Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Does the threat posed by returning jihadist fighters justify the Australian government’s new anti-terror laws?

This evening (28/10/2014) I attended an event at the Australian Institute of International Affairs in Melbourne Australia. The topic of discussion was: Does the threat posed by returning jihadist fighters justify the Australian government’s new anti-terror laws?


The Australian Government’s recent anti-terrorism legislation has created controversy and raised the issue surrounding the nexus between liberty and security.

Finding the right balance between protecting human rights and providing security has never been easy. The Federal Government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from potential acts of violence, yet must civil liberties be sacrificed in the name of security?

Should well-being take precedence over being? Does the Federal Government have the right to impose security measures that some would deem disproportionate?

To discuss these matters, the AIIAV’s Young Professional Forum is proud and excited to welcome Dr. Robin Cameron from the Global, Urban and Social Studies School at RMIT who specialises in human security, global criminology and counter-terrorism. To join him in discussion is Dr. Patrick Emerton from the Faculty of Law at Monash University who is an expert on Constitutional matters, anti-terrorism legislation and who has appeared as an expert witness in front of parliamentary committees responsible for anti-terrorism legislation.

Dr. Robin Cameron's Points

  • The difference between "negative" and "positive" freedom.
  • The outcomes desired for by these new anti-terror laws can be met with existing criminal legislation.
  • The government is turning tools of manipulating foreign affairs internally thereby potentially turning Australian citizens into combatants.

Dr. Patrick Emerton Points

  • The legislation passed on October 2nd 2014 effectively creates "secret police" in Australia.
  • Australia's constitution is the foundation of institutions such as the police force, parliament, the judiciary, etc. The integration of the police and  Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) turns the police into a political instrument resulting in the corruption of the institutions.
  • The crime of fighting in a foreign war depends on the foreign policy of Australia. ie. If you fight on behalf of an ally of Australia you are a hero but if you fight on behalf of a country that is not an ally of Australia you are a terrorist and can get life in prison.
  • The government can now issue secret warrants.
  • The accused still has a right to habeas corpus, ie. you cannot be disappeared.
  • Attempting to try someone for fighting in a foreign war is extremely hard and has only been done once in Australian history.
  • ASIO racial profiling: ASIO has interactions with many Muslim youth (up to 50% of students at one school) and no interaction with Caucasian students at non-Muslim schools.
  • ASIO has been found to use illicit tactics in Australia including kidnapping.

My Analysis

Considering that the legislation passed is unnecessary (can be met with current criminal laws) and leads to the corruption of existing institutions, I would say that the threat of returning jihadists does not justify the Australian government’s new anti-terror laws. These laws are similar to laws passed in Canada and are based on the American Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The militarization of police in Australia has to stop.  These laws are a threat to our democracies. They can (and will) be abused like they have been in the US. For instance Home Land Security databases have been used for spying on ex-girlfirends, the Patriot Act is used in drug cases. and NSA officers spy on lover interests. The establishment of secret police should also be of concern.

You have to ask your self the question, "If domestic criminal laws can be used to manage jihadists returning from foreign wars, why is the government so keen on increasing police powers and domestic spying?"

Stand tall,
Cameron Mottus

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