We are on a dangerous and slippery slope

Civil liberties are rarely removed in one fell swoop but rather through a gradual erosion of standards of evidence, periods of detention without charge, the nature of admissible evidence and a myriad of other protections to our liberty.

Attorney-General George Brandis flagged on Tuesday a fifth tranche of major counter-terrorism laws
Attorney-General George Brandis flagged on Tuesday a fifth tranche of major counter-terrorism laws

The Age reports that Australians subjected to “control orders” on terrorism grounds, which can restrict their movements and communications, could be denied access to some of the evidence against them for security reasons under changes proposed by the Turnbull government.

The justification for this is that revealing the sources of the evidence against alleged terrorists would alert terror networks to the way in which police and security agencies had been able to obtain the information.

On the face for, this is a completely logical and reasonable argument.

If the security agencies have managed to infiltrate a terrorist network and can use information from that infiltration to convict terrorists, then we would all applaud that. And it’s fair to say that, in this case and possibly in many similar cases, exposing sources of information would jeopardise the safety of security officers and future operations against terrorists.

But we must not lose sight of the fact that this legislation will make it easier for the government to prosecute citizens without giving them access and recourse to the normal defences that we would expect when charged with criminal acts.

It appears that this legislation will now apply to 14-year-old children.  While there have been worrying incidents of teenage children becoming caught up in terrorist activities, there has also been a worrying absence of arrest and conviction of the adults who are behind these activities.

There is a worrying repetition of the words “was later released without charge” after operations by state and federal police that seemed to involved law-enforcement agencies that are the size of small armies.

The problem in Australia is currently being defined as the alienation of young teenage Muslims. This is probably rather more a symptom than the actual problem. The problem is that people who recruit these boys and we seem to making very little progress in curtailing their activities.

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