Preserve and enhance oversight of counter-terror laws

Parliament should pass a proposed law to preserve and enhance the proper oversight of counter-terrorism and national laws that have serious repercussions for human rights.

In a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Human Rights Law Centre has supported the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (Improved Oversight and Resourcing) Bill 2014 that seeks to ensure strong and robust oversight of Australia’s counter terrorism and national security laws.

“Counter terrorism and national security laws provide extraordinary powers to police and other security and intelligence agencies. It is critical that these laws do not allow unnecessary or disproportionate intrusions upon peoples’ fundamental human rights,” said Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre.

The Bill, introduced by Greens Senator Penny Wright, aims to preserve and enhance the essential functions of Australia’s Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (Independent Monitor).

“The Independent Monitor provides a much-needed check on the extraordinary powers granted to government agencies under national security and counter terrorism laws. It ensures critical, dedicated oversight and accountability by a fully informed, expert and independent reviewer,” said Ms Howie.

The position of Independent Monitor, previously filled by Bret Walker SC, has been vacant since December 2014, despite the government’s indication that it will recommend Roger Gyles AO QC for the role. The amendments in the Bill would ensure that the monitor’s role is not left vacant and that it is fully resourced.

The Bill would also increase the Monitor’s independence and ensure that the Independent Monitor can review proposed, as well as existing counter terrorism and national security laws.

“At present, the Independent Monitor is only empowered to review laws once they have been enacted. The proposed changes would correctly address what has been a missed opportunity for Parliament to access the Independent Monitor’s expert, independent advice during the development of legislation,” said Ms Howie.

The HRLC’s submission is available here.