Monday, September 26, 2005

Trusty, Rusty Teddy Bear

It's pretty clear, with the release of the new ALP policy on police counter-terrorism powers, just how Kim Beazley plans to contest the next election; he plans to go to the polls as the warm and cuddly alternative to John Howard. On The Insiders on Sunday, and with the release of his proposals for new police powers to deal with either the threat or the actuality of a terrorist attack on Australian soil, Big Kim has set out to show that he might have a warm and fuzzy teddy bear exterior, but it's stuffed chock full of steel wool and iron filings.

The substance of the proposal is that we ought to feed the current NSW laws on police powers to deal with terrorism a dose of steroids, thereby producing model legislation that can be enacted in all States and territories. For up to a week before a threatened terrorist attack and forty-eight hours after an actual attack, police would have the power to cordon off designated "target areas" - i.e. neighbourhoods - and search all people, vehicles and premises within the area. Without any hint of irony, Kim introduces his proposal thus:

The Prime Minister talks about the need for new 'offences' in law - but terrorists are lawless people. I believe we need more emphasis on ensuring we have practical 'police powers' in law.

These tough but sensible and practical powers give police the tools they need to prevent attacks but also deal with ongoing threats in emergency situations.

In his interview with Barry Cassidy on The Insiders, the bomber made it pretty clear where he stood on the issue of balancing the competing demands of preserving civil liberties and fighting terrorism:

... One of the problems with this government is it seeks to have a debate on terrorism that gets to an argument about civil liberties ...

In other words, Kim's not going anywhere near that issue, lest he give the Prime Minister yet another chance to hoist the waistband of his undies, once again cramming the fabric into his bum-crack. On the issue of civil liberties, Labor will take the same principled stand it took in 1950 when Bob Menzies tried to outlaw the Communist Party. This time, though, you can be pretty sure that the ALP won't put up with any of the lawyers in its ranks going feral and challenging national security legislation in the High Court. This is one lesson of history that the 21st Century ALP has well and truly learnt and we're all the worse off for it.

Finally, the Beazley proposals are a nonsense from a pragmatic, political point of view. Whatever John Howard proposes by way of an extension of police powers, there are going to be people within his own party who will be less than enthusiastic in their support; people like Petro Georgiou perhaps. The easiest way fo Howard to deal with these objections now is to reply that the measures he proposes are nowhere as intrusive upon the lives of ordinary Australians as Beazley's alternative. Trusty, rusty teddy bear stuffed it up.

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