Tag: Poll Dancing

Terrorism and the dangers of fearmongering; Bolt continues the Tea Party war cry of war against Islam.

The weekend atrocities in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, in which dozens of lives were lost in brutal attacks, are shocking. They have generated precisely the kind of fear terrorists seek to instil. Against the background of such attacks, the Charlie Hebdo rampage in January, and others, it is little wonder Australians see terrorism as a significant threat.

The danger is real. But the Abbott government should resist the temptation to play politics with this understandable fear. Prime Minister Tony Abbott was quick to distance himself last week from a lamentable choice by the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party to solicit donations with a call to support a “safer Australia”. He was right to do so. But Mr Abbott has himself been needlessly inflammatory in recent months with some of his own rhetoric, raising suspicions he sees electoral advantage in a national security debate, rather than making a genuine effort to reassure and protect a worried public.

Our concern goes far beyond the choice of words, to areas of law. It is the job of politicians to legislate, but it is notable that in response to the terrorist threat – not just in recent times, but since the attacks on America in 2001 – Australia has seen more than 60 laws passed to provide stronger powers to police and security agencies. Our leaders should tread more warily. The cost of new powers can sometimes – often – be measured by a loss of individual rights. There must always be careful efforts not to tilt the balance too far away from the prize of liberty.

The Age supports the stated intent of the latest legislative proposal to strip the citizenship of dual nationals who choose to take up arms against Australia by joining a declared terrorist group. This is a sensible recognition of the modern and transnational nature of terrorist threats. But the law must be precise. If the broad category of damage to Commonwealth property becomes a basis for revoking citizenship, and if that provision captures a person who scrawls graffiti on the Parliament building, the punishment would be excessive. The ill-defined notion that citizenship is forfeited “if the person acts inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia” must also be given special scrutiny as the amendments are considered

A similar problem of unintended consequences arises with the recent law on disclosing a special intelligence operation, which could result in journalists being jailed. Or the bill for the retention of metadata, which casts a vast surveillance net across the community. Or the declaration of a prohibited area, which reverses the onus of proof and could see a person punished for merely being in the wrong place, without evidence they have done wrong. When such measures combine with existing dubious powers, such as so-called “preventative detention orders” that allow a suspect to be held for up to 14 days without charge, a disturbing pattern emerges, in which hard-won individual rights have been sacrificed.

When the Coalition took office, carrying an ideological aversion to “red tape”, it planned to abolish the position of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – a misguided proposal, thankfully abandoned. Bret Walker, the Sydney barrister who previously held the role, has remarked on the “odd culture” in modern Australia, where “we really do think problems are addressed by passing laws about them”.

Terrorism is a different type of threat, requiring measures to pre-empt fanatics who may be willing to die for their misguided beliefs. But more faith is required in the ability of police and security agencies to use existing laws to thwart the danger. There is little to be gained – and much to be lost, by way of the freedoms that distinguish our democracy – by constantly redefining the boundaries of the crime. Unless, that is, politicians have another purpose in mind.