State governments have responded cautiously to the Federal
Government's proposals for tougher counter-terrorism measures, which
have drawn fire from lawyers and civil libertarians and been questioned
by a former national security chief.
The Premier, Morris
Iemma, said he would "consider" the proposals ahead of the Council of
Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, giving no hint on whether the
State Government would support or oppose them.
remains committed to working closely with the Commonwealth and all
other states and territories against the threat of terrorism," he said.
Iemma said he would assess the proposals to be put to the September 27
COAG meeting, declaring NSW had "tougher anti-terror powers than any
other state or territory", including police stop and search powers when
a terrorist attack was likely, tougher penalties for the possession of
weapons or explosives and higher security facilities for prison inmates
on terror-related offences.
The State Government is also drawing up a plan to introduce tougher powers for police to search bags.
Federal Labor would support measures which genuinely protected against
terrorism and would examine the proposals closely, its spokesman on
homeland security, Arch Bevis, said.
The Victorian Government also responded cautiously, stating that it had not yet discussed the Prime Minister's proposals.
A former head of a federal counter-terrorism agency, Alan Behm, questioned whether the measures were warranted.
proposals overall contained "a couple of sensible developments and a
few that really do require very close scrutiny before any parliament
should agree to them", said Mr Behm, who headed the security division
of the federal Attorney-General's Department in the early 1990s.
am not sure whether the nature of the terrorist threat to Australia
warrants changes to the law which impact directly on our longstanding
respect for the writ of habeas corpus," he said.
is a threat but I am not sure that at this point the threat is so great
to warrant changes to the law that constrain personal freedoms in
Legal experts also said the proposed counter-terrorism measures had serious implications for civil liberties.
Lex Lasry, SC, of the Victorian Criminal Bar Association, said the plan
"is in part really frightening the community and having frightened them
into thinking a terrorist attack is going to happen any day, are taking
away some pretty fundamental rights". Bob Toner, secretary of the NSW
Bar Association, said: "This is a macabre rush to see who can come up
with the most draconian legislation."
president of the Australian Law Council, wanted the Government to
consult widely over the changes "because they may not make Australians
safer and they may seriously curtail our hard fought for freedoms".
O'Gorman, president of the Council for Civil Liberties, said: "Once
these proposals are in place they will never be removed. The war on
terror is endless. The Prime Minister said today this combined package
of powers will not mean a police state. We say it very much holds the
potential for that to happen."
Waleed Kadous of the Muslim Civil Rights Network said: "This is a radical shift in the civil rights of all Australians."
Mark Metherell, Marian Wilkinson, Andrew Clennell and Tom Allard
Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September 2005