Preventive detention laws have been in place for a decade in an attempt to clamp down on a “potential terrorist threat”. Yet for all the arguments of their supposed benefits they have only been used twice in that time. This demonstrates that the risk of specific, preventable attacks – as perceived by law-enforcement authorities themselves – remains low.

On the Australian Government Attorney General’s website it states:

The police can detain people under preventative detention orders only:

  • where there is a threat of an imminent terrorist attack and the order might help prevent it
    or
  • immediately after a terrorist act if it is likely vital evidence will be lost.

A person can be detained for a maximum of:

  • 48 hours under Commonwealth law
  • 14 days under state and territory laws
  • 14 days under a combination of Commonwealth and state and territory regimes.

Australia’s Commonwealth laws on preventative detention orders are found under Division 105 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. This department administers the Act.

The Commonwealth’s former independent reviewer of security legislation, Bret Walker, SC, said preventive detention should be scrapped, as the laws are:

“much more trouble than they are worth” and even “worse than useless”. As he put it: “Should we, as a society, give consideration to … [preventive] detention orders against violent husbands, drunken or adolescent drivers, or careless foremen? Surely not. Have we properly articulated the reasons why counterterrorism should produce an opposite response?”

In 2013, a separate review commissioned by all Australian governments, led by Anthony Whealy, QC, recommended states and territories ditch preventive detention. It pointed out ASIO already had questioning and detention powers that served the same purpose.

Nonetheless, every government ignored the advice. This week, the ACT became the last jurisdiction to extend the powers. Justice Minister and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury was the only member of the ACT government to oppose the change. Attorney-General Simon Corbell acknowledged the laws infringed on nine legislated ACT human rights, notably freedom of movement and liberty, and the right to a fair trial.

In short, these barely used powers, which expert advisers say are unnecessary, violate the central principles of Western liberal democracy. This doesn’t mean the powers are useless. But their existence comes at a price; they sap our commitment to freedom. It’s a shame our governments are so fearful of being seen as weak on terrorism that they barely even discuss this price before saying “yes” to more, broader powers.” [Source]

Such laws with little practical benefit and application only increase the atmosphere of intimidation and paranoia which directly only target the Muslim community.

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