COAG meeting on counter-terrorism was more about politics than practice



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The key messages from Thursday’s COAG meeting were about co-operation and a nationally consistent approach to counter-terrorism.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

Given the persistent and serious threat of terrorism, national discussions about the direction of Australia’s counter-terrorism strategy should be encouraged.

However, such discussions require robust follow-up – not merely announcements about “getting tough” on terrorism – if they are to improve responses to terrorism in practice.

As might be expected, the key messages from Thursday’s special Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting were about co-operation and a nationally consistent approach to counter-terrorism. The COAG discussion also focused on facial recognition software, pre-charge detention, and new criminal offences for terrorism.


Further reading: Leaders agree to hand over driver licence data as part of COAG counter-terror package


‘Interoperability’

Interoperability means different government agencies should co-operate effectively, and be willing to share information openly and efficiently. It’s a political buzzword that’s difficult to say and even harder to achieve in practice.

In the case of a terrorist attack, this means police and security agencies need to share intelligence, evidence and administrative data in real time, as events unfold. The coronial inquest into the Sydney siege revealed the operational problems created when police and security agencies fail to share information on an offender quickly and openly.

The benefits of improving information-sharing may be obvious, but the success of any changes to law or policy will depend heavily on buy-in from the agencies.

Complex privacy law requirements can make agencies reluctant to share personal information about an offender. This is exacerbated if they remain culturally resistant to sharing their information.

Facial recognition

COAG revealed there will be greater sharing of biometric data and facial recognition technology across state boundaries.

Agencies in all jurisdictions will have access to facial recognition software that can match CCTV footage with passports and other identity documents.

The full capability of this technology is not yet clear. However, it is already raising concerns about increased scrutiny of Australian travellers and the possibility of criminals hacking biometric databases.

Pre-charge detention

Pre-charge detention is the amount of time police can detain a person following their arrest and before they must be charged and brought before a court. During that time, the arrested person may be questioned and the police may collect additional evidence.

Currently, the maximum limit of pre-charge detention for terrorism offences differs across Australia. Under federal law, the maximum is eight days (including so-called “dead time”, which can be excluded for administrative purposes). In New South Wales, it’s 14 days, while in other states it’s seven days or less.

The federal government is proposing to raise the limit in all jurisdictions to 14 days.

Consistency in pre-charge detention for terrorism is welcome. There is no reason why NSW Police should be able to detain a terrorist offender for more than twice as long as police in other states. However, the government has not made a strong case to justify why the longest period of pre-charge detention should be applied across the board.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered the recent Sydney terror raids as an example of why the changes are needed. That case involved a more rushed police investigation following a tip-off from an overseas intelligence service, as well as complex physical evidence including explosives and chemicals.

Even in that complex case, it seems that nothing close to a 14-day limit was required. One man was released without charge after three days; two more were charged with terrorism offences within five days, and the fourth man was charged with a non-terrorism offence after eight days.

The appropriate upper limit on pre-charge detention is unclear, but the risks of lengthy pre-charge detention are evident. In 2007, Mohamed Haneef was detained for 12 days for an alleged connection to an attempted attack on Glasgow International Airport. He was released without charge and later received an undisclosed sum as compensation for the bungled investigation.

In response to the Haneef affair, the Rudd government placed a seven-day limit on the amount of dead time that could be claimed by police. This was done to prevent these kinds of mishaps from happening again.

New offences

Two new criminal offences have also been proposed: one for possessing terrorist instructional materials, and another to strengthen offences for “hoax” attacks.

It is not clear why an offence for possessing instructional materials is needed, as multiple similar offences have existed since 2002. Under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, it is a serious offence to collect or make documents likely to facilitate terrorism, to possess any “thing” connected with preparation for terrorism, or to train with a terrorist organisation.

Following the post-9/11 anthrax scares in the US, offences for “hoax” terror attacks were also introduced in Australia. These laws make it an offence to phone in a fake bomb threat or post a substance through the mail, where doing so would induce a false belief of terrorism.

And, by virtue of Australia’s broad statutory definition of terrorism, all terrorism offences apply to the “threat” of an attack.

