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States give cautious response to tough new measures Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2005

 

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.


"NSW remains committed to working closely with the Commonwealth and all other states and territories against the threat of terrorism," he said.

 

Mr 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.

 

The 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.

 

"I 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.

 

"There 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 Australia."

 

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."

 

John North, 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".

 

Terry 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

 
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