Civil Liberties under Fire

By Paterson, James | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Civil Liberties under Fire


Paterson, James, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


Attacks on individual freedom in Australia over the past few years have occurred in some unexpected places.

Take, for instance, the unprecedented assault on civil liberties we have seen in Australia in recent years.

Both the left and right of politics have in the past proudly trumpeted their commitment to civil liberties. In recent decades, the left has been particularly vocal.

Sure, state governments and oppositions have always engaged in a law and order auction around elections. But the policies which arise from this have generally just been a reasonable response to community concern about insufficient sentences for serious criminals, not a wholesale assault on individual freedoms.

And although new powers have been granted to governments around the world in the name of fighting terrorism following the September 11 2001 attacks, some changes in this area were warranted, particularly in the immediate aftermath.

But despite now more than ten years of increasing powers and resources for anti -terrorism agencies, the federal government is still seeking to expand them even further. And even more worryingly, the special powers that were to be granted solely for the purposes of stopping terrorism are now being called upon to fight much less serious threats.

The Gillard governments dataretention proposal is a case in point. Security agencies like the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) want the federal government to require internet service providers to store all their customers' internet usage data for up to two years, just in case they need to search it in the future. On its own, that is a worrying proposal. But the idea that these powers should be also made available to the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is terrifying.

And now, the practice of tampering with fundamental legal rights in the name of fighting terrorism- such as the burden of proof, whereby the accuser must prove the defendant has done the wrong thing, and not the other way aroundis seeping into many other pieces of legislation. And it is being driven by the left, who were supposedly committed to civil liberties.

First in Labor's Fair Work Act, the burden of proof was reversed onto employers defending action from their employees. …

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