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  • Terror laws under fire
  • By Michelle Paine
  • The Mercury
  • 28/07/2005 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 47 articles in 2005 )
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FORMER chief justice Alastair Nicholson has attacked the Howard Government's anti-terrorism laws and for stacking the High Court with conservative judges.

Mr Nicholson, the Family Court head between 1988 and last year, said the gap between law and justice had widened under the Howard Government.

He made the blistering attack when he delivered the ninth Anglicare social justice lecture in Hobart last night.

"It is arguable that the gap between law and justice has been widened by the policy of the Howard Government in relation to judicial appointments and appointments to the High Court of Australia in particular," he said.

"It is important in a democracy that the people should have confidence in the impartiality of courts and judges in determining cases before them.

"The present Government has set itself upon a course of making appointments of judges with a very conservative background.

"The present appointments were clearly made ... to leave a legacy of conservative rule long after the Howard Government is but a memory.

"This reflects a concern that I have for the future of the independence of the judiciary in this country."

The replacement of retiring Justice Michael McHugh could be expected to be another conservative, he said.

"One would have thought that more alarm bells would have been ringing in this country about this prospect," Mr Nicholson said.

He said Australians had become accepting of new powers of detention by the state, which revealed the community was losing its sense of justice and fairness. A climate of opposition to multiculturalism and a fear of ethnic minorities had been fostered.

He said these problems were exacerbated after the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001 when the Government reacted in near-hysterical fashion "as part of the so-called war on terror".

"Amongst other things, this led to the passage of draconian legislation placing excessive power in the hands of security agencies and severely restricting the liberties of Australians in significant ways," he said.

Mr Nicholson said ASIO exercises in Sydney and Melbourne "involved incursions into people's homes and places of worship".

"We do not know what people were affected, for we are never told, but it seems likely that many were Islamic," he said.

It was difficult to form a judgment when the "whole affair is shrouded in secrecy".

"That is the precise problem about the use of these sorts of powers ... the actions of those carrying them out cannot be questioned in the courts and although there is some limited right to complain, one could have little confidence that these powers have been exercised properly," he said.

"I think that we have reached a watershed in Australian politics where the Parliament, the Executive and regrettably the courts can no longer be trusted to protect our liberties without further safeguards."


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