Crossbenchers to block terror laws community wants
August 27, 2014
Abbott: ‘We’re targeting extremism’
A CENTRAL plank of Tony Abbott’s push to toughen counter-terrorism laws — aimed at guarding against the heightened threat from Australians being radicalised in foreign wars and returning to engage in homegrown attacks —
is struggling to secure wholesale parliamentary backing. As three-quarters of Australians endorse the proposed crackdown on foreign fighters, crossbenchers have joined Labor and the Greens to voice concerns about handing the government a blank cheque with its sweeping changes.
One of the sticking points is the proposal to erode the presumption of innocence by making it an offence to travel to a designated area — such as Iraq or Syria — without a valid reason. This would make it easier to identify, charge and
prosecute Australian fighters engaged in terrorist activities overseas. MPs are yet to see legislation but Family First senator Bob Day has backed the concerns of crossbench colleague David Leyonhjelm, who yesterday warned against “moral panic’’ and said powers curbing liberties and freedoms of all
Australians would mean “the terrorists win essentially if we lose our rights’’.
The Greens warned against being “panicked into changes that undermine our legal protections’’ and Labor’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said the opposition had concerns about “reversing the presumption of innocence’’.
The early resistance from some crossbenchers, Labor and the Greens signals the government will have to navigate a hostile Senate and prosecute the need for a counter-terrorism crackdown as it is also fighting to pass its suite of structural budget measures.
Stepping up his case, the Prime Minister told parliament: “I want to make it absolutely crystal clear that the enemy here is terrorism, it’s not any particular faith; it’s not any particular community.
“But I do have a clear message to people thinking of going overseas to join in terrorist activity — don’t go, because if you do and if you return, you will be arrested and you will be jailed.’’
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia was facing a “heightened security risk’’ through the “rise of extreme ideology that inspires its followers to engage in barbarism and brutal acts that are designed to shock and terrify’’.
ASIO director-general David Irvine will today outline the need to empower security agencies to combat an evolving threat in a rare address to the National Press Club. He is expected to say: “In the past two years, however,
the situation in Syria and now Iraq has radically complicated the threat, adding energy and allure to the extremist Islamic narrative.
“The draw of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq is significant and includes more Australians than all other previous extremist conflicts put together. The number of Australians of potential security concern to ASIO has increased substantially.’’
He will say the unique challenge is to integrate the needs of national security with the needs of civil liberties but is expected to argue the current balance is about right.
Since the parliamentary recess world leaders have condemned the photograph of Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf’s young son holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier and the images of the brutal beheading of American journalist
James Foley by Islamic State. Australian forces have also joined the humanitarian mission in Iraq.
A Newspoll, conducted for The Australian at the weekend, revealed that 77 per cent of voters would support new laws that required people travelling to particular countries to prove they have not been in contact with any terrorist groups.
Senator Leyonhjelm, from the Liberal Democratic Party, said the policy was “you commit an offence unless you can prove you’re innocent”.
“It just goes against all of our rights and freedoms as a free society’’,” he said.
Senator Day said he was “not enthusiastic about proposals such as reversing the onus of proof to prove innocence in a national security context. Similar ‘averment’ provisions in history have been controversial during periods of war, including the Cold War era.”
Independent senator Nick Xenophon gave the government some comfort, saying: “I think these are extraordinary times that may require additional powers but they must be subject to sufficient safeguards.”
Labor legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said the opposition shared the government’s concerns that Australians needed to be kept safe and agencies needed to have appropriate powers and resources to fight terrorism, particularly to deal
with the threat of those being radicalised in overseas conflicts but would not hand the government a “blank cheque’’.
Question Time – Reps