Yesterday the combative and I think somewhat disgusting face of Opposition politics concerned me yet again; I had in mind the latest spat over Ken Henry and the Treasury forecasts, a vacuous and disreputable exercise if ever there was one. On the other hand, we read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald Review of strict anti-terrorism laws planned – an interesting headline which rather serves the Rudd government than the truth of the matter. The implied agency in that headline suggests the government being active rather than obstructive, even if something may be said for the argument that it is better to await the outcome of the enquiry into the Haneef fiasco.
THE Rudd Government is planning a review of the nation’s tough anti-terrorism laws – including the establishment of a watchdog to monitor potential abuse – but not until after the findings of the Mohamed Haneef case are handed down.
Taking action before then could pre-empt the findings of an inquiry into last year’s police investigation into Dr Haneef and purported links to terrorism, a Government source said…
Yesterday, Labor refused to join the Coalition, the Greens and the independent MP Nick Xenophon in the Senate and support a private member’s bill to create an authority to monitor terrorism laws and the need for them.
It called for the establishment of an ombudsman or similar independent office to periodically review the terrorism laws and determine which elements were still required.
The bill was the brainchild of the Liberal MP Petro Georgiou and was sponsored by the Liberal Party. It marked a significant shift in policy from the Coalition’s period in government when the prime minster John Howard refused to countenance such a measure.
The shadow attorney-general, George Brandis, said the Coalition was not repudiating its own laws. He said the laws were introduced during heated times and gave extraordinary powers and it was important they be reconsidered.
"You cannot allow extraordinary measures to become ordinary measures by the effluxion of time," he said. "It’s appropriate to review them."
Since the terrorism attacks on September 11, 2001, in the United States about 30 bills on terrorism, incorporating 44 laws, have been passed by Parliament. They gave authorities such powers as preventive detention, control orders, detention without charge for questioning, increased surveillance powers and other provisions previously considered draconian.
During the last term, the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security twice recommended an independent authority be established and twice Mr Georgiou attempted a private member’s bill.
After the election he introduced a bill in the lower house but the Government ignored it, prompting yesterday’s tactic of introducing the bill in the Senate where the Opposition and minor parties have the numbers.
"This bill adds scrutiny, transparency and accountability to our counter-terrorism laws," said the Liberal senator Judith Troeth, who co-sponsored it.
The bill will languish in the lower house until Labor decides what it will do. Senator Penny Wong said the Government had some reservations about the bill but left open the possibility it might be supported after caucus had been consulted. More likely, Labor would introduce its own legislation reflecting the spirit of the Coalition bill and taking into consideration Mr Clarke’s recommendations.
Labor called for the independent watchdog when it was in opposition. Mr Georgiou said he was disappointed at the lack of Government support yesterday.
George Brandis is spinning there, of course. There was no excuse for the mad zeal the Howard government applied to these issues, and in testimony to that one might cite the record at the time of Georgiou, Troeth and, of course, Bruce Baird — no longer in Parliament — who stood against Howardite hairy-chestedness consistently and admirably (in contrast to most of the Labor Opposition at the time) and were marginalised accordingly.
When something like Petro Georgiou’s Bill is passed, as it must be, I hope he and his allies get the credit they deserve.