Treatment of convicted terror leader Benbrika a disgrace: ex-security watchdog

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The former watchdog for Australia’s national security laws has labelled the Commonwealth’s treatment of convicted terror cell leader Abdul Nacer Benbrika a disgrace, slamming its continued detention of the extremist ahead of his impending release from custody this week.

In his final report written before his departure as the independent national security legislation monitor, Grant Donaldson, SC, said the government had failed to explain why it had kept hidden a secret report criticising the logic of the risk assessment tool used to keep Benbrika behind bars.

A Victorian Supreme Court judge will decide Abdul Nacer Benbrika’s fate on Tuesday.

A Victorian Supreme Court judge is set to rule on Tuesday whether Benbrika will be subject to an extended supervision order upon his release into the community this month after his 15-year imprisonment was extended for three years in 2020 under a continuing detention order.

Donaldson, who has previously called on the government to abolish continuing detention orders, said in a report last week that his stance was bolstered by a 2020 report by the Australian National University’s Dr Emily Corner, who found the tool used to keep Benbrika locked up could not accurately assess the risk.

The Department of Home Affairs commissioned the report, but it was never disclosed to Benbrika’s defence team.

“What has happened in the treatment of Mr Benbrika, not only in applications for the CDO [continuing detention order] but also in his review application, is a disgrace. This disgrace reflects on many who have responsibility for administering this most important part of the Commonwealth criminal code,” Donaldson said.

“It must have been obvious to the those advising and representing the attorney-general, if not the attorney himself, that the failure to disclose the Corner report to Mr Benbrika and to the court required frank, fulsome, forthright and complete explanation to the court. This did not occur.”

Supreme Court judge Elizabeth Hollingworth said in a June hearing that the original blame over the lack of disclosure rested with the former government.

Who is Abdul Nacer Benbrika?

Following a federal police operation, Benbrika was convicted in 2009 of directing a terrorist organisation. A jury found him guilty of being the spiritual leader of a terror cell with members in Melbourne and Sydney that planned attacks on Australian soil.

Benbrika’s group discussed carrying out attacks because it wanted non-believers killed to prompt the Australian government to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. No attacks were ever carried out.

The federal opposition has criticised Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus for not trying to keep Benbrika behind bars. The government says it is not legally possible to do so.

Hollingworth said in June that psychologist Dr Chelsey Dewson had downgraded her risk assessment of Benbrika from high in 2020 to “moderate to low” in 2023.

Dreyfus said on Monday that he made the application for the three-year supervision order in February on the basis of advice from agencies such as the Australian Federal Police.

“If the Coalition thinks the government should disregard the advice of our law enforcement and security agencies, they should say so directly,” he said.

“The government is preparing for all possible outcomes, noting that the question of whether to apply for an extended supervision order is ultimately a matter for the court.”

The application was stalled due to Benbrika’s ultimately successful High Court bid to overturn a law allowing the federal government to strip him of his Australian citizenship, prompting Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil to pass new laws placing the power to do so with the courts.

However, those laws cannot be used in Benbrika’s case unless new evidence of wrongdoing emerges that would allow a fresh application to be made.

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