Malcolm Fraser, former prime Minister of Australia has been a particularly vocal critic of the present Howard Government approach to human rights.
He contends it is vital to maintain liberty and there is no justification to believe we must curtail such liberty by a change of the rule of Law in response to the perceived threat of terrorism.
I remember the party I joined, the party of Menzies, of liberal and progressive ideas, a forward-looking party, willing to make experiments. As Menzies himself put it, a party that believes fervently in the Rule of Law, in higher education accessible to all able students, in a government accepting national obligations and a vision for the future, a party that slowly abolished the White Australia Policy and broadened Australia to a more open, multicultural society. It was a party of hope and of vision.
Fraser has become particular disillusioned with Prime Ministers Howard’s approach in government and I agree with his concerns. There is no doubt some changes to the law were appropriate to deal with the threat of terrorism. However the 37 new laws passed represent an exercise in extreme haste, for I think such laws were passed with inadequate debate. The end result is the removal of many of the checks and balances that protect us against mistaken false arrest and conviction.
The presumption of innocence that existed for so long, important to our society, is now removed and replaced with justified suspicion. Our laws now make no distinction between soldiers and civilians, or between legitimate and illegitimate motivations. Under these new laws, you need be only suspected of committing an offence, need not be charged and can be taken into secret detention by police or the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), with little or no right to contact family. You have only limited rights to speak to a lawyer.
Whilst there are limits on who can be detained and for the period of time the prospect of secrecy looms. The previous security available as defence in an open courtroom is lost and the whole system invites abuse. I am heartened to see some progress of repeal in Canada who enacted very similar laws. See Gary's blog; I hope we will eventually follow suite.
We have also created a detention centre in Nauru, to proceeds offshore refugees at a horrendous expense. I have visited Nauru and observed its desolate lunar landscape, a legacy of the phosphate mining which rendered the island useless except for a tiny green band around its outer perimeter. The processing offshore enables us to avoid our obligations as a Country, out of sight and mind but the cost is very high, at about 2 million per refugee.
I wonder how many people remember the 137,000 boat people who arrived penniless, as refuges on our shores from Vietnam in the late seventies. Except for isolated pockets they have assimilated very well in to the Australian way of Life. We were not nearly as fearful then and I remember talking to them, about their journey in open boats on the high seas subject to pirates and the cruel sea.
I composed a poem entitled: “Fear now rules the centre stage” as per below.
Count we did the human cost
Precious life blood that was lost
Fear stirred up a mighty rage
Fear rules our centre stage
Laws passed in fearful haste
Liberty, the law replaced
War on terror, our political pride
Render helpless enemies outside
Pacific solution is our history
Nauru’s new trade in misery
Cost of millions per refugee
Solution now far out to sea?
I remember a time of national debate
Vietnam refuges now hardly rates
137,000 amassed on our shores
Where are the age old sores?
Laws enacted please overturn
A time for freedoms wheels to turn
Freedoms guest book please re-design
War on Terror, phoney war this time