Extraordinary changes to counter-terrorism laws encroach on fundamental human rights

The most significant changes to Australia’s counter-terrorism laws in over a decade proposed under the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 are extraordinary in nature and encroach on fundamental human rights, the Human Rights Law Centre has said in a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on its review of the Bill.

A major focus of the HRLC’s submission is the proposed 10 year extension of the sunset clauses which currently apply to Australia’s four main counter-terrorism regimes: control orders, preventative detention orders, stop, search and seizure powers, and ASIO’s questioning and detention warrants.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said that it is neither appropriate nor necessary for these regimes to be reviewed in a rushed manner.

“A proper public debate on the necessity of the existing counter-terrorism regimes and their restrictions on fundamental human rights is needed,” Ms Howie said. “There is sufficient time under the existing sunset clauses for law enforcement officials to adequately address any potential threat to Australia’s national security.”

The HRLC’s submission also expressed concern over potential violations to the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression under new offences to be introduced under the Bill.

A new offence of travelling to a declared terrorist area without a legitimate purpose effectively reverses the onus of proof, thereby limiting the presumption of innocence. Another new offence for advocating terrorism is cast in very broad terms and threatens to restrict legitimate expressions of free speech.

The Bill also seeks to control the movement of people who are deemed by ASIO to be a potential security threat to Australia. Passports and other travel documents may be suspended or seized, and visas cancelled without notice.

“The proposed new powers with respect to passports and visas disproportionately restrict the right to freedom of movement in circumstances where ASIO requires very little evidence that a person poses a threat to Australia’s national security,” Ms Howie said.

The HRLC is concerned by the expedited timetable that the government is pursuing with respect to the new counter-terrorism laws, particularly given their extraordinary nature and encroachment on fundamental human rights.

The Bill was introduced into the Senate on 24 September 2014, with submissions to the Committee due less than ten days later on 3 October 2014.

A copy of the HRLC’s submission is available here.


For further information contact:

Emily Howie on 0421 370 997 or via emily.howie@hrlc.org.au