'Testing time' for PM over human rights

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces a test in trying to move beyond the Abbott era rhetoric on terrorism, a leading human rights group said today.

Liberty Victoria says Mr Turnbull has been confronted by an outburst by his Chief Whip, Andrew Nikolic, who claims the threat of terrorism is so serious that the traditional debate between civil liberties and the protection of society is "redundant".

Liberty President George Georgiou SC said, "Most Australians would believe wild talk of a 'new security order' was gone with the change of leadership."
Mr Georgiou said Mr Nikolic should consider what his party's founder, Robert Menzies, said four days after declaring war on Germany in 1939: "Whatever may be the extent of the power that may be taken to govern, to direct and control by regulation, there must be as little interference with individual rights as is consistent with concerted national effort…"

Menzies added "…the greatest tragedy that could overcome a country would be for it to fight a successful war in defence of liberty and to lose its own liberty in the process."

Mr Georgiou said the debate between civil liberties and protection of society should never be redundant. 

"The rights and freedoms which we all enjoy and often take for granted are not, as  Mr Nikolic implies, a 'luxury'. Without them, we would not have the 'open society' for which he is 'thankful'. 

"It should be possible, in our democracy, for there to be open and intelligent debate about the need for laws to counter the threat of terrorism without descending to the type of language and ridicule he adopts, with the use of terms such as 'undergraduate' and 'impractical nonsense'."

Mr Georgiou said Mr Nikolic’s claim that defending human rights flew in the face of protecting these rights and keeping Australians safe was, at the very least, inconsistent with the approach of his party’s founder.