Excessive amendments to national security laws avoid scrutiny due to COVID-19

Changes to national security laws governing ASIO’s powers to question terrorism suspects, introduced into Parliament today, excessively increase ASIO’s powers and are not necessary, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“This government continues to give more extensive and intrusive powers to ASIO, and this latest grab for power has been slipped in while everyone is distracted by the COVID-19 health emergency,” said Mr Greg Barns, spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“There is limited capacity for scrutiny right now but the proposed changes are dangerous and continue to strip away individual’s rights.”

The ALA says the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill 2020 decreases ASIO’s accountability at the same time as increasing the scope of its powers.

“The Bill allows ASIO to act without a warrant, or with only a verbal warrant, which makes it very difficult to hold the organisation or individual officers to account,” said Mr Barns.

“We are very disturbed to see that the amendments allow ASIO to detain and question children as young as 14 years old – this is unnecessary and completely inappropriate.

“Alarmingly the Bill also allows lawyers to be banned from acting for clients at ASIO’s discretion. The ability for ASIO to limit an individual’s choice of lawyer is outrageous and unjust.

“The amendments also allow for a lawyer to be removed if the ASIO officer believes that they are disrupting the questioning – this gives enormous and completely inappropriate discretion to an interrogating officer.

“These amendments to national security laws are in no way proportionate to the threats facing Australia.”

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