When the 2002 ASIO bill was introduced to the Federal Parliament, it was analysed and debated for 12 months, sometimes by more than one parliamentary committee, leading to crucial changes and bipartisan support.
At the time, the Prime Minister declared that “through the great parliamentary process that this country has I believe we have got the balance right”.
Since winning control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, John Howard has abandoned that “great parliamentary process”, gagged debate, and skewed the balance dangerously awry.
Given that Australia is the only Westminster democracy without a Bill of Rights or the constitutional protection of free speech, the new legislation is ripe with the dangerous potential for the suppression of opinion.
With its unprecedented powers of secret arrest and detention without trial, the retrospective aspect of control orders, and extended definitions of sedition, the Federal Government’s extraordinary new counter-terrorism legislation threatens our way of life no less than terrorism.
It has been noted that, had they existed at the time, the Government’s new sedition laws would have criminalized support for the Vietnamese in the 1960s, for Nelson Mandela and the ANC in the 1970s, and for Xanana Gusmao and the East Timorese in the 1980s.
The Government’s proclivity for secrecy, its record of deception, its politicisation of important national issues, and its attempts to limit the availability of the draft anti-terrorism legislation and limit wider discussion does not encourage confidence in its ability to apply these laws “in good faith”.