Thursday, 7 August 2014

Counter-terrorism laws according to News Corp in 2014: It's all Labor's fault!

Murdoch’s minions were in fine form in The Australian and the Herald Sun as the month began.

This piece on 2 August 2014 kicked the issue off with a fine example of mudslinging.

THE risk of terror attacks on Australian soil, including on public transport networks in capital cities, is significantly ­increased because the Gillard government downplayed a report on the dangers posed by returning home-grown jihadists.
The blunt assessment was ­issued yesterday by Anthony Whealy QC, the former judge who chaired a 2013 counter-­terrorism review and who sentenced Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf to five years’ jail.
He said an attack on a major railway station, such as Sydney’s Wynyard, would not take “a criminal mastermind” to engineer but could kill hundreds.
Mr Whealy, who chaired the Council of Australian Governments committee’s review of counter-terrorism legislation, said that when the report warning of serious attacks in Australia was presented to the Gillard government in March last year, it was held for two months and then quietly tabled on budget night in May.
His warning came as Tony Abbott revealed the government was considering tougher laws that could reverse the onus of proof for those returning from foreign battlefields, forcing them to explain why they had been in areas such as Syria and Iraq.

Later in the day Andrew Bolt made an attempt to whip up readers:

Labor is so in hock to Muslim voters in key marginal seats that I question whether it can be trusted with our national security.

He weighed in again with some more shock, horror, on 4 August:

Former judge Anthony Whealy QC chaired a 2013 counterterrorism review and said Labor sat on his report for two months before quietly tabling it on Budget night last year, when the media was too busy to notice.
Whealy’s report warned of exactly the threat the Abbott Government is now trying to counter, suggesting laws to force people returning from Syria and Iraq, for instance, to explain exactly what they’d been doing.
Whealy says “the response from the previous government you would have to say was slow”, but is Opposition Leader Bill Shorten embarrassed? Hell, no.

Now I recall this particular Council Of Australian Governments (COAG) report, so I was somewhat puzzled to find that my memory was playing tricks on me and that in fact what I had read was a wall-to-wall-warning to the Gillard Government of the urgent danger of home grown terrorism, which had been cravenly buried by government.

After all everyone knows News Corp never lies or gilds the lily – that its newspaper empire is a fortress of editorial integrity and journalistic ethics.

So imagine my 'surprise' when a handful of computer keystrokes brought forth this media release from May 2013:

Reviews of counter-terrorism laws released today
Posted May 14, 2013
14 May 2013
The Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC today tabled two important and detailed reviews of counter-terrorism and national security laws - the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Review of Counter-Terrorism Laws and the second annual report of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor.
“These reviews are part of the Gillard Government's commitment to protecting Australians, and ensuring national security and counter-terrorism laws are administered in a fair and balanced way,” Mr Dreyfus said.
The COAG Committee examined and made recommendations about the counter-terrorism laws enacted in the Commonwealth and the States and Territories following the 2005 London bombings.
The Independent National Security Legislation Monitor made separate recommendations about Commonwealth national security legislation, including the definition of a ‘terrorist act’, control orders, the preventative detention regime, and ASIO’s powers.
There is some overlap of the provisions that the Monitor and the COAG Review Committee reviewed.
The Government will respond to the reports following consultation with the States and Territories.
“There is no greater responsibility for a Government than protecting its national security. The Gillard Government takes National Security matters extremely seriously,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“Under Australia’s counter-terrorism framework four major terrorist attacks on Australian soil have been disrupted.
“In light of the recent terror attack in Boston, it is clear that it is as important now as it ever was to maintain strong capabilities in the fight against terrorism. Our counter-terrorism framework has held us in good stead so far, but we must remain vigilant.”
The Gillard Government created the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor to review Australia’s national security laws and counter-terrorism laws on an ongoing basis and determine whether they remain necessary, effective, proportionate and consistent with our international human rights obligations.
Both Reviews will be available online later this afternoon.
While typing Mr. Whealy’s name into Google and hitting the search button produced this piece from The Australian on 17 May 2013:

Mr Whealy, who chaired the Council of Australian Governments' review of the terror laws, recommended creating a corps of security-cleared lawyers, or "special advocates", to make it easier to contest a control order.
Other recommendations included requiring the security agencies to disclose information about their concerns to subjects of control orders and easing some of the conditions.
Mr Whealy rejected suggestions the report's 47 recommendations amounted to an overall watering down of terror laws, describing them as "a calculated, contemporary assessment" of a framework enacted in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, Bali, London and Madrid.
"If the government were to adopt what we've suggested, I think the laws would be still be effective to prevent a terrorist act in Australia," he said.

Now that assessment is much closer to how I recall the COAG Review of Counter-Terrorism report and its recommendations when it was released.

I remember one recommendation that made me smile at the time -  that relevant legislation should be amended to “create exemptions for providing training to or receiving training from a terrorist organisation for purposes unconnected with the commission of a terrorist act”.  I also thought rather generous the recommendation which included the hope that lawyers in this country be allowed to receive and hold funds from terrorist organisations for legal advice/representation of these organisations on the off chance that they might be involved in future civil/criminal proceedings.

And the revelation that the report alerted the Gillard Government to a heightened level of risk?  Well that claim is apparently based primarily on an unclassified ASIO submission which merely a gave broad brush assessment to the review committee and, was very old news by then.

In fact the national terrorism alert level has been set at Medium (terrorist attack could occur) since it was introduced in 2003.

So why are News Corp journalists getting all hot under the collar now? Of course! Prime Minister Abbott’s argument that counter-terrorism legislation needs to be tightened is best framed as Fixing Labor’s Mess.

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