Premiers take on Australian PM on Shoot To Kill Laws

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Several of Australian State premiers and more civil libertarians have added to the growing chorus of concern over the proposed Australian Anti-Terrorism Bill, which was proposed by the Australian Prime Minister, and the State and Territory governments following the London transport bombings of July 7, which killed 56 people

Australian State Premiers Voice Dismay

The Prime Minister John Howard has been accused of adding a provision to new laws giving federal police the power to shoot to kill. The case of a Brazilian man mistakenly shot dead in London this year is cited by Western Australia's Premier Geoff Gallop as a reason for caution. He went on to say the Prime Minister misled the premiers on what laws he actually intended to introduce.

Gallop told SBS "When we went to Canberra, we agreed with the Prime Minister that changes were necessary, particularly in respect of control orders and preventative detention. But the shoot to kill policy wasn't part of the agreement and we certainly won't be supporting it in any legislation in Western Australia. To have a provision like that, I think exposes us to the sorts of risks that we saw in the UK and I don't think this is a good signal to be sending out".

The Queensland Premier Peter Beattie and Victorian Premier Steve Bracks also raised concerns about the shoot to kill provision, saying it was not in the original document agreed to by the federal and state governments.

The New South Wales (NSW) Premier Morris Iemma, went further today saying he would not put into law the proposed laws by the Federal Government.

While confiming the state's proposed anti-terrorism laws are supposed to mirror the Federal laws, NSW would not contain a shoot-to-kill provision. Iemma told The Sydney Morning Herald "We will bring forward legislation consistent with what was agreed to".

The Federal Government needs the co-operation of the states, as it is constrained in its policing powers by the Constitution.

The NSW Premier warns that if the Federal Government does not water down its proposed laws, NSW may decided to write different rules which raises the prospect that federal and state police will be operating under different rules in joint anti-terrorist operations and have different legal protections for their actions.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann is still committed to the proposals he agreed to at last month's COAG meeting in Canberra, but said they made no reference to powers to shoot-to-kill.

"I will commit right now to everything that I committed to at COAG but I won't commit to things that I haven't seen and I won't commit to things that have been put in that I didn't agree to," Mr Rann said.

Australian Federal Opposition Leader Joins Chorus

Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, at a press conference in Melbourne said that the states already gave police powers to use deadly force, and he wants the shoot-to-kill provisions to pass through a proper parliamentary inquiry process.

"There does not need to be any additional legislation related to that ... What exists now is perfectly sufficient and it seems to me that's what Bracks and Beattie were saying," Mr Beazley told The Age.

Beazley called for a proper inquiry process in the Federal Parliament, by the parliamentary intelligence committee or its senate equivalent.

"Either way that's fine, but there needs to be an appropriate examination of these laws by that process before parliament finally deliberates on it."

Law Society Concerns

Jon McIntyre the president of the NSW Law Society, said the provision, would take away an individual's "fundamental freedoms".

Mr McIntyre told ABC radio that police would be able to get an order "without a person being reasonably suspected of committing of an offence".

McIntyre said that International examples proved arbitrary powers such as these would likely be abused.

Prime Ministers Defends the Shoot to Kill Provisions

The Prime Minister says the proposal is nothing more than formalising powers that already exist under common laws introduced by the states.

Speaking on ABC Radio's PM "I don't think there's a real conflict, because what we're proposing is not something that's new, there's always been a common law right for police officers in certain circumstances to use deadly force. Been there for centuries. And it's been codified into the law recently because there was some doubt about the exact limits of it."

He went on to say "What we are proposing in relation to preventive detention is similar to what now exists in relation to other terrorism offences, and very similar to what is in the Victorian law"

The Prime Minister is confident that he will work out the differences. Saying "I'll talk to them. I'm appreciative of the cooperation that I have received from the state premiers on this issue"

"We all know that the sad circumstances that now require unusual laws. I'm quite sure that they're in the national interest, and I am confident they will be approved by the Federal Parliament and by the state parliaments."

Other Concerns with the Bill

  • The inclusion and definition of sedition, which in the bill may include "to bring the sovereign [i.e. the Queen] into hatred or contempt", or to "urge disaffection" with the Australian Government. Australian law does not protect freedom of speech, so this proposed law may effectively outlaw criticizing the Australian Government. It may also effectively outlaw some protests.
  • The ability of judges to make decisions outside of the court system.
  • 'Recklessly' providing funds to anyone who *might* be a terrorist is an offence, punishable by life imprisonment, even if they are not a terrorist