Urgent Alert: Campaign against Australian Terror Bill

Islamic Human Rights Commission

16 November 2005

Urgent Alert: Campaign against Australian Terror Bill

The Islamic Human Rights Commission is urging all campaigners to take urgent action against forthcoming anti-terror legislation in Australia.


Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005

On 3 November 2005, Australia joined the growing list of countries to introduce even more draconian anti-terror laws designed to eradicate what few civil liberties remain in these countries. Anti-terror legislation introduced in the aftermath of 9-11 already provides for major attacks on basic rights, allowing secret detention and interrogation by intelligence officials for up to a week without charge, closed-door trials and powers to ban political organisations by executive fiat.
Despite the fact that no terrorist incidents have taken place in Australia, Prime Minister Howard, like Bush in the US and Blair in Britain, has seized on every attack elsewhere, from to make ever-deeper inroads into basic legal and political rights.
The Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 proposes introducing some of the following draconian measures:

• Preventive Detention of terrorist suspects without charge for a period of up to 14 days

During this time, the suspect will not have the right to know why he or she is being detained. They will be held incommunicado and any conversations they hold with a lawyer can be monitored. Anyone, including family members, lawyers and the media, who reveals that the person has been detained, can be jailed for five years. Parents cannot even tell each other if their son or daughter is being held. These extraordinary provisions are designed to ensure that no one knows how many people have been rounded up, or why.

• Control Orders

These orders would authorise special courts to imprison and restrict the freedoms of people for whom there is insufficient evidence to prosecute for a criminal offence. Suspects may be forced to wear identification bracelets and refused access to lawyers. They would also severely restrict freedom of movement, association and communication and allow bans on employment. The control orders can last 12 months and be renewed continuously. Detainees can only challenge them, possibly weeks or months later, in the same special courts.

• House Arrest

Allow provision for possibly unlimited house arrest for suspects without trial, with no recourse for appeal and no right to advise their family of their whereabouts. Moreover, preventative detention and control orders can be imposed on top of each other. This is in addition to existing provisions, introduced in 2003, for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the police to secretly detain a person for seven days for interrogation. This means that the authorities will be able to detain someone for a week of questioning, followed by 14 days of “preventative detention” and a year or more of house arrest.

• Sedition laws will also be strengthened outlawing vocal support of overseas insurgencies and legitimate resistance movements such as those in Palestine punishable by up to seven years imprisonment

• Reporting of detention of suspects or publishing/broadcasting seditious comments against Australian people or Australian troops fighting overseas.

Media outlets have also expressed concern that the new legislation will target reporters. Under the proposed laws, a journalist can be imprisoned for up to five years should they report on the detention of a suspect or up to seven years if they publish or broadcast seditious comments against Australian people or Australian troops fighting overseas. Under current laws, it must be proven that there existed “intent” to cause violence. This clause though has been removed from the proposed legislation.

Legal advice obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Media Watch” program has confirmed that journalist John Pilger, who last year compared the Iraqi resistance to the legitimate struggle against the Nazi-imposed Vichy regime in France during World War II, could have been prosecuted for sedition under the legislation, along with the ABC for broadcasting his comments.

• The introduction of a “shoot to kill” policy similar to that used in the United Kingdom.

Probably one of the most horrific proposals, particularly at a time when an investigation is underway into the execution of an innocent Brazilian national by British police under a similar ‘shoot to kill’ policy.
• Recklessly providing funds to a Potential Terrorist
Punishable by life imprisonment, it will be an offence to recklessly provide funds to a potential terrorist: funds include money and equivalents and also assets; it is not necessary that the culprit know the receiver is a terrorist, only that they are reckless about the possibility; it is not even necessary that the receiver is a terrorist, only that the first person is reckless about the possibility that they might be.
• Many of the new powers will also operate retrospectively. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has signalled that among the first to be rounded up will be people who have trained in the past with organisations that have since been classified as terrorist, even though the groups were not banned at the time.

Suggested Action

Contact the Australian ambassador or High Commissioner in your country and remind them that such legislation contravenes Australia’s human rights obligations under international law. A sample letter is below for your convenience. The letter mentions only a few of the above proposals – please feel free to adapt it mentioning the other points above.

High Commissioner: Mr Richard Alston
Australian High Commission, London
London WC2B 4LA

Tel: 020 7379 4334
Fax: 020 7240 5333


[Your Name]
[Your Address]


High Commissioner: Mr Richard Alston
Australian High Commission, London
London WC2B 4LA

Dear Mr Alston

Re: Anti-Terror Bill 2005

I am writing out of deep concern about the new Anti-Terrorism Bill currently being debated in Australia.

The Bill contains numerous provisions which contravene Australia’s obligations under international law. The new laws constitute an unprecedented curtailment of civil liberties in Australia. For example, the proposal to introduce preventive detention of fourteen days, during which time a suspect will be kept incommunicado with his whereabouts kept secret from even his family, is frighteningly similar to the brutal policy of ‘disappearances’ for which states like Burma and Zimbabwe are notorious.

I am also shocked by the proposal to make it an offence to inform anyone about such detention of any individual. Under this very broad provision, journalists could be prosecuted for simply doing their job. Family of suspects would be unable to inform anyone, including other family members, of the detention.

Other proposals which I am very worried about are those to introduce control orders and house arrest, all which serve to persecute and punish an individual who has not been charged with any offence. The new laws overturn the presumption of innocence. They will allow governments and their security agencies to lock someone away based solely on what they allege the “suspect” might be intending to do in the future.

Finally, I am horrified by the proposal to introduce a ‘shoot to kill’ policy similar to that currently in operation in Britain. The inherent dangers of such a policy can be seen in the senseless execution by police officers of an innocent Brazilian immigrant in London in July 2005.

These laws will not do anything to prevent terrorism. Police states throughout the world have similar laws but they still experience terrorism as these laws create even more injustice and suffering. Australia must respect international human rights law or run the risk of obscuring the distinction between itself and the terrorists.

I look forward to hearing from you soon on this urgent matter.

Yours Sincerely,

[Your Signature]

[Your Name]