that organisation could go to prison for 10 years, and under current laws it would be an offence to “associate” with any of its directors, promoters or members.
Potential profiling of Muslims with “stop, question and search” powers
The new laws would extend “stop, question and search” powers of the police. These would give the police the ability to stop anyone in the street, search them (possibly even including strip searches) and ask them questions when police suspect a person might be about to commit a terrorist offence.
Studies have shown that laws like these are applied based on stereotypes and racial profiling. It is very likely that these laws would be applied to people of “a middle Eastern appearance” more than any other group.
There are also other changes, including: “notice to produce” powers that allow police to ask for information, police having access to airline passenger information, and the laws around citizenship will be toughened.
For the latest on what is happening with these laws, visit our website: amcran.org