On 17 October 2014, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security released their Advisory Report on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014.

This report took into consideration over 40 submissions made by organisations, such as the Muslim Legal Network, and their concerns about the Bill. A member of the Muslim Legal Network members attended Parliament House to present our submissions.

The Australian Government indicated that it would accept the recommendations in the Report; however the report largely supports the Bill. It is not a “significant watering down” as stated in various mainstream newspapers and it is with great disappointment that the Bill is being introduced with a degree of bipartisanship.

This is despite the fact that even members of those sitting on the Committee, such as Tanya Plibersek has stated that the time they had to review the Bill and the submissions was “very short”.

To give the Australian public 9 days to review and absorb the Bill, which is over 300 pages and which referenced over 20 key pieces of legislation is reckless and an abuse of process.

There has been no demonstrated need for in the new counter terrorism laws and we have had very little time to explore the ramifications this legislation will have on the civil liberties of Australians and the potential breaches of international law. Despite that, it is anticipated that the Bill will pass through parliament this week. To expect our government to engage in law making with proper regard for process and devoid of fear mongering should be a basic expectation of our government in a democratic society. It should not be a controversial expectation.

The Report has recommended the government clarify what the term “advocating terrorism” means and clarify the distinction between the new proposed “Advocating terrorism” offence and incitement (which is currently a criminal offence). The Muslim Legal Network still holds grave concerns over legitimate speech being caught by this provision; for example this provision would criminalise the support shown to Nelson Mandela and the ANC during South Africa’s apartheid (Mandela was only removed from the USA Terrorism watch list in 2008) and Fretlin in Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. Those supporting Palestinians right to self-defence against Israeli aggression, occupation or apartheid could potentially satisfy the elements of the offence. This provision seems to be directly from the pages of a George Orwell Novel.

The recommendations regarding the declared areas provisions include whole countries not being allowed to be designated as “no go zones” and that each declaration of a declared area should be open to being overturned by either house of parliament. Significantly it has reduced the “sunset clause” from the proposed ten years to 2 years after the next Federal election.

The alarming departure over the fundamental legal principles that form the bedrock of democracy that were enshrined in the magna carta over 800 years ago are still present. Principles such as the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof are reversed. This provision is not seen in any other country in the western world and Australia will be the first to introduce the concept into law.

The Muslim Legal Network will provide further information once the Bill is further debated in parliament.