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New terror laws establish police-state powers


13 March 2003
Staff from the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University have echoed concerns expressed by Supreme Court Judge and Chancellor of the University, Mr Justice Dowd, about new anti-terrorist legislation being proposed by the NSW government.

Head of the School, Richard Harris, says the proposed legislation would grant police-state type powers to the NSW police minister, exclude supervision by the courts, breach international human rights standards and open people’s homes up to arbitrary search.

“The Terrorism (Police Powers) Bill 2002, currently before the NSW parliament proposes sweeping powers which would permit senior police officers or the minister to declare a virtual state of emergency if they were satisfied that a terrorist threat existed in a particular area,” Mr Harris said.

“Once the special police powers were activated, police could search homes, persons or vehicles in the target area without need for a warrant. The legislation specifically contradicts the protection against arbitrary search contained in article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Australia is a signatory,” he said.

Aidan Ricketts, a lecturer at the School who has been researching national and international responses to terrorism, said the most worrying aspect of the proposed legislation is that the Courts are excluded from having any role in reviewing the decision to activate the powers.

“Section 13 provides that authorisations and decisions by the Police Minister under Part 2 of the Act may not be challenged, or called into question on any grounds whatsoever before any court or tribunal in any legal proceedings whatsoever,” Mr Ricketts said.

“Such a provision is unprecedented in Australian law and is contrary to the whole principle of the separation of powers. Under our constitution, executive, legislative and judicial power are presumed to exist side by side and to provide protection against the abuse of power,” he said.

“There are no safeguards in this legislation, it establishes the police minister as a law unto himself. Nobody doubts that we need a robust response to the threat of terrorism, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon internationally recognised human rights, and the underlying principles of our constitution and system of government to achieve that”.