Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Bill 2017

(Debate, 21 November 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament

The Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Bill will allow the Supreme Court, on application of the government, to order the continued detention or supervision of an eligible offender beyond the completion of their sentence for up to three years on the grounds that they pose an unacceptable risk of committing a terrorism offence.

Many people in the community feel unsafe from the threat of a terrorist attack. A very small number of people here in Australia have been found to support and relate to the ideology of overseas terrorist organisations and there is the chance that someone will try to harm people in the name of foreign causes.

While I agree that there is a place for governments to respond to reduce threats, it is a difficult task to achieve with no way of providing any guarantee of safety because we can’t watch everyone all the time and we don’t have a crystal ball that can see into the future.

Governments and parliaments should be cautious in the measures they introduce to deal with terrorism and not resort to populist measures just to appear tough on terror.

Unfortunately, the bill’s approach relies on the false premise that eroding people’s civil liberties and rights to freedom from arbitrary detention will make people safe.

Under the bill, the Supreme Court will be required to judge the risk that a person will potentially commit a crime that has not taken place. This is not the role of the court in criminal proceedings, which is to find the truth through inquisition and assessment of evidence. The test that the court will use is weak and doesn’t even require there to be a conclusion that a terror act is more likely than not to occur.

The courts can’t predict what a person will do and they will be using accounts about an eligible offender from prison guards and other inmates. People can say outlandish things that they would never act upon, particularly, I imagine, in the tough environment of a prison. The process is problematic, unreliable and unfair.

If an accused person has a high profile and the media follows the process, there could be immense pressure on the courts to make a finding in favour of detention.

Existing terrorism laws can already deal with someone who clearly expresses that they intend to commit a future terrorism crime which means that these new laws will fall back on risks associated with a person’s beliefs and associations. This bill takes us into dangerous territory where saying or believing something can put you behind bars.

The bill represents another erosion of the justice system that further removes the basic human right to freedom.

Of greatest concern is the power to order detention of an eligible offender who has finished their sentence; orders should be limited to supervision only.

We cannot manage all risks and I don’t believe that removing civil rights is the way to reduce home grown terrorism – indeed countries that breed terrorism provide citizens with few individual freedoms and rights.

The government has already introduced strong control order regimes and intelligence services already have surveillance powers to monitor people who have been identified to pose a threat.

The sound bites for this bill are impressive: lock up would-be terrorists before they commit the crime, but it’s simply not possible to know what someone will do.

This bill will see innocent people locked up without improving public safety; I cannot support it.