Sep 5th 2021

New GetUp report reveals how Australia’s counter-terrorism laws undermine democratic freedoms

Australia has introduced 92 counter-terrorism laws since 2001, more than any comparable democracy - finds a new independent research report commissioned by GetUp from leading academics Dr Keiran Hardy, Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh and Dr Nicola McGarrity.

As we approach 20 years since 9/11, a new report - Democracy Dossier: Secrecy and Power in Australia’s National Security State - takes a forensic look at Australia’s extensive national security powers, a growing culture of government secrecy, and how these are undermining public interest journalism and whistleblowing. 

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and Senator Rex Patrick have both thrown their support behind the report and its findings.

The full report is available here 

Report co-author Dr Rebecca Ananian Welsh, TC Beirne School of Law University of Queensland, said: 

“Australia’s national security laws and their impact on press freedom have compromised our status as a leading liberal democracy.”

“Australia’s lawmaking in counter-terrorism far exceeds our Five Eyes Partners. Our laws are greater in quantity, scope, and their impact on fundamental rights.”

Report co-author Dr Keiran Hardy, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University, said: 

“The story of Australia’s national security state is one of power continually  expanding, rarely contracting.”

“We need stronger protections for journalists and whistleblowers who act in the best interests of the Australian people. We also need a shift in government culture, towards valuing transparency - not avoiding it”

Report co-author Dr Nicola McGarrity, Faculty of Law, UNSW, said: 

“As we were finalising this report, more national security laws were rushed through Parliament, giving police extraordinary powers to infiltrate computer networks and take over online accounts.”

“What we’ve seen is rushed, politicised lawmaking. The laws are often framed as emergency responses, but once they are enacted, we should assume they are here to stay.”

Independent Member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie said:

“The vast majority of federal security legislation enacted since 2001 has been an entirely unnecessary and excessive extension of the power of the state.

“Probably the single worst so-called reform remains the mandatory metadata legislation which is the stuff of a police state. No wonder one of the most viewed speeches I have given in my 11 years of Parliament was when I explained how Australia, looked at in its entirety, is now in a pre-police state.

“Mind you this isn’t just about what legislation has been enacted, but also what has been avoided and to that end the deficiency in whistle-blower legislation, and absence of media freedom laws, are just as much a part of the problem.”

Independent Senator Rex Patrick said:

“You can’t destroy democracy while saying you are there to save it. With each tranche of national security legislation, civil liberties and freedom are eroded, privacy is infringed and democratic accountability is diminished. 

“National security agencies have been granted ever greater powers, but the mechanisms of scrutiny and accountability have been given little priority.

“More broadly, the integrity of government has declined and proposals for reform including establishment of a national independent anti-corruption commission have languished. Australia is at a turning point in our governance, and choices made now will determine the health or otherwise of our democracy for decades to come.” 

GetUp’s Democracy Campaign Director Chandi Bates said:

“A culture of secrecy is permeating and ”national security” is being used as the smokescreen to mount secret trials against whistleblowers, silence journalists and pass sweeping surveillance powers. 

“Our democracy depends on free and fearless journalism – to keep people informed, keep power in check, and hold governments to account. It must be protected.”