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The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has viewed as regrettable the Federal Parliament’s passing of the controversial ASIO Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill late last week. 

The Council urges citizens and community leaders to remain alert to its implementation given that the new laws must be reviewed under a three-year sunset clause and a Parliamentary review after 30 months.

At last weekend’s 52nd Meeting of the ACSJC, Council Members voiced significant concerns over this legislation which will come into effect over the next two weeks.  They recognised that the responsibility of our political leaders to address possible national security risks derives from a concern for the common good of the community.  However, the new powers vested in Federal authorities are likely to undermine fundamental rights and the rule of law that all Australians enjoy and take for granted.

Bishop Christopher Saunders, ACSJC Chairman, said, “Under common law, no Australian can be detained by police without charges being laid.  If a person is suspected of planning an offence such as an assassination or a bombing, they will be arrested, questioned, charged and convicted where found guilty.  In addition to the criminal justice system, ASIO already has wide-ranging intelligence-gathering powers that have been used extensively in the post-11 September environment.

“Under the new laws, people who are not even suspected of having committed a crime but are simply suspected of having information that may be helpful to ASIO can be detained, held without charge for up to seven days and interrogated for eight hours at a time.  Failure to answer ASIO questions could incur a maximum of five years imprisonment” he said.

The ACSJC holds particular concerns for vulnerable members of the community who may be subject to these new laws.  People as young as 16 years of age with little knowledge of their legal rights could be removed from their homes and questioned continuously for eight hours at a time.  The use of previous ASIO powers in raids that have involved armed police forcing their way into family homes, of course raises concerns that the new powers to detain might be unnecessarily targeted towards particular cultural minorities within the broader community.