In a nation where civil liberty laws are still strong, profiling a certain ethnic group, even for anti-terrorist purposes, carries severe legal penalties. Law suits can sometimes carry consequences of multi-million dollar payouts.
The unfortunate issue about anti-terrorist measures is that there will be the inevitable racial profiling. During the Malayan Emergency, Chinese were racially profiled as communist terrorists. Even though the communist insurgents were made up from all races, the Chinese predominated among the insurgents hence it was no coincidence that that ethnic group provided the main suspects.
Sometimes such police intelligence profiling were allowed to disgracefully degenerate into racial abuse - my parents suffered from remarks in public places such as "Hindu mungkin boleh dipercayai, tetapi semua China communist" (perhaps Indians may be trusted but all Chinese are communists). Racial profiling can carry such unpleasant consequences.
In the 1930s to just after WWII, the British authorities in British Palestine profiled the Jewish terrorists such as the Irgun and the Stern gang or LEHI as it was more correctly known by.
The Jews then were the nasties, murdering isolated British troops or tossing grenades into coffee shops with all the collateral damage for innocent coffee drinkers, or leaving bombs in embassies, etc.
Then there were the mad Japanese, some anarchic German groups and of course the infamous Irish terrorist groups. Even George Washington and Simon Bolivar were terrorists in the eyes of the Brits and Spaniards respectively. Malaysia is currently engaged in the debate on Chin Peng - was he a terrorist or a freedom fighter?
Today the West in particular are concerned about Islamist terrorism. So their intelligence tactics dictate that they profile principally men from the Middle East or Muslims from places like Indonesia. But the Australian government obviously doesn’t want to admit that. It has gone to extraordinary length to assure Muslim Australians that they aren’t targeted.
But the police who have to do the actual work are mindful of Australia’s anti-discrimination laws and want the federal government to indemnify them against civil lawsuits in cases as just discussed.
Mark Burgess, who represents federal, state and territory police officers aid bluntly, "Everyone's skirting around this but no one is saying it" referring to the inevitable profiling of Muslim Australians.
He continued, "If the intelligence suggested that the likely terrorist will be a young male of Middle Eastern appearance, then they are the people that will be searched.”
"In New York, there have now been a number of high-profile civil actions commenced against police for racial profiling."
"Senior cops are not going to waste valuable resources on searching 60-year-old grandmothers - your resources and valuable time are strained enough - (so) it's inevitable that it's going to happen".
But PM John Howard, mindful of the legal and political minefield he could be stepping into denied that the anti-terrorist laws being introduced were designed to target any particular group.
But the most important aspect from this debate that should be food for thoughts is that Australia can be proud of its anti-discrimination laws which have forced the issue out into the open, rather than be ashamed of its proposed anti-terrorist laws.
Debate means there is balance – yes, it may tilt the balance one way or the other but the point is that people are careful about the rule of law. When the rule of law reigns, issues will regain its position of equilibrium eventually.