ALERT AND ALARMED: The Left's ascendency could cost lives

being soft on terror will cost lives The national security trajectory that began with the terror attacks of September 11th 2001 is now in decline as a creeping economic malaise takes hold in the Western World’s mind and its spirit.

Just listening to Radio National will prove the point. Every commentator, economist and soothsayer seems to be advocating the substitution of easy credit ‘capitalism-as-we-know-it’ with a national type of Tasmanian permaculture-led autarky. No wonder the Greens party is garnering the kind of double digit figures in the polls Brendan Nelson dreamed of!

For the time being, the centre of debate has shifted to the Left – that is the case for the environment, the economy, and, most disturbingly, national security.

National security has broad bipartisan support in Australia but at the margins a coterie of ‘human rights’ lawyers is scratching at the foundations of our counter terrorism arrangements.

In the UK, this hand-wringing has perilously gone mainstream as witnessed by the defeat of Gordon Brown’s one page counter-terrorism bill to extend police powers to detain terrorism suspects to 42 days by the British Parliament.

A few weeks ago, the House of Lords defeated the will of the Commons by the largest majority since the hereditary peers were shuffled off in 1999. The Commons only passed the bill with a majority of nine. With impeccable logic, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said the Brown Government was on standby for a vote in the event of the next serious terrorist incident.

It has come to this: until some more innocent commuters are killed by terrorists on British soil will the British get the kind of target police powers it needs to protect its citizens from mass murderers.

Australia’s counter terrorism laws are built on the principle of ‘more abundant caution’ towards public safety. It is the principle around climate change policies too – ‘let’s not wait to find out if the skeptics are wrong’ is the whole rationale for an ETS and other measures. The rationale is also being applied to Rudd’s response to the current financial crisis which is described as the equivalent of a rolling national security incident.

‘Human rights’ lawyers, however, are not cast in the same light as climate change skeptics or radical laissez-faire economists.

This ‘counter-counter-terrorism’ sentiment is one that neither Rudd nor Turnbull can afford to court. Counter-counter-terrorism is based on the premise that laws that suspend normal criminal investigations are an affront to the ‘innocent before proven guilty’ jurisprudence and a threat to all liberties; that anti terror measures exacerbate national security problems by creating victims and greater resentment; and that terrorism is really no different from another serious criminal act and certainly not acts of war.

Take this quote [pdf] from Dr Ben Saul, Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law on the UK situation.

Even after 9/11, despite the rapid proliferation of special anti-terrorism laws, the practical application of those laws remains underwhelming. In six years from 2001 to 2007, of 1228 arrests under in terrorism investigations, 669 were released without charge – or over 57%. Only 21% were charged with any terrorism offence and another 7% were handed over to immigration authorities. The 41 convictions under the Terrorism Act 2000 (UK) represent about 3.5% of all suspects arrested as part of terrorism investigations.

These figures suggest that we are largely succeeding in sweeping up and casting suspicion upon a great many people from whom we have nothing to fear. We are creating new crimes where previously there were none. In the process, we risk radicalising those who are genuinely dangerous – not deterring them – and probably generating new threats to our society. We confirm to terrorists what they already thought was wrong with us; and we lose something of ourselves – our values and our culture of legality – along the way.

Mon Dieu! This is not an undergraduate debate about drug law reform yet moral relativism towards terrorism, the ‘we are creating new crimes’ logic is pathetic as much as it is dangerous. By the way, the figures seem to commend the UK laws as reasonably effective in balancing ‘preventative’ investigations with convictions.

In this regard, Rudd’s first mistake was not to back down on Labor’s commitment to hold an inquiry into the Haneef controversy. Although it has appointed John Clarke QC and provided him without any coercive powers, the Government has granted an inquiry an opportunity to sully the reputations of the Australian Federal Police, Immigration officials and a former Cabinet Minister, Kevin Andrews MP.

These lawyers were going to vote for you anyway, Kevin07! As an Italian writer from the Renaissance advised: A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.

John Clarke has already interviewed the Member for Menzies and former Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews. Andrews did not have to attend. When the inquiry was announced, the press gallery expected Andrews to stay right away from what most saw as a politically motivated fishing expedition.

