Reader response: why counter-terrorism law reform still matters
3 Mar 2014|

I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew Zammit’s thoughts last week on the lack of governmental response to the numerous reviews of national security legislation conducted in the past few years. My view—first aired here (PDF, p. 35)—is that the government should be required to provide a public response to the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor’s (INSLM) recommendations within six months of receiving them.

The situation Zammit outlined of stagnating debate on national security legislation reform reminds me of my attitude to insurance when I was in my early twenties. Every year I’d get the renewal notices for my health, car, contents and various other insurance policies. It wasn’t difficult to find out at any time whether I was getting the best deal on these policies. But invariably, I didn’t bother with this until the renewal notice arrived, and even then sometimes I’d just pay the premium and vow to check my other options later when I had more time.

The most controversial of the new powers granted to intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the Bali Bombings are contained in Division 3A of the Crimes Act 1914 and Part III, Division 3 of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979. They include provisions allowing persons to be detained for up to seven days and for police officers to enter premises without a warrant under certain circumstances. The sunset dates on these provisions are scheduled for December 2015 and July 2016 respectively. In the lead-up, Parliament will debate the operation and effectiveness of these laws and whether to renew them, and if so, in what form.

Despite all the information available to it, which the government’s paying for mind you, I worry the Parliament will wait until the due date’s upon it to begin looking at whether we’re getting the best deal on our counter-terrorism insurance policies. And with a federal election looming in the second half of 2016, the cynic in me wonders what effect that distraction will have on the quality of, and time dedicated to, the debate.

Requiring the government to provide a public response to the INSLM’s recommendations will force it to work through the issues in a timely fashion and encourage more frequent debate on national security legislation. This in turn might result in adjustments to the legislative framework based on measured consideration, ensuring not only a more effective insurance policy overall, but avoiding the kind of rushed and reactive legislation we’ve seen in the past.

Kristy Bryden is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist.