The debate about trading off civil liberties for greater surveillance by the state in an effort to counter-act terrorist atrocities has surfaced again in the UK. The fall-out from the London bombings has rapidly infiltrated political discourse in New Zealand.
Shrill cries for increased power for the state were a part of the debate about the Terrorism Suppression Bill a couple of years ago. Fighting a reguard action, civil libertarians, the Green Party, environmental and other activists, sought to stop the introduction of far reaching powers of surveillance.
What I am currently struggling with is finding out exactly what legislation was finally passed, and what impact this might have on me as a citizen and activist.
I do know the legislation drew the ignominy of civil libertarians. The joint winner of the Auckland Council of Civil Liberties’ Big Brother Awards in 2004, for outstanding abuse or disregard of privacy and civil liberties in New Zealand supreme award were “all the Ministers and politicians responsible for recent new “anti-terrorism” and surveillance legislation in New Zealand.”
The government’s legislation website lists the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, but it’s really a struggle for me to interpret this. It’s also important to consider the legislation as it is being implemented, whether through the courts or practice of the spy agencies.
Tim McBride has been writing on civil liberties for the best part of thirty years. The most recent edition of The New Zealand Civil Rights Handbook, edited by McBride, was published in 2001. It covers topics relevant to activists, including freedom of expression, freedom of thought and religion, and peaceful assembly. However, it predates legislative responses to terrorism.
If there is guidance and interpretation of the current legislative and judicial environment for activitists, it’s not easy to find.
Across the Tasman people face an even more draconian environment than in New Zealand Apparently, 18 separate Acts haved been passed Since 2002 as Australian state and federal governments seek to respond to heightened anxiety about terrorist activity.
At the same time as repression by the Australian state increases, so too do activists and citizens have good access about their rights.
The Activists Rights website was launched in 2004 by the Fitzroy Legal Service to provide comprehensive, accurate and accessible legal rights and activist legal information, and to assist activist organisations develop effective legal support. Practical hand-outs relating to best practice when being arrested sit alongside more theoretical discussions about the criminalisation of protest.
Developed with input from activists, progressive lawyers and others involved in providing activist legal support, the website seems is readable, and seeming comprehensive. The website links to The Complete Activist resource, a starter kit for people considering running local, regional or national campaigns on social justice issues. This website was set-up by Australia’s National Association of Community Legal Centres.
A more specific response to new terrorist laws was prepared by the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network (AMCRAN). In 2004 the Network released “Terrorism Laws: ASIO, the Police and You”, a booklet which covers general questions about anti-terrorism legislation, and details about the extended powers and functions of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The first section deals with what to do if ASIO or the AFP visit.
The existence of these resources for citizens and activists in Australia demonstrates the persistence of healthy democratic responses to legislation and practices that risk undermining fundamental freedoms of expression and protest.
It is with a sense of envy that I look at the resources available to activists and citizens in Australia. It would be good to be able to list some New Zealand focused activist resources soon.