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With the ASIO Bill due to be debated again in the Senate next week, the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has repeated its call for all Senators to consider opposing this Bill if basic freedoms enjoyed by all Australians cannot be safeguarded. 

The last minute amendments proposed by the Government do not allay major concerns with this Bill.

Bishop Christopher Saunders, Chairman of the ACSJC said, “The ACSJC is mindful that the tragic events in Bali and other acts of terrorism around the world have alerted Australians to issues of national security.  However, it should also be a cause for concern that the powers proposed for Federal authorities under the ASIO Bill would threaten civil rights and fundamental principles of the rule of law.

“Many community organisations and legal professionals believe that the detention and intelligence gathering powers proposed in the Bill will bypass the criminal justice system.  The Bill would allow citizens to be detained without having committed or being suspected of a criminal offence.  Citizens could be held without charge for seven days simply for the purpose of information gathering,” he said.

Bishop Saunders recognizes the huge responsibility facing Senators in ensuring national security while protecting the basic freedoms that all Australians enjoy.

“When reviewing the ASIO Bill, Senators will need to ask if this legislation would add to current security arrangements in a fair and just manner.  The criminal justice system continues to provide a fair and independent process for dealing with allegations of criminal conduct including conspiracy.   

“The existing legislative framework has been more than adequate in maintaining national security while protecting the liberties that characterize the Australian way of life.  Our criminal justice system has apparently proved adequate in protecting Australia since September 11, 2001.  It should be given the opportunity to prove itself in the current environment” Bishop Saunders concluded.