The ConversationThese proposed changes have more to do with “getting tough” on terrorism than with filling gaps in the criminal law. After seeing Turnbull flanked by special forces soldiers and now tactical response police, one wonders whom he will pose with next.

Keiran Hardy, Lecturer, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Member, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Partial exclusion for Lee Rhiannon after marathon special Greens meeting


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The federal parliamentary Greens are taking on the power of the party’s hard left NSW branch.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Greens have imposed a partial exclusion from their partyroom on radical New South Wales senator Lee Rhiannon, after her behaviour over the schools legislation.

Her colleagues were angry that she authorised a leaflet urging people to lobby senators to vote against the bill, on which the Greens were negotiating with the government. The nine other Green MPs wrote to the party’s national council about her conduct.

While the letter cited the leaflet, the concern about Rhiannon went further. Party sources said they had not been informed that she had been bound by the party’s NSW branch to oppose the legislation. Eventually all Green senators voted against the bill, after the government did a deal with ten other crossbenchers.

The issues with Rhiannon involved trust in her and the ability of the hardline NSW branch to bind MPs – a power it is accorded under the party’s federal constitution.

At a marathon meeting of more than four hours in Melbourne on Wednesday, it was decided that the structural problem needed to be resolved.

The partyroom asked the national council to work with Greens NSW “to end the practice of NSW MPs being bound to vote against the decision of the Australian Greens partyroom”.

This was supported by all MPs except Rhiannon.

The partyroom also passed a motion “that NSW senators be excluded from partyroom discussions and decisions on contentious government legislation, including within their portfolio responsibilities, until these issues are resolved”. At present Rhiannon is the only NSW senator.

Rhiannon and Adam Bandt, the Greens’ only lower house member, voted against the motion.

In a statement after the meeting, acting whip Nick McKim said: “To function as a national partyroom, and to be a genuine alternative to politics as usual, we need to have faith and trust in our processes.”

The ConversationThere is some uncertainty about how a battle with the NSW branch – controlled by the “watermelon” faction, a description reflecting its hard left position – will play out. Some in the party fear the situation could be inflamed, while others will welcome the branch being finally taken on.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 17 July 2013


The asylum seeker controversy in Australia is deepening, with four more deaths after another tragedy at sea last night. There is yet another boat in distress right now as well. Compassion would seem to be much in need from where I sit, yet most Australians seem to have very little when it comes to the plight of refugees and/or asylum seekers.

Still, an election can’t be too far away as the various parties begin the usual pledges to spend money on this and that – certainly infrastructure needs are great in this country.

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd has held a community cabinet meeting overnight.

Algeria: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Algeria, where Christians are seeking to have their meeting places returned to them.

For more visit:
http://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2013/06/2583073/

Syria: Plans to Arm Rebels Meeting Resistance


The link below is to an article reporting on the latest developments in the plan to arm Syria’s rebels.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/15/plan-arm-syrian-rebels-eu

Kenya: Latest Persecution News


The following article reports on the grenade attack on a Christian meeting near Mombasa in Kenya.

http://www.mnnonline.org/article/17027

Latest Persecution News – 4 April 2012


Explosion at Christian Meeting in Kenya Kills Boy, Woman

The following article reports on the grenade attack on a Christian meeting near Mombasa in Kenya. It is thought that Islamic extremists linked to al Shabaab group carried out the attack.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/kenya/article_1493985.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an
indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.

Latest Persecution News – 11 March 2012


Church Head in Unprecedented Meeting with Turkish MPs

The following article reports on the meeting of the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey with members of the Turkish government over the future of Christianity in that country.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/turkey/article_1420539.html

 

Pakistani Muslims Employ ‘Blasphemy’ Threat in Land Grab

The following article reports on the threat of blackmail by Muslims in a dispute with Christians in the Punjab, Pakistan.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/pakistan/article_1420922.html

 

Indictment of ‘Masterminds’ of Murders in Turkey Expected

The following article reports on the continuing criminal investigation and trial associated with the murder of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske in 2007.

http://www.compassdirect.org/english/country/turkey/article_1421958.html

 

The articles linked to above are by Compass Direct News and  relate to persecution of Christians around the world. Please keep in mind that the definition of ‘Christian’ used by Compass Direct News is inclusive of some that would not be included in a definition of Christian that I would use or would be used by other Reformed Christians. The articles do however present an indication of persecution being faced by Christians around the world.

