With the date fast approaching for the passing of the National Security Bill, there is widespread concern in the community regarding the so called “anti-terror laws.”
The Attorney-General Senator George Brandis asked the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security last month to inquire and report on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill by 7 September 2014.
The Bill proposes significant changes to national security legislation that will impact on the civil liberties of Australians including their privacy and right to a fair trial.
The proposed amendments, with their broad nature and limited safeguards for civil liberties are raising fears in the community about the anticipated culture of unaccountability within the intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Specifically the proposed laws will broaden the definition of terrorism, monitoring and retaining of internet and phone data, making it easier to detain and questions suspects returning from overseas, reversing the onus of proof for people coming home from terrorism hot-spots, extra-ordinary powers to use force with immunity from prosecution for law enforcement officers in general and ASIO in particular and prosecution of those reporting abuse of power in such cases.
A large number of Muslim community leaders and organisations Australia-wide have presented a unified response. They have vocally expressed their concerns during the last few weeks about the proposed laws, the speed at which these laws are being formulated and the degree of lack of broad community consultation.
The Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott met a group of hand picked Muslim leaders on Monday 18 August in Sydney to discuss the issues related to the propped bill. A similar meeting was held with even smaller number of Muslim leaders in Melbourne, but boycotted by the Victoria’s peak body, The Islamic Council of Victoria.
The Attorney General Senator Brandis also conducted a 30 minute meeting on Friday 29 August with a number of community leaders in Parramatta. The Muslim leaders later issued a joint statement reiterating their disappointment with the Attorney General’s meeting. One of the attendees Mr Amer said “These hastily pursued measures with little genuine consultation will infringe on our right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty,”
Although the government claims these meetings to be held as part of community consultation, a number of those attending have commented that these meetings seem to be an exercise in rubber stamping of the security bill by the Muslim community.
One of the signatories to the statement issued by more than 60 Muslim leaders and activists last month, Silma Ihram said ”Prime Minister Tony Abbott is merely seeking approval under the cover of consultation.
A number of other organisations including the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), Muslim Legal Network and Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) have released statements, media releases and submissions on the issue largely concerned at the climate of fear-mongering, and scrutiny of the Muslim community.