Will Australia's anti-terrorism laws go too far?
Will Australia's anti-terrorism laws go too far? Contributed

Abbott's new terror laws pass, despite human rights fears

UPDATE: THE Abbott Government's contentious foreign fighters bill has passed the Senate with Labor's support.

After a series of divisions on amendments from Labor and the crossbench, the only senators to vote against the bill were The Greens, Senator Nick Xenophon and Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm.

More to come.


THE Abbott Government will gag debate on its controversial foreign fighters bill today despite concerns raised last night that several measures in the bill may breach the nation's human rights obligations.

Several parts of the bill, including contentious measures to create 10-year jail terms for people who travel to "declared" areas where terrorist groups may be active, may breach human rights, the Senate was told last night.

After examining the human rights implications of the Counter Terrorism (Foreign Fighters) Act 2014, Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human rights chairman, Liberal Senator Dean Smith, raised numerous concerns.

Sen Smith tabled a statement on the committee's concerns in the Senate last night, revealed the committee found the "declared area offence provision" engaged the right to the presumption of innocence "because a defendant's failure to discharge the burden of proof may permit their conviction despite reasonable doubt as to their guilt".

The committee also raised concerns about the implications of the declared areas provisions on the right to freedom of movement, and that the list of defences to travelling to declared areas was "relatively limited".

"The report therefore concludes that the declared area offence provision, as currently drafted, is likely to be incompatible with human rights," Sen Smith told the chamber.

It also found several other measures, including the ASIO "special powers regime"; "control order regime"; "preventative order regime"; "extension of stop, question, search and seizure powers"; and "advocating terrorism" engaged the right to freedom of expression.

The measures, the human rights committee found prohibited people from talking to the media about control orders, and made it an offence to "disclose operational information" on the special powers regime.

Other measures, which would allow evidence gained by foreign authorities through torture, was also questioned by the committee.

"The committee has suggested that foreign evidence obtained directly or indirectly from torture should be excluded in order to align the legislative proposal with Australia's international obligations under the Convention Against Torture," the statement reads.

While the government has proposed amendments to ensure courts presented with evidence obtained through foreign governments by "direct" torture, the amendments do not rule out evidence obtained through "indirect" torture.

However, Sen Smith said it was not the committee's ambition to be "inconvenient" to the duty of the government to protect citizens from harm and terrorism.

"But the scrutiny role of this committee in this Senate must always be to shine a light on real and possible breaches of those fundamental rights and liberties," he said.

Sen Smith told the Senate the report was not motivated to "hinder government", but to be a vehicle for "more rigorous debate" and as a result, "more concise and carefully constructed legislative proposals".
However, in scheduling the Senate debate, already begun in the Upper House this morning, the government has limited further debate to be gagged at 12.30pm.