Terror law arms race will not increase safety

13th Jun 2017

Governments at both state and federal levels have recently proposed increasingly tough proposals to deal with the perceived threat from terrorists, including super-max prisons built solely to house people convicted of terror offences and detaining minors without charge in relation to terror investigations.

ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said that despite the states and the Commonwealth all focusing on toughening up anti-terror legislation, focusing solely on a law and order as a solution to the terror issues facing the country would not make us safer.

“The states and the Commonwealth seem to be engaged in a legislative arms race for the toughest laws to fight terrorism, but a law-and order approach alone won’t make us safer,” Mr Barns said.

“Just being the toughest cop on the street won’t defeat terrorism. Terrorism isn’t prevented by having increasingly draconian laws and by detaining more people, at younger ages, for longer. It requires engaging with communities and working to ensure people don’t reach the point that they feel so alienated from the community that they want to commit acts of mass violence.

“Broad statements about being tough on terrorists obscures the challenge in identifying exactly who poses a terrorist threat,” Mr Barns said.

“It is for this reason that we have the checks and balances that politicians seem to want to do away with, regarding avoiding pre-trial detention and the presumption of innocence. Only those who pose a genuine threat should be punished, and the judicial process is how we identify who those people are.”

Mr Barns said a Victorian government proposal to detain individuals as young as 14 in terrorism investigations for two weeks without charge would contravene Australia’s international human rights obligations.

“Pre-emptively detaining children as young as 14, before they do anything wrong, conflicts with Australia’s obligations under international law,” Mr Barns said.

“Children should only be detained as a last resort and only for the shortest possible period of time. Detaining people without charge for long periods also lessens the reliability of any statement or evidence obtained from them. People might just start saying what they think the police want to hear if they think that will assist in them being released.

“There is also the issue of children requiring an adult with them during any detention. Currently children should be accompanied by an adult when they are held in police custody. This safeguard is gone on these proposals, meaning children are at greater risk of ill-treatment in detention.

“Detaining children without charge is unlikely to make us safer, and may indeed increase the risk that some of these people pose, if they feel more alienated after being treated unfairly.

“While we all want to ensure that our community is safe, and that people who pose a threat are prevented from engaging in acts of mass violence, the judicial process is necessary in ensuring that only people who pose a genuine threat are detained and punished,” Mr Barns said.

“To detain and punish people pre-emptively is likely to merely increase the threat, as people become more alienated and removed from their support networks.

Mr Barns said a recent NSW government proposal suggesting a ‘mini-max prison’ solely to house terrorist convicts could have also increase the risks to the community.

“Experts believe that a facility such as this would just be a breeding ground for terrorism,” Mr Barns said.

“For example, Camp Bucca, the maximum security facility which housed terror suspects and convicts in Iraq is widely understood to have facilitated the genesis of ISIS. There’s no reason to believe such an outcome could be avoided in Australia.”

Tags: Human rights Criminal justice terrorism Greg Barns