Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Civil liberties

Jack the Insider commented on the new laws announced in New South Wales and South Australia to restrict the activities of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. He makes a very valid point about how quietly the Australian public accepts restrictions on civil liberties that are a foundation of our democratic system.

Since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, many governments hastily implemented "anti-terror" laws. Such laws often proved poorly designed, subject to abuse and a catalyst for sloppy investigative work. In countries like the United Kingdom, this led to the laws being water down. Australia has also had limited success in the application of similar legislation. It seems that police anti-terror investigations became lazy because the requirement for police to have sufficient evidence to charge a person within 24 hours of their arrest was removed. There have been few successful prosecutions despite a number of arrests.

Now, it appears that New South Wales and South Australia have not learned from the experience of poorly designed anti-terror laws and are hastily throwing together similarly draconian regulations. In light of recent violence perpetrated by Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, both states are seeking to introduce laws that allow the government to ban any organisation that it deems to be "criminal".

I acknowledge that new laws may be needed to respond to organised crime and/or terrorism. However, it is important that any such laws are well designed, thoroughly debated and respect the fundamental freedoms that have maintained our democracy for so long. It is equally important that ordinary Australians examine government policy proposal with a critical eye and with thought to the potential consequences of such policy responses.

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