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Australia: Anti-Terror Laws Criticized

(May 6, 2009) AUSTRALIA – Nicholas Cowdery, the head of the New South Wales public prosecution office, has said that Australia's counter-terrorism laws are complex, expensive to apply, and not effective. His State office is the country's largest prosecution service. Cowdery referred to the lack of convictions under the terrorism legislation in calling for amending the laws. Blaming the Commonwealth (federal) Director of Public Prosecutions, not his own office, in a statement to the press he said:

If you use, as your yardstick, the public funds that have been spent on the matters that have come to light to date, against the outcomes of those matters in court, then it seems there is a case for adjusting the terms of the legislation. … And, I would suggest, to better reflect the balance between the rights of the individual and the protection of the community.

(Paul Maley, Terror Laws Not Up to the Job: Nicholas Cowdery, THE AUSTRALIAN, May 1, 2009, available at,25197,25411858-2702,00.html.)

Cowdery pointed out that the evidence used to detain terrorism suspects was often insufficient to prove their guilt. He argued that the legislation is written in such a way that “investigators are justified in pursuing matters on the basis of information that probably may not later support a conviction in court.” (Id.)

Tough laws in New South Wales and in South Australia, designed to control motorcycle gangs, which Cowdery says were modeled on the terrorism legislation, were also criticized by him as unneeded and as giving police powers out of proportion to the threat posed by the gangs. He added, “[t]hose laws really do offend against the rule of law much more obviously and much more clearly than the anti-terrorism legislation.” (Id.)

Gang members themselves, known in Australia as “bikies,” have protested the South Australia laws in a demonstration and a petition to the parliament in Adelaide. Among their concerns were provisions that ban gang members from associating with each other. The Premier of that state, Mike Rann, said that the protestors' goal was to make sure the South Australia laws are not adopted in other states, as well as to demand change locally. “They are dead out of luck. … They can protest as much as they like, but they are not going to change this government's mind. We are talking about drug dealers on wheels and we are not going to bend or break because of some sort of protest,” Rann said. (Steve Larkin, Bikie Gangs Unite in Protest in Adelaide, BRISBANE TIMES, May 1, 2009, available at