Cover of book: Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials

Andrew Lynch, Nicola McGarrity & George Williams
Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials

Watching Prime Minister Tony Abbott deliver his recent national security address from the Australian Federal Police HQ in Canberra, one could be forgiven for thinking that the enemy was already storming the barricades. Standing on a rostrum draped in enough flags for a Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, Abbott posed as the nation’s commander-in-chief. Only the epaulettes on the shoulders of his jacket were missing. 

During this typically bullet-point, announcement (there were no questions allowed), Abbott spoke of the government’s intention to toughen anti-terror laws, restrict or cancel the citizenship rights of terrorism suspects, and grant police even greater search and surveillance powers. “I would rather lose a case than lose a life,” he proclaimed. If only this book had been on the prime minister’s bedside table – it might have given him cause to choose his words more carefully.

This book, an update of What Price Security? Taking Stock of Australia’s Anti-Terror Laws (2006), remains one of the most valuable books on the raft of anti-terror laws that have been introduced in Australia’s federal parliament since September 11, 2001. For lawyers, journalists, scholars and teachers, and anyone interested in understanding the legal and social ramifications of anti-terror legislation, it is essential reading. At its heart is the age-old tension between the desire for security and liberty. As the authors make clear, in seeking to clamp down on terrorism, there is a real danger that new laws will “erode the very democratic freedoms they are designed to protect”. 

Currently, ASIO can “detain and question suspects for up to 24 hours in secret”. As the authors point out: “no other Western democracy has given its intelligence agency this power.” Since 2001, governments have enacted 64 hastily drafted pieces of legislation, ignored the recommendations of the “Independent Monitor” set up in 2010 to oversee anti-terror laws, and encouraged “a steady ratcheting up of the power of the state when it comes to the prevention of terrorism”. 

The spirit of these new laws, they conclude, “undermines democratic freedoms to a greater extent than the laws of other comparable nations”. Australia needs to “think harder about broader counter-radicalisation strategies”. The tougher our laws against the threat of terror, the greater the risk that those unfairly targeted will feel persecuted and aggrieved.  WW

NewSouth, 256pp, $24.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 21, 2015 as "Andrew Lynch, Nicola McGarrity & George Williams, Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials".

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Reviewer: WW

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