Learning from Haneef

5 Feb 2009

ON 22 September last year, in a sunny room in the Sydney Convention Centre overlooking Darling Harbour, the official inquiry into what has become known as the Haneef Affair held its only major public proceeding. This “community forum” owed its existence to a commitment given by the attorney-general, Robert McClelland, when he announced the inquiry. Exactly what purpose he had in mind for the forum was not terribly clear; nor was it evident how the proceedings might complement the inquiry’s investigation of the circumstances surrounding the protracted detention and bungled charging of Mohamed Haneef. In his final report, however, the head of the inquiry, the Hon John Clarke QC, stated that the forum enabled the airing of “arguments about the strengths and weaknesses of aspects of Australia’s counter-terrorism laws.” But the forum unintentionally highlighted the false dichotomy which plagued the development - and, in Haneef’s case, the operation - of Australian counter-terrorism law and policy. The inquiry chose to bestow on the event the catchy but simplistic title of “Too Safe or Too Sorry?” It is hard to imagine a more loaded premise from which to commence a debate about anti-terrorism laws. As everyone knows, it is always better to be safe than sorry ... 

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