The NSW government has already introduced a range of laws removing basic democratic rights and safeguards, claiming those laws are necessary to fight against terrorism and outlaw motorcycle groups.
Now, it wants to give police even greater control over members of the public, especially those with an opinion.
Public Safety Orders
The government is proposing new laws which would empower senior police officers – without permission from a court – to issue “public safety orders” banning individuals who police claim are a “risk to public safety” from attending specified public places for 72 hours.
Police cannot presently do this without a court order.
Serious Crime Prevention Orders
Additional laws are proposed which would allow police to apply to the Supreme or District Court for a “serious crime prevention order” that could carry a range of onerous conditions, including:
- prohibiting a person from engaging in specified activities,
- regulating who they can associate with,
- limiting their business dealings, and
- preventing them from using certain technologies, including those which area part of modern life such as computers and mobile telephones.
In order to get such orders, police would only need to show to the court – through documents prepared by themselves – that an individual is suspected of engaging in crime-related activity; a very low test. The orders could last up to five years.
There are concerns that police will use these new powers to target individuals who don’t ‘tow the government line’; such as leaders of protest groups and other outspoken individuals – preventing them from attending demonstrations and rallies.
Many see the proposals as another stage in the government’s systematic removal of civil rights, suppression of dissent and protection of big business – especially mining companies.
Police as Judge, Jury and Executioner
The proposed “public safety orders” would remove judicial oversight – effectively empowering police to pick and choose who they don’t want attending events to express their views; without any oversight from the courts.
The more onerous “serious crime prevention orders” would leave courts in a position where they are making decisions based upon one-sided material – generally in the form of police affidavits.
The laws are concerning because they give police enormous power to target and suppress individuals with no evidence (in the case of public safety orders) or minimal, biased and unsubstantiated evidence (in the case of “serious crime prevention orders”).
The removal of basic liberties and safeguards is a concerning trend across Australia; one which is occurring silently under our noses, supported by both major parties and with little public dissent.
Government’s View on Basic Freedoms
NSW Deputy Premier and Justice Minister Troy Grant has made it abundantly clear that he is unconcerned with our democratic freedoms: “My concern is in relation to the public safety, and not in relation to the sensibility of civil libertarians,” Mr Grant said. “[This is a] significant step forward”.
Grant claims the current system of judicial oversight is “lengthy and expensive”, and that the new laws will allow police to act quickly. However, police can already apply to the Supreme Court for urgent interim control orders which can regulate the movements of certain individuals. Police powers of arrest have been greatly increased in recent times and there are also a range of new laws against protesters; all of which are available to ‘control’ members of the public.
Perhaps of greater concern is Grant’s willingness to brush aside legal safeguards which help protect individuals against the arbitrary use of state power by police and other law enforcement agencies.
Grant’s rhetoric is a frightening reminder of our government’s position when it comes to individual freedoms versus state control.