Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on Monday changes to the “call out” powers which will empower the military to join local police in confronting terror threats and grant special forces the ability to shoot-to-kill.
The move comes as the Federal Government considers the formation of a new “super-ministry”, possibly headed by Border Security Minister Peter Dutton, to oversee national security.
Australian barrister and spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance Greg Barns likened the new military powers legislation to “martial law”, when military control is imposed over civilian government during war.
“Martial law from Malcolm Turnbull who last week said the Liberal Party stood for freedom,” he tweeted.
Former Department of Defence secretary Paul Barrett also took to social media to warn Australians of his concerns over what he interpreted as “very dangerous legislation”.
Barns told The New Daily the potential for martial law being imposed in Australia and human rights abuses should not be ignored.
“Using the military in civilian society sets a very dangerous precedent. The prospect of military personnel on streets corners is something every Australian should be concerned about,” he said.
“If there’s a suggested heightened terror threat in, say, a particular part of Melbourne or Sydney, what’s stopping the government ordering in a large military presence on our streets and suspending the rule of law?”
He said that since the September 11 attacks in the United States, Australia had introduced more than 70 pieces of anti-terror legislation, laws he claims “increasingly risk eroding democracy”.
“Similar laws in France and the UK have allowed the military to harass individuals, shut down peaceful protests and perform house arrests without a warrant, all in the name of fighting terror.”
Amnesty International has reported that the military response in France, following the horrific Paris attacks in November 2015, later led to “unnecessary or excessive force” against individuals who did not appear to threaten public order.
“It’s also the right climate for this kind of change, in that the community is easily frightened and fearful of terrorism,” Barns said.
“Military should only be brought in as a last resort. They operate in accordance with a chain of command hierarchy, distinct from the natural rule of law.
“Australia does not need legislation like this. But if it’s there, it will need to be drawn extremely narrowly so you don’t see the sort of abuse as we’ve seen in France.”
However, Professor Greg Barton, one of Australia’s most prominent counter-terrorism researchers, told The New Daily he did not share the same fears, claiming military intervention would be a “rare” occurrence.
But minimising any possible risks is crucial, he said.
“During the November 2013 Paris attacks, there was a degree of paralysis in the response,” Barton said.
“These law changes would improve co-operation between police and military, and would see joint training and cross-postings.
“Bursting into a room of hostages is not something that typically comes up in everyday policing and clearly that transference of knowledge would be a great benefit.”
It is understood federal cabinet will discuss the overhaul of national security co-ordination on Tuesday following a review of the intelligence community.
Turnbull said the law changes would “ensure that every resource we have – legislative, military, police, intelligence, security – is always at the highest standard and able to be brought to bear to keep Australians safe”.
The Labor Party is expected to support the new measures, but has requested a detailed briefing.
This article was first published at The New Daily.
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