31 October 2009

Petro Georgiou on the anti-terror laws

In an op-ed piece in the 24 October edition of The Age, published online here by The National Times, Liberal backbencher Petro Georgiou describes how the recently introduced National Security Monitor Bill is a travesty as far as its claimed purpose of providing for independent review of the 49 counter-terror laws that have been passed since 9 September 2001 is concerned. He says:

The bedrock of all the recommendations for a reviewer is independence from executive control and censorship, freedom to determine priorities, and examine all terrorism laws. Independence requires the ability to report publicly to Parliament, subject to not prejudicing national security, operations or trials.

The monitor bill fundamentally negates every element of statutory independence. It deploys every legislative artifice, legal and symbolic, to neuter the monitor. Other than the overweening crassness of the refusal to mention the word ''independent'' and the specification that the monitor can only be part-time, [Yes Minister character] Sir Humphrey [Appleby] would be impressed.

The bill prevents the monitor from determining his or her own priorities - that role is given to the Prime Minister, who can also change them and demand so-called ''interim'' reports. The monitor can only report to the Parliament annually.

The monitor cannot examine any law that has not been applied in the current or past financial year and any report has to be vetted by the Prime Minister and every relevant federal, state and territory minister. The monitor is prohibited from reporting to the Parliament on a range of fundamental issues including security operations, information provided by agencies, information about operational activities and methods, priorities and resources.

Georgiou concludes:

The monitor bill is a travesty, but it is not a joke. The avalanche of terrorist laws since 2001 has radically curbed the protection of the individual. To safeguard our democracy, strong, independent and ongoing scrutiny of these laws and their operation is needed. The Government's monitor is a subverted safeguard. If this legislation passes into law, the monitor will effectively be handcuffed, gagged and tied to the whim of the government.

This state of affairs has to be of concern to everyone who is concerned about the impairment of basic civil and legal rights enshrined in the spate of anti-terror legislation that was rushed through the Parliament by the Howard Government to the enthusiastic cheers of the Labor Opposition.

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