Australia’s counter-terrorism and migration laws unnecessarily and disproportionately interfere with fundamental rights and freedoms and ought to be repealed, the Human Rights Law Centre has said in a submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) inquiry into “Traditional Rights and Freedoms”.
HRLC Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said the counter-terrorism laws addressed in the submission were a classic case of government overstepping the mark and neglecting to adequately safeguard fundamental legal and democratic principles.
“In a modern democracy like ours, law enforcement agencies should not have unfettered powers to lock people up without review. Oversight, accountability and fairness are essential for the health of our democracy and mustn’t be simply discarded in the pursuit of national security,” said Ms Howie.
The HRLC recommends the repeal or substantial amendment of the control order regime, travel bans and ASIO’s extraordinary questioning and detention powers.
“Australia’s national security and counter-terrorism laws have proliferated since 9/11 and some of those laws drastically erode basic rights. The government has an important duty to protect its people, but that duty must not be discharged in a way that unnecessarily or disproportionately interferes with our human rights. If we keep chipping away at safeguards, we’ll be left with very little protection from dangerous practices such as arbitrary detention and the silencing of critical voices in our community”, said Ms Howie.
Ms Howie highlighted laws passed in 2014 which make it an offence with a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment to disclose information related to ASIO’s “special intelligence operations.” The laws were opposed by all the major news organisations on the basis that they would have a chilling effect on legitimate reporting on ASIO’s work, including matters on which the public had a right to know.
The HRLC submission also examines some aspects of the deliberate and dramatic erosion of rights in Australia’s migration laws.
HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said it was disappointing and artificial that the scope of the review had been limited to a select few traditional rights, freedoms and privileges hand-picked by the Attorney-General.
“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that Australia’s asylum seeker policies are leading to a ‘chain of human rights violations’. Yet as obvious as these rights abuses are, only a few of them fall within the narrow scope of this review. It’s tremendously disappointing that the current Attorney-General doesn’t regard the protection against arbitrary detention or the right not to be returned to torture as important enough to be included,” said Mr Webb.
For further information, please contact Emily Howie via Emily.Howie@hrlc.org.au