Call for repeal of anti-terror powers

THE extraordinary detention powers that were conferred on ASIO in the wake of the September 11 attacks have not led to any prosecutions and should be repealed, a comprehensive study on their use and effect has found.

A decade after the ASIO Amendment Act was passed, the evidence demonstrates that it does not protect Australians against terrorism and does not justify the law's infringement of human rights, according to the report published in the Mel-bourne Law Review.

The law established a controversial warrants system known as the Special Powers Regime, which allowed ASIO to question and detain people who were not suspects. It is due to expire under a sunset clause that takes effect in 2016 when Parliament will decide on its future.

But researchers from University of New South Wales' Gilbert and Tobin Centre for Public Law said in their report that the case to continue the laws had not been made. Figures obtained from ASIO demonstrate that the spy agency sought and obtained 14 questioning warrants in the first two years of the act's operation, but only two since 2006.

However, there was no corresponding decline in the number of terrorism prosecutions, indicating the warrants were neither being used to enable arrests nor gather intelligence.

No detention warrant has ever been sought or issued.

"The inescapable conclusion seems to be that ASIO does not regard the special powers as particularly useful and that questioning warrants are not an essential weapon in the fight against terrorism," said the authors, Lisa Burton, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams.

"The regime makes substantial inroads into fundamental human rights."

Professor Williams said the Special Powers Regime should be repealed. "This is the quintessential 9/11 law, that in my view was not even justified at the time," he said.

This story Call for repeal of anti-terror powers first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.