from the twilight zone of Australia’s terrorism debate

Headline in Australian today: ‘Rudd moves to soften terrorism laws’. Headline in  Age today: ‘Labor moves to toughen up terror laws.’

In reality, of course, the changes make Australia’s already extraordinary laws even more draconian, so much so that Labor’s actually being attacked on libertarian grounds by the Liberals. For instance, the changes would allow searches without warrants, in cases where there’s a ‘material threat’, whatever that means. Thus this remarkable development:

But the proposals – which are open for public comment – produced a marked turnaround from the Howard years, as the Coalition accused the Labor Government of taking a draconian approach.

”Those who seek to expand laws that are already invasive have a strong burden of persuasion to show why the existing laws are inadequate,” shadow attorney-general George Brandis said. ”Draconian laws are no substitute for well-resourced agencies.”

Well, whatever. The notion that Australian security agencies aren’t well-resourced is just bizarre.

As part of the “war on terrorism”, ASIO, which has minimal budgetary accountability and provides virtually no information in its budget statements, saw its annual appropriation expand from around $60m at the state of the decade to nearly $300m in the final Howard Government budget. That figure doesn’t include a one-off equity injection (basically a boost to an agency’s capital budget) of $150m. In last year’s budget, ASIO had its annual appropriation increased a whopping $60m. The new Government had maintained that there would be no new spending beyond that to which it committed prior to the election, but ASIO was exempted from that. It also got another equity injection of $70m. The Rudd Government has shown itself every bit as eager to pursue a national security agenda as its predecessor.

But how wacked out has the Australian become that it can report a security proposal that even the Liberals see as draconian as a ‘softening’ of the terror laws?

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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