The Morrison government was busy last month, doing what it does best: stripping away at the rights of Australians. On 14 October, the Senate quietly passed legislation that has broadened the powers of Australian federal police officers at airports.
Another Peter Dutton special, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police Powers at Airports) Bill 2019 allows AFP officers to demand individuals produce ID at airports, leave airports, not take a flight for up to 24 hours, and order them to stop anything to facilitate these orders.
“The current requirement to suspect that a person is about to commit, or has committed, a criminal offence before conducting an airport ID check is no longer fit for purpose,” the home affairs minister told parliament, as he hinted to a lowering of the threshold as to when such orders can be given.
“Extending police powers to stop people at random at airports, and demand they show ID, expands police powers by quite a lot,” said Civil Liberties Australia CEO Bill Rowlings. “More powers to police can only come from depriving citizens of their existing “powers” – what we call rights.”
With the passing of the bill, AFP officers can now direct individuals at major airports to show ID, move-on, or stop doing something, not only if they reasonably suspect them of criminal activity, but also if they reasonably consider it necessary to safeguard “public order and safe operation of that airport or another”.
“Expanding power to the AFP will ripple into state and territory police forces, because ‘they patrol airports too’, which will be the justification,” Rowlings continued, adding that when police are gifted with enhanced powers, they’re very rarely wound back.
Time to halt the erosion
The Police Powers at Airports Bill can be thrown on the pile of around 80 other pieces of legislation passed at the federal level – with bipartisan support – in the name of terrorism and national security since 9/11. And these laws have been incrementally eating away at the civil liberties of all citizens.
“There has been a constant, incessant, drip-drip-drip of new laws, which take away liberties and rights from Australians over the past 18 years,” Mr Rowlings stressed. “We are becoming a police state, federal MP Andrew Wilkie has warned, and many people agree with him.”
The long-time rights advocate explained that while the current emphasis on “ensuring press freedom is vital”, it’s also important to do something to redress the whittling away of Australians’ civil liberties through expanding the powers of “police and spooks”.
However, the Liberal Nationals government – with the nod of approval from Labor – has had a field day over recent years, establishing the metadata regime, enacting draconian espionage laws, and cracking open encrypted data for intelligence agencies to skim through.
Mr Rowlings recommends that “now that the terrorism panic has passed”, there needs to be a nationwide moratorium “on giving new powers to police and security services, until after a complete review of all new anti-terror and anti-bikie and anti-protest laws” is undertaken.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.