Australia Terror Laws Under Scrutiny

July 19, 2007

Author: Nick Bryant

Source: BBC News

Queensland's Gold Coast has twice this year been the unlikely setting for stories that have reverberated around the globe.

The first came in late February, when Dr Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, suggested to a Gold Coast business summit that the American economy might be "moving into a recession" - four words that wiped 416 points off the Dow Jones index.

The second featured the more diminutive figure of Dr Mohammed Haneef, the 27-year-old Indian doctor charged in connection with the failed UK bomb attacks.

After arriving in Australia last September, he worked at the Gold Coast Hospital and lived in an apartment complex nearby, complete with palm trees and a pool.

Just as Dr Greenspan's comments focused global attention on the resilience of the US economy, Dr Haneef's arrest, questioning, charge and now immigration detention have put Australia's new terror laws under close international and domestic scrutiny.

The announcement on Monday from Australia's immigration minister, Kevin Andrews - that Dr Haneef would remain in detention despite being granted bail by a magistrate in Brisbane - fuelled an already fiery debate.

Angry that magistrate Jacqui Payne did not attach the same seriousness to the charge of providing resources to a terrorist organisation as the Australian Federal Police do, Mr Andrews announced that Dr Haneef had failed the "character test" laid down under immigration laws, and would continue to be held behind bars, whether he posted bail or not.

The move was viewed by civil liberties and legal groups not only as a threat to the independence of the courts, but as highly prejudicial to Dr Haneef's future trial.