Aussie Political Journalism legend Laurie Oaks wrote a seditious piece in The Bulletin this week that I thought I’d share, as it hits the nail on the head. I love watching Laurie shred pollies for lunch. You can see him gutting them on “Sunday” on channel 9 on, funnily enough, Sunday.
“Be warned: the dangers of the new anti-terrorist laws were foreshadowed in the immigration scandals.
Should we be worried about the likelihood of mistakes, abuses and unjustified infringements of civil liberties under John Howard’s new anti-terrorism legislation? Absolutely. Anyone who doubts that need only reflect on the recent history of the immigration department. The horror stories that have emerged – the deportation of Vivian Alvarez and the detention of Cornelia Rau chief among them – show what can happen (one might almost say will happen) when bureaucrats wield great power with a minimum of scrutiny.
Both former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer, in his findings on the Rau case, and former Victoria Police chief Neil Comrie, in the Ombudsman’s report on the Alvarez outrage, were scathing about the “culture” within the department. Officers, according to Comrie, “failed to take into account the basic human rights obligations that characterise a democratic society”. That culture, he found, developed while Philip Ruddock was Immigration Minister.
Agents of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation will have unprecedented powers under the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005. With national security considerations providing an excuse for – and a spur to – zealotry, they will be subjected to much stronger pressures and temptations than immigration department staff ever faced. The media, for the most part, will be prevented by law from reporting on their activities. And Ruddock, now attorney-general, will again be the minister in charge. There is every reason to be concerned.
If the immigration department scandals are not enough, the “children overboard” affair provides further evidence that trusting politicians and bureaucrats with these new powers carries no small degree of risk. In that episode, a garbled report conveyed second-hand to a meeting of bureaucrats (the grandly titled People Smuggling Task Force) was accepted as fact, without any attempt at checking. It was passed on instantly to a minister – Ruddock again – who wasted no time in calling a news conference to exploit it for election purposes. Howard quickly jumped on the bandwagon. And when it became apparent that a group of asylum-seekers had been shamefully maligned and no children had been thrown overboard after all, a cover-up was put in place. The consequences of that kind of incompetence and cynicism combined with the radical anti-terrorism measures in Howard’s legislation do not bear thinking about.”
“Perhaps we’ll be lucky. Perhaps the cops and spooks and bureaucrats and politicians who administer the new laws will prove themselves exceptional people and always take account of – in Comrie’s phrase – “the basic human rights obligations that characterise a democratic society”. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.”