Federal police will be able to fit terrorist suspects with
tracking devices for 12 months, and their state counterparts could
be allowed to hold people without charge for two weeks, under
Federal Government plans to toughen security laws.
The Government also plans to make it harder for foreigners to
get Australian citizenship and to introduce new offences of
inciting violence against community groups and Australian forces
overseas, and leaving baggage unattended at airports.
Announcing the new measures, which were met with concern from
civil liberty groups, lawyers and some Coalition MPs, the Prime
Minister, John Howard, said they were "unusual" but were necessary
"to cope with an unusual and threatening situation".
"There is nothing in these measures that can possibly be
regarded as creating a quasi-police state," he said.
Mr Howard said the planned laws, which are light on detail and
have yet to be drafted, would not have a "sunset clause" requiring
Parliament to re-enact them. They arose out of a review of
counter-terrorism laws ordered by the Prime Minister after the
London bombings in July.
At their centre is the creation of "control orders" - similar to
apprehended violence orders - on people who "pose a terrorist risk
to the community". Federal police officers would be able to ask
courts - possibly in a closed session - for an order to fit
tracking devices on suspects and to restrict their travel and who
Federal police would also be able to detain people in a
"terrorism situation" for 48 hours, demand documents and obtain
airline passenger information, and have increased powers of "stop,
question and search".
The Federal Government will ask the states at a premiers'
meeting later this month to give state police powers to detain
suspects for up to 14 days. Mr Howard said this was needed to give
police time to "prevent the destruction of evidence to prevent the
trail going cold" after a terrorist attack.
The Premier, Morris Iemma, said he would consider the proposals
before the premiers met on September 27.
The Federal Government will also ask the premiers to consider
more random baggage searches and closed circuit television at
transport hubs and places of "mass gatherings".
Existing offences for financing terrorism, providing false or
misleading information to ASIO and threatening aviation security
will be strengthened, as will ASIO's search powers. The Government
also plans to increase the waiting period for citizenship
applications from two years to three, and reserve the right to
refuse applications on security grounds.
The president of the Council for Civil Liberties, Terry
O'Gorman, said once in place, the laws would never be removed. "The
Prime Minister said today this combined package of powers will not
mean a police state," he said. "We say it very much holds the
potential for that to happen."
The Australia Defence Association questioned the Government's
refusal to use a sunset clause. The association's executive
director, Neil James, said it would make the laws more
Lex Lasry, QC, of the Victorian Criminal Bar Association,
accused the Government of frightening the public, and "having
frightened them into thinking a terrorist attack is going to happen
any day, taking away some pretty fundamental rights".
Waleed Kadous from the Muslim Civil Rights Network said the
announcement meant "a radical shift in the civil rights of all
Australians … it will push us more towards a police
Mr Howard defended the timing of his announcement. He said he
wanted to announce it before he left for New York on Sunday for the
UN 2005 World Summit, and it was "absurd" to suggest it was
designed to deflect attention from the Telstra furore.
The Opposition said it would examine the proposals when more
details were available. "Labor supports measures which will
genuinely protect Australians against the threat of terrorist
attack," said Labor's spokesman on homeland security, Arch
Cynthia Banham and Marian Wilkinson
Sydney Morning Herald, 9 September 1005