Terror threat to Australia’s legal system

24th Sep 2014

Australia is already losing the ‘war on terror’ if it starts abandoning principles as fundamentally important as the rule of law and the presumption of innocence, the Australian Lawyers Alliance said today.

New counter-terrorism legislation being considered in Federal Cabinet would mean Australians travelling overseas to designated ‘declared zones’, such as Syria and Iraq, would be presumed to have terrorist links unless they could prove their innocence to a court upon their return to Australia. The proposed legislation would also give police greater powers to arrest and detain Australian citizens to prevent a terrorist act.

ALA National President Andrew Stone said that the proposed changes to Australia’s counter-terrorism laws could see innocent Australian citizens being denied re-entry to Australia based solely on the country they have just visited.

“These proposed laws would abandon the fundamental legal principle of the presumption of innocence and replace it with the presumption of guilt,” Mr Stone said.

“We are talking about innocent Australian citizens potentially being denied the right to re-enter their own country following an overseas trip to visit family.”

“Due process and the presumption of innocence are bedrocks of the Australian legal system. The proposed changes to counter-terrorism laws would abandon important legal principle,” Mr Stone said.

“Abandoning the legal principles that helped build Australia doesn’t strengthen our security arrangements – instead it weakens the rule of law,” Mr Stone said.

“We’ve already seen the lengths to which the Commonwealth has gone to prevent asylum seekers landing on Australian shores. It now appears that this single-minded determination may soon apply to Australian citizens as well,” Mr Stone said.

Mr Stone said that the proposed new counter-terrorism laws represented a slippery slope towards the erosion of human rights in Australia. He said they were a highly-reactive response to an issue which needs calm and rational consideration.

“This is not about defending jihadists and religious zealots – it’s about defending the values of freedom from those who resort to terror,” Mr Stone said.

“Abandoning the presumption of innocence and forcing an Australian returning from a family visit to Syria to prove they are not a terrorist does not make us safer; it actually damages what it means to be free citizens,” Mr Stone said.

“These new laws would place too much power in the hands of the Foreign Minister. Today it is two countries, Iran and Syria, on the list. However, what is to stop the list growing to five, ten or twenty countries next week? Who decides?”

“There needs to be careful consideration of the consequences of altering or abandoning principles of due process and the presumption of innocence,” Mr Stone said.

“Rather than reactive, poorly-formed policy responses, there must be due attention paid to the established principles and tenets of the Australian legal system.”

“This must always involve appropriate access to independent review and constraints on any excessive exercise of government power.” 

Tags: Access to justice police powers terrorism