: Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials

Inside Australia’s Anti-Terrorism Laws and Trials

Alisha Mathew

Inside-Australias-Anti-terrorism-laws-and-trials-150Andrew Lynch, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams; NewSouth Publishing, 2015; 238 pages; $24.99 (paperback)

In the wake of 11 September 2001, nations around the world scrambled to enact measures responding to the elusive terror threat. Domestically, the Australian government responded by passing a barrage of new legislation — extending the reach of criminal laws, creating new terror laws, and granting extensive surveillance and policing powers to those charged with enforcing those laws.

Fourteen years after September 11, the terror threat is still alive in Australia and indeed has recently come back onto the public’s radar following the siege at the Lindt Café in 2014 and 
a number of terrorism-related raids in late 2014 early 2015.

There is clearly a need in Australia for laws that criminalise and prevent terrorist activities. Concerning, however, is the extent to which these laws compromise individual freedoms in the name of security.

Lynch, McGarrity and Williams’ book provides a timely examination of these issues — questioning whether Australia’s anti-terrorism laws have gone too far. With their stated aim being to undertake a ‘stocktake of Australia’s 
anti-terrorism laws’, the authors provide an impressive overview of Australia’s anti-terrorism regime. The book goes beyond simply breaking down the content of Australia’s 
anti-terror laws to provide a measured assessment of the laws both in terms of their efficacy in preventing terrorism, and the collateral impact on individual rights and freedoms. Weaving together discussion of legislation, cases and hypotheticals, the authors make a case for proportionality in drafting and the need for continuous review of existing laws. Though overwhelming at times, the authors do a commendable job of helping the reader wade through the thicket of Australia’s anti-terror regime, making the book accessible to lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

To begin with, the authors spend almost half of the book walking the reader through the various terrorist offences under Australian law. This is complemented by later discussion on the breadth of investigatory and surveillance powers granted to law enforcement agencies under anti-terror legislation. The content is comprehensive and insightful, drawing on case law and highlighting the reactive nature of the laws and the concerning lack of oversight enjoyed by law enforcement agencies. While the lengthy discussion on the finer points of these laws does not make for light reading, the reader emerges with a strong grounding in the ‘ins and outs’ of our anti-terrorism laws and the powers of those who are charged with their enforcement.

anti-terrorist-squadThe real value of the book however lies in the authors’ discussion of the way that terrorism offences are prosecuted in practice. The book sheds light on the skewed application of the law, and the gusto demonstrated by the Australian Federal Police in pursuing terrorism charges. While courts are portrayed as doing what they can to protect against overzealous prosecution of terrorism offences, the authors caution that courts are limited because of the distinct lack of a legislative human rights regime in Australia.

This is a point that recurs throughout the book. The authors argue that human rights have a role to play in shaping the drafting of laws, providing an avenue for individuals to challenge restrictive laws, and normatively creating a baseline of acceptable government intrusion into civilian life. They emphasise that Australia is an anomaly among Western democratic nations in its lack of enforceable rights, and make the confronting point that it would be unthinkable for comparable nations to restrict individual freedoms as has been done in Australia.

Coming to the end of the book, the reader can’t help but be disheartened by the seemingly bleak state of Australia’s anti-terrorism regime. The authors indeed attempt to assuage this by suggesting a few ‘lessons’ — advocating the need for human rights safeguards, meaningful and responsive reviews of anti-terrorism laws and the need for a broader community-oriented approach to fighting terrorism in Australia. Absent though, is any discussion about how to generate the political will necessary to achieve these goals — a topic that was perhaps outside the scope of this book, but is nonetheless highly relevant.

Overall, McGarrity, Lynch and Williams have commendably translated Australia’s complex and fast-changing anti-terrorism regime into a comprehensive, engaging book. It is certainly not an easy read, but it is, most definitely, a necessary read.

ALISHA MATHEW is a recent International Studies/Law graduate and is currently working at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

(2015) 40(3) AltLJ 217
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