USA: New York City – Church School Ban


The following link is to an article concerning the banning of church congregations using school buildings for meeting places, even when the buildings are not being used and when the church meeting there has been paying rent for using the building. Leaders of some of these churches have been arrested following protests over the move.

For more, read:
http://online.worldmag.com/2012/01/12/new-york-pastors-and-lay-people-arrested-for-praying-in-protest/

Hindu Extremists in India Beat Pastor Unconscious


Evangelist was traveling with sons from one village to another.

NEW DELHI, April 22 (CDN) — Hindu extremists beat a pastor and evangelist unconscious in front of his sons earlier this month in Madhya Pradesh state.

Ramesh Devda, 30, from Dhadhniya, Meghnagar district, said he was attacked on April 4 at about 11 a.m. after leading a prayer meeting in Chikklia village. He said he was on his way to Bhajidongra, at the border of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat states, by motorcycle with his two sons, 10-year-old Elias, and 8-year-old Shimon, to lead another prayer meeting.

When he reached Raseda village, he said, suddenly three people on two motorcycles blocked his way and forced him to stop.

“Suddenly out of nowhere these three men appeared in two motorcycles – they blocked me and tilted my motorcycle,” Pastor Devda told Compass. “We fell down. They were carrying big bamboo sticks and clubs. They started beating me, and then they called and three more men came and started to attack me.”

He said he was thankful that his sons were spared from beating, though his older son sustained a leg injury in the course of the attack.

“They were angry at me and were threatening to kill me and were warning me not to come to their area again,” he said. “My sons were screaming at the top of their voices, and they were afraid. One of the men hit me on my forehead with a big bamboo stick, cracking my skull. The others were also beating me on my body, especially my back with bamboo sticks.”

A blow to the forehead temporarily blinded him, he said.

“My eyes were darkened, and I fell down, and they proceeded to beat me even more,” he said. “The men were also abusive in the foulest language that I had heard, and they were drunk.”

People passing by heard the two boys crying out and came to help, and the attackers fled, he said, leaving the unconscious pastor and his sons.

“I do not know who helped me, as I was unconscious,” Pastor Devda said. “But I came to know later that local Christians also came in and called the emergency helpline. As a result, an ambulance came, which then took me to the hospital.”

He was taken to Anita Surgical Hospital on Station Road in Dahod, Gujarat. There a physician identified only as Dr. Bharpoda told him that he had fractured his skull.

“I am being treated for my wounds now, but there is still a lot of pain,” Pastor Devda said.

A Christian for 15 years, Pastor Devda has been in Christian leadership for 11 years and now serves with the Christian Reformed Fellowship of India. He has two other children, Ashish and 4-year-old Sakina, and his wife Lalita, 28, is active with him in Christian service.

Pastor Devda leads congregations in Chikklia, Bhajidongra and Dhadhniya villages.

“I have heard that I was attacked because the people of Chikklia did not like me conducting the Sunday service there,” he said. “The people who beat me up do belong to a Hindu fundamentalist outfit, and some believers in Chikklia know them. I can recognize them if I see them again.”

He said, however, that he does not want to file a First Information Report (FIR) with police.

“There is no one supporting me or standing with me in my village or my mission, and I am myself fearful, as I have to continue to minister to these very people,” Pastor Devda said. “I know my attack was pre-planned, but I do not want to report it to the police.”

A Christian co-worker from Rajasthan was also attacked about a month ago in equally brutal fashion, he said, but also refrained from filing an FIR because of fear of repercussions.

Vijayesh Lal, secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission, said the tribal belt that extends to the border areas of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan, has been a hot spot for anti-Christian activity since the late 1990s.

“Only recently a 65-year-old evangelist was beaten and stripped by Hindu extremists,” he said. “It is a worrisome trend, and one that should be dealt with not only by the government but by the secular media and civil society in general.”

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org