Who is Andrews arguing with?

Wednesday, 1 August 2007 

Unless ‘aunty’ turns out to be an Al Qaeda operative, rather than his cousin’s mum, the released ‘chat room’ conversations are hardly very damning, but that is not really the point. The details will have little impact in the electorate that has generally accepted Howard’s ‘better safe than sorry’ message.

Andrews’ announcement is more aimed at his critics in the legal profession and their supporters in the media and the minor parties. The core of the problem comes down to the conflict between the Minister and the Brisbane Magistrate who reviewed Haneef’s bail. Despite the 2004 Anti-Terrorism Bill making clear that bail was to be denied unless ‘under exceptional circumstances’, the Magistrate decided that the lack of evidence linking Haneef with the arrested UK terrorists was ‘exceptional’ enough to grant bail.

The granting of bail had a minimal practical impact on the investigation because, as Andrews admitted on Lateline last night, there was no ‘flight risk’ as the AFP had already taken Haneef’s passport (by the way, this view on flight risk contradicted that argued by the Commonwealth Prosecutor at the time). The Magistrate reinforced this by adding in the bail conditions constant police surveillance and a ban on being near international exit points.

The problem with the Magistrate’s ruling was a political one, because it added to the impression that Haneef was being held on no evidence and undermined the credibility of the government’s use of the anti-terror laws. That was why the Minister was compelled to intervene with a political response, blocking the visa of someone who didn’t have a passport anyway. While having no practical impact, it was Andrews’ challenge to the authority of the courts that has caused the outcry.

This is the first time the government has used such sweeping powers, which rely on trust over government motives. But it is doing so at a time when its authority is melting away in key influential circles that are necessary to enact those laws. Andrews’ actions are likely to do little to restore the government’s authority with the legal profession . Next time the UK requests help from a foreign government to detain terrorist suspects, it will think twice before asking one that is clearly losing its grip.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 1 August 2007.

Filed under The Australian state

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