Jumping at shadows

ON LINE opinion – Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate

Posted Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Dr Mohammed Haneef was detained for questioning under Australia’s terrorism legislation following his second cousin’s being implicated in an attack on Glasgow’s Airport terminal building and failed car bomb attack in England. An old mobile phone SIM card, Dr Haneef had owned, was allegedly found in the Jeep that was used in the failed attack on Glasgow airport.

Initially I, like many others, assumed that Dr Haneef would be questioned for a maximum of 24 hours in a seven-day period and either charged with a serious offence or released. This was before Ruddock, Downer and Howard got into the act.

Alexander Downer was keen to suggest that Australia’s terrorism legislation was working because they had managed to hold Dr Haneef for questioning. Philip Ruddock kept reiterating that Dr Haneef had purchased a one- way ticket from Australia and that police had seized 30,000 pages of documents and computer files and that – amazingly – many of these documents weren’t in English. It is worth remembering that Dr Haneef was born in India. John Howard claimed the terrorism legislation was working and he stood by every word in the legislation, because he had proposed it and if it was shown not to be strong enough then the legislation would be strengthened.

If the police come to my house they will find well over 30,000 pages of documents in my study, they will find an equivalent amount in my bedroom, my lounge room is stacked with even more documents, the laundry cupboards are groaning under the weight of documents, the garage is overflowing with documents (all of which I hope to sort out one day) and then there is my computer with its overburdened hard drive. Some of these documents are in French, Spanish or Tetum.

When I returned from East Timor in late 2005 I gave my Timor Telecom SIM card to a mate in Darwin because I knew there was about $25 still left on it and that he or one of his contacts among the Northern Territory’s East Timorese community would be able to use it when they returned to East Timor. Since that time East Timor has been ravaged with internecine violence with over 100 people killed. I have no idea if my SIM card is still circulating.

Eleven days after being detained for questioning Dr Mohammed Haneef was charged with recklessly supporting a terrorism organisation. The facts of the case are that in July 2006 he gave his British Telecom SIM card to one of his relatives when he left England for Australia because it still had some phone credit on it.

What is the Australian public being asked to believe in relation to this case? That those who stacked explosives into cars in London and drove a burning car into the terminal building at Edinburgh Airport would have desisted from these acts of terrorism if Dr Mohammed Haneef had not given them his old SIM card in 2006?

Fourteen days after being detained for questioning, Dr Mohammed Haneef was granted bail on a surety of $10,000 and on condition that he reports three times a week to police and stays away from international departure points. He had already surrendered his passport.

The Crown prosecutor opposed bail arguing that bail should only be granted in terrorism cases in “exceptional circumstances”. The magistrate gave eight grounds for granting Dr Haneef bail including the fact that the prosecution had not provided evidence of a direct link between Dr Haneef and a terrorist organisation. The magistrate found that there was no evidence that the SIM card had been used in a terrorist attack. What are we left with:

  • Janet is still standing by her man;
  • John is standing by his legislation; and
  • George Bush is still trying to understand how US oil got under Iraqi sand.

Australia is dependent on overseas trained doctors, and this will continue to be so for the next decade. This is particularly so in rural towns. Many of those overseas trained doctors come from the Indian sub-continent. The police have raided several overseas trained doctors’ homes and seized files and other documents. They have taken several doctors in for questioning only to have subsequently had to release them as there was no evidence against them.

There is a growing fear, among thinking circles in Australia, that the current police raids are being driven by Islamophobia or a more diffuse racism.

Whether or not this is the case, the action of police in rounding up so many people for questioning is hardly an example of intelligently using the draconian provisions of Australia’s terrorism legislation. It may lead to foreign trained doctors avoiding Australia and does nothing to ensure that Australian citizens sleep soundly in their beds at night. It is time for our police and politicians to stop jumping at shadows.

Abuse of due process

In the afternoon following the court case in which the magistrate held that the prosecution had not provided evidence of a direct link between Dr Haneef and a terrorist organisation, the Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews announced he had, on character grounds, cancelled Dr Haneef’s visa and that Dr Haneef would be taken into immigration detention.

“In particular, a person fails the character test if – and I quote – ‘the person has or has had an association with someone else or with a group or organisation whom the Minister reasonably suspects has been involved or is involved in criminal conduct’” he said.

Minister Andrews claimed that he had come to this decision after information was supplied to him by the Australian Federal Police.

Such information was, presumably, identical with that placed before the magistrate who set Dr Haneef’s bail conditions. What is more concerning is that few if any Australian citizens would have any idea whether or not the people and organisations they have contact with are involved or have been involved in criminal conduct.

It may or may not concern Australian born citizens, who do not hold dual nationality, what Minister Andrews thinks of their character. But all permanent residents who weren’t born in Australia, could on the grounds that “the person has or has had an association with someone else or with a group or organisation whom the Minister reasonably suspects has been or is involved in criminal conduct”, could be stripped of their permanent or temporary visa and citizenship.

The Minister’s actions are an abuse of due process and natural justice. Eventually a Federal Court will put the Minister in his place but in the meantime Australia’s international reputation will suffer and Dr Haneef will languish in Villawood.