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Australia: Commission responds to national security legislation


The Australian Human Rights Commission says new laws must demonstrate a necessary, legitimate and proportionate response to the risk of terrorism.

The Australian Human Rights Commission recognises the need to modernise national security laws and, in its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, says it supports in principle the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1)(2014), subject to the adoption of human rights safeguards.

"Strong national security is essential to protect the personal security and rights of all Australians, but there are limits to the reach of national security laws when they unjustifiably restrict individual rights and freedoms" said Commission President Gillian Triggs.

"The key concern of the Commission is that any legislative measures to address risks of terrorism must be a necessary, legitimate and proportionate response to an evidence-based assessment of risk," said Professor Triggs.

"We have suggested ways to amend the Bill to include safeguards and ensure that human rights are limited only to an extent that is both necessary and proportionate."

The Commission is particularly concerned about the following elements of the Bill, which are overly broad in their coverage and which potentially impact upon rights to privacy and freedom of expression:

  • Provisions enabling warrants for 12 months access to computers, computer networks and premises in the absence of adequate safeguards
  • Blanket immunity to Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) officers from Australian law in conducting surveillance activities with inadequate, independent oversight
  • Strict liability for disclosure of information that could capture the work of journalists, among others.

"In its submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee, the Commission has made 10 recommendations that we believe will achieve a balance of fundamental individual freedoms with necessary and proportionate laws to protect national security." said Professor Triggs.

"The Commission as a whole supports the passage of the Bill so long as the concerns identified by the Commission are addressed," said Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson.

"That we need up-to-date national security laws so the government can protect Australians is not in question, and nor should the need for safeguards to protect the rights and freedoms of Australians," said Commissioner Wilson.

The submission is available on the Commission's website.

Date: 1 September 2014

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  1. Mike Fleming, Flickr Creative Commons