What are the implications for civil liberties in the light of the recent anti-terrorism legislation introduced by the federal and state governments? Is the drive for people to feel safer turning Australia into a police state?
Raising these questions and more, former Federal Court Judge, Justice Marcus Einfeld, one of Australia's most respected lawyers, will be a guest speaker at a symposium being held at the University of Western Sydney's Campbelltown Campus on Monday, March 20.
His topic will be 'The war on terror and civil liberties: Is Australia becoming a police state?'
Dr Michael Head, a senior lecturer in the UWS School of Law, will also speak at the event.
"Over the past six years, dating back to the year of the Sydney Olympics, several major steps have been taken towards a police state. These steps accelerated after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and escalated again last year," Dr Head says.
"The Sydney Olympic Games provided the immediate rationale for military call-out legislation. Despite producing no evidence of any terrorist threat to the Olympics, the government mobilised 4,000 troops, including SAS commandos, for the 2000 Games, although it did not activate the military call-out provisions during the Games.
"Nevertheless, the legislation remained on the books, permitting the government to deploy troops on home soil if it alleged a threat to 'Commonwealth interests' or a danger of 'domestic violence' beyond the capacity of a state or territory government," he says.
"Last month, these powers were extended, this time on the pretext of protecting the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Again, without claiming any specific terrorist threat to the current Games, the government announced that 2,600 Australian Defence Force personnel would be deployed for the event."
In Dr Head's opinion, the amended laws significantly, and disturbingly, enhance the government's unilateral power to mobilise troops internally in the name of protecting 'Commonwealth interests' and 'critical infrastructure' - both terms that are not defined in the amended Defence Act (Cth) 1903.
"Military call-outs can now be authorised by a phone call from one or two ministers or even by the chief of the armed forces, acting on secret government guidelines," Dr Head says.
"The amendments also give the military unprecedented domestic powers, including to interrogate civilians and seize documents, and considerably wider and legally protected rights to use lethal force, that is, to 'shoot to kill'. 'Superior orders' has become a defence to criminal and civil liability."
These measures added to concerns generated in late 2005 when the Australian federal, state and territory governments pushed through their respective parliaments far-reaching Anti-Terrorism Bills, according to Dr Head.
"The new laws grant unilateral powers to the federal and state police to intern 'suspects' without any charge or trial whatsoever," he says.
"The legislation clears the way for practices commonly identified with totalitarian regimes. People can simply 'disappear' into police custody, without the media, or anyone else, being able to report it. Lengthy house arrest can be imposed on political opponents; secret evidence can be used; and police forces will have explicit 'shoot-to-kill' powers.
"Whenever governments and security authorities cite 'national security' threats, especially of indefinite duration, as the justification for suspending or overturning constitutional norms and basic legal rights, the lessons of history suggest a need for deep distrust," he says.
WHERE: Lecture Theatre 1, Building 4, Campbelltown Campus, Narellan Road, Campbelltown
WHEN: 6pm to 9pm on Monday, March 20
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