Andrews defiantly attended and defended his actions. He probably surprised the press gallery again as he informs Clarke that did not think that Haneef was planning a terrorist attack. He didn’t need to reach such a view to make the decision he did. The Minister has the statutory power to automatically cancel visas under the character and security assessment provisions. Andrews cancelled the visa under the character test which is an administrative, not a criminal test, based on material provided by departmental officials.

Legal supporters of Haneef have consistently misrepresented the authority under which Andrews cancelled Haneef’s visa as part of the anti-terror laws. In fact, on 22 September, the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, supported an extraordinary public forum to continue those members of the legal fraternity to attack on counter terrorism laws as well as indulge in partisan politics.


My favourite part of the forum is not the above mentioned extract from Dr Saul’s paper. It is the former Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Gerard Brennan, sending a veiled threat to John Clarke’s standing in the legal fraternity:

Many anti-terrorism laws deny natural justice to a person who is detained and preclude that person from obtaining effective access either to legal advice or to a court having power to review the detention. When statute exempts a repository of power from the obligation to observe natural justice, an exercise of the power is attended with the risk of injustice – injustice which is not curable by subsequent judicial intervention and which may not even be revealed if the repository of the power does not have to disclose the material on which he or she acted. It was John Locke who pithily observed: “Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins.

Experience has shown that the due exercise of any form of executive power demands transparency of operation and accountability, both legally and politically. It is not a sufficient safeguard – indeed, it is not any kind of safeguard – to have assurances given by the repositories of power that their powers are properly exercised. Nor is it sufficient that judicial or quasi-judicial officers are involved in the procedure, if they do not have the benefit of evidence and informed submissions from the person against whom the powers are exercised.

As well as again confusing the operation of the counter terrorism laws with the Migration Act, Brennan more or less is demanding sweeping recommendations arising from the Haneef inquiry or risk being seen as not worthy of our esteemed company. This is how jurists bully.

Those recommendations pose a great deal of risk for both Rudd and Turnbull, especially the provisions in the Migration Act that allow the repeal of visas based on the character test. Who will blink first? Do either leaders have the spine to resist the sophistry and intense bullying of the ‘human rights’ gang?

The risk is greater for Turnbull. Without any national security cojones whatsoever, he needs the credibility among ‘punterland’ who do value national security and want their PM to be a prick in a crisis.

If I were Rudd I would be adopting the softest of the recommendations; if I were Turnbull I would be rejecting them all and be taking measures to rehabilitate Kevin Andrew’s reputation. Turnbull needs to make an emphatic statement in favour of public safety and against counter-counter-terrorism.

After all, national and international security crises will come rushing back probably when politicians are least prepared for them.



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7 responses to “ALERT AND ALARMED: The Left's ascendency could cost lives

  1. Nick

    What an absurd commentary. I think everyone broadly agrees that terrorism is bad, and that we should seek to stop it. The logic here though seems to be any policy that is enacted in the name of fighting terrorism should immediately be supported, and that anyone who is opposed is in league with al-Qaeda. Not only is that an unfair position, but an inherently dangerous one. By extension, we should simply give carte blanche to government to deal with the security threat.

    I don’t think I’m revealing anything new by saying that politicians are widely distrusted in the public. And not without reason: they lie, cheat, spin and manipulate. If they were beyond reproach, sites such as this simply wouldn’t exist – or at the very least, they’d be boring places to visit. As a consequence, governments and their decisions should be closely scrutinised. Yet much in the national security debate can’t be – much information is classified and confidential, so the public doesn’t get to know what’s going on. Given that our ability for scrutiny is limited, we should be highly reluctant to give governments any more power than they have. Instead though, we have people prepared to blindly accept what the government says as true, when we have no reason at all to expect the truth from them (especially where they cock up).

    Take the British example: the desire to increase the period with which suspects can be detained without charge up to 42 days. Currently the limit, I believe, is 28 days, and my understanding is that that’s already one of the longest periods allowed in a developed country. Think about that: 28 days – 4 weeks – is already a long time. What extra advantage would investigators get from a further two weeks? I haven’t yet heard a clear justification for this. If you can’t make a case to charge someone within the space of a month, then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to question whether that person should in fact be detained in the first place. Governments are not infallible: their agents are human, and (like the rest of us) they make mistakes. That’s precisely why we should insist upon checks and balances, because we don’t want to be sticking people in jail who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.

