Terror laws 'won't be watered down' Print E-mail
Monday, 17 October 2005


PRIME Minister John Howard has said new counter-terrorism laws have not been watered down and denies his government is trying to introduce some measures by stealth.


The Law Council said yesterday the proposed laws will push Australia closer to a police state, while ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said he may not support some elements of the package.

The draft laws were leaked by Mr Stanhope on Friday.


He claimed they go much further than the measures agreed to by state and territory leaders at a Council of Australian Governments meeting last month.


Attorney-General Philip Ruddock yesterday said the bill had changed since it was posted on Mr Stanhope's website, but Mr Howard said the changes were only minor.


"What is going to be in that legislation is what I announced and the states agreed to – no more, no less," Mr Howard said.


"I announced that we were going to have preventative detention, I announced that we were going to have control orders, I announced that we would be expanding the sedition offence to include incitement of violent behaviour against the community.


"All of those things have been out in the public domain.


"Now obviously people are entitled to have a look at the final form of the legislation and they will, but this idea that we have snuck in a whole lot of attacks on civil liberties beyond what I announced is completely wrong."


Mr Howard said the changes were "drafting things, they're not areas of substance", and he accused Mr Stanhope of playing politics on the issue.


"I guess Mr Stanhope is engaging in a bit of internal Labor Party politics because some of his own people don't like any legislation in this area, let alone this legislation," he said.


The Prime Minister said he had not heard any other state or territory leader express concern about the laws.

"Not one of them has been in touch with me, not one," Mr Howard said.


"We're not trying to hold the document back, but until as a result of the process between the commonwealth and the states we agree on the final form of the legislation, there's not much point in releasing it in a bit by bit fashion." Earlier, reports said that that Federal Government's tough new anti-terror laws would be watered down following a community backlash and backbench concerns some elements are too extreme.


Mr Ruddock conceded yesterday that his backbench committee had already forced some "minor changes" and suggested there could be more.


Despite Canberra's concessions on the terror laws, Labor, the Greens and the Democrats have complained that the Government is trying to rush through the legislation, giving a parliamentary committee just one day to look at the sweeping changes.


Muslim and civil liberties groups added their voices to Green and Democrats concerns over a shoot-to-kill provision for police in cases where people attempt to escape or avoid "preventative detention".


Under the Crimes Act, a police officer can only use lethal force where the person is about to be arrested for a crime and there is a threat to the police officer or some other person.


But under the amendments circulated by the ACT, a similar provision applies to a terror suspect who attempts to evade "preventative detention".


In both cases, where "practicable", police must give the person a warning.


Law Council of Australia president John North said the difference between existing and proposed police powers was that a person had to have committed a crime. "This Government is handing the police expanded powers to shoot to kill," he said.


"It seems to be aimed at covering situations like the London Underground shooting ... there was really no need for this for people who may be just suspects and not have committed a crime."


Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network spokesman Waleed Kadous said the "devil is in the detail and there are plenty of devils in this legislation".


"Frankly, we are disappointed because while the Prime Minister said there would be lots of safeguards, there don't appear to be that many," he said.


"We are concerned police can shoot to kill without a crime being committed and that you can be held in preventative detention for 24 hours before you even see a judge."


But Mr Howard said yesterday the so-called shoot-to-kill provision merely mirrored existing police powers, and the law relating to sedition was simply being updated.


"We've had sedition laws in this country for years ... we've had laws governing the use of lethal force by police for years," he said.


"The two new concepts in this legislation are preventative detention and control orders and ... they continue to be debated in the community."


John Kerin and David King from The Australian also contributed to this report, 17 October 2005

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