    This isn’t about moral equivalence. Terrorist atrocities which kill tens, hundreds or thousands are unarguably far worse than locking someone up who might not have done anything wrong. But that doesn’t mean that we should willingly accept the latter: detaining the innocent is highly undesirable, and we should seek to prevent that from occurring. Does that perhaps impose constraints on authorities, and make it harder for them to fight terrorism? Sure. But we shouldn’t just trade away our liberties without regard for what we are losing. That is the height of complacency – apathy even – and taken to its ultimate end, puts democracy itself at risk.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think I could remotely be considered left wing. Actually, most people tend to see me as being strongly to the right. But I don’t think a respect for freedom and human rights should be seen as the exclusive domain of the left – I’d like to think it’s a very Australian principle that most reasonable people, irrespective of their political leanings, would hold. As I read ill-informed articles such as this though, I can only conclude that’s perhaps not the case. More’s the pity.

  2. Lars

    “That’s precisely why we should insist upon checks and balances, because we don’t want to be sticking people in jail who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.”

    Your use of the term “absolutely” displays a verbal, if not moral, confusion.

    In the case of Haneef, with what we now know, the minister, the AFP and the federal prosecutor had a right to be cautious. There is no blame here, only ‘mud on face’ of the peurile press who should have known better than to stick their necks out without knowing what evidence authorities held.

  3. Nick

    Lars – I explicitly avoided any reference to Haneef because the facts are unclear. I was talking in a more general sense. Certainly I would agree that detention under anti-terrorism legislation is different in nature to deportation under immigration law, and I think those analysing the situation would do well to distinguish between the two.

    I would however make the point that your criticism against the media is somewhat unjustified. The fact that people might question the decision of authorities to detain an individual should not be seen as a bad thing. Scrutiny is desirable in a democracy – it helps to promote accountability. We should in principle welcome public discussion of these matters, given that they are generally held to be so secretive, even where we are inclined to disagree with the conclusions reached.

  4. Anonymous

    I thought the Vexnews writers were freedom fighting patriots but it seems the Commies have got to them and they’re now claiming we should throw out our Western traditions of due process in favour of Chinese style arbitary inprisonment to “keep us safe”. Pinkos.

  5. Simon

    Thank God for some sensible commentary.

    Ali has photos on his computer of the floor shell of cars similar to those used in the attempted London bombings; Haneef has Jihadist literature in his possession; etc etc.

    And some think we shouldn’t err on the side of caution!

    Terrorists strike when we least expect it. If the Libs don’t stand up for the national security, they are next to useless.


  6. Nick

    And some think we shouldn’t err on the side of caution!

    Simon, what exactly does this mean? Language such as this is vague and imprecise, and can be used to justify pretty much any action to address the security threat. For instance, if our primary concern is the possibility of attacks from radicalised Islamists, then would you support mandatory registration and surveillance of all Muslims in Australia? I suspect few would find that a palatable option – it fundamentally offends the principles of due process and religious freedom. Yet it would be one way that might assist in efforts to combat terrorism.

    No reasonable person wants to see us fall victim to a terrorist attack, but given that we are a society predicated on liberty and the rule of law, efforts to fight terrorism are invariably constrained in some way. We shouldn’t have a problem with that either. It is our values as a society that we should seek to protect more than anything – they define who we are. Sacrificing those to prosecute the ‘war on terror’ is a self-defeating exercise.

  7. Joanne Thermidore

    This article is absolutely disgusting! One event was responsible for this 21st century concept of terror “9/11” This would ultimately convert the worlds democratic nations governments from servant of the people to master of all people. You people fail to realise the government created 9/11 as a modern day pretext to end the rights of citizens once and for all. LAWYERS are our enemy, and the POLICE are our friend! Why dont we agree to all counter-terrorism laws in the future. Lets allow our children to be controlled every day in life by the government and its ruthless abuse of power. Lets take away all power of courts. Lets take away all privacy. Lets all agree to these propaganda-machines and allow the government to influence people with its media hype such as this dispicable and outrageous article! CITIZENS WILL OVERCOME THIS ABUSE OF POWER as history has always shown. ALL CITIZENS WILL EVENTUALLY FIGHT AS HISTORY HAS ALWAYS SHOWN. The war on terror is the government waging a war on you. Terrorism, other than committed by governments fails to exist.

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