Anti-terror regime toughened Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 September 2005


AUSTRALIA is to follow Britain and the US in cracking down on terrorism, with Prime Minister John Howard unveiling the toughest anti-terror regime in the nation's history.


Proposals for more security cameras, tougher jail terms for inciting violence, fines for leaving bags unattended at airports, and greater powers for federal police and spy agency ASIO, will be put to State and Territory leaders at a summit later this month.


Under the proposals, terror suspects could be electronically tagged for a year or held without charge for up to two weeks, while police and spy agencies would be given more scope to investigate threats.


Days out from the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in the US, and two months after 56 people died in the London bombings, Mr Howard outlined his plan to fortify Australia.


The Prime Minister said the changes were needed to protect Australians' way of life.


"I think they are overwhelmingly essential, but they on their own cannot guarantee this country will not be the subject of a terrorist attack," Mr Howard said.


"I do however believe that they (are)...necessary weapons to strengthen the defence of our way of life and our right as individual citizens to be free as far as possible from terrorist intimidation and terrorist attack."


Mr Howard announced the changes 90 minutes after they were approved by a hastily arranged meeting of backbenchers.


He denied the proposals had been approved to divert attention from the Government's problems with the Telstra sale.


"That is a ridiculous proposition," Mr Howard said.


Civil libertarians meanwhile warned Australia was heading down the path towards becoming a police state.

"These are the sort of measures you see in regimes like apartheid South Africa, and are not the sort of things you should see in a free and democratic nation," Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Cameron Murphy said.


Mr Murphy said a person who left a bag at an airport should be given a warning, not fined, and only persistent offenders should be prosecuted.


Under the proposals, more groups were expected to be banned for their terrorism links, and tougher criminal background checks would apply to new citizenship applicants, who would face a three-year wait for approval instead of the current two-year period.


Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network convener Waleed Kadous said the laws would be open to abuse, particularly against Muslims.


"The laws are very open to abuse and the police don't have a great record on freedom from corruption in Australia," he said.


"I think that it will be used against the Muslim community, and I'm concerned it will affect the free speech of all Australians on such issues such as Iraq."


Mr Howard said the Government did not propose to put sunset clauses on any of the powers.


Attorney-General Philip Ruddock meanwhile said new control orders against terror suspects would work in a similar way to apprehended violence orders, but with stricter conditions, including tracking devices and travel limits on suspects.


Anti-terror law expert Patrick Emerton said the comparison with domestic violence orders was misleading.

"(Domestic violence orders) are about interpersonal disputes," he said.


"What the Government is proposing here is for it to pick out certain individuals it deems to be a risk, and to restrict their liberty or even lock them up.


The states will be asked to legislate to allow suspects to be detained without charge for up to 14 days.


Random bag searches would also be permitted, and a national closed-circuit television (CCTV) system would be put in place to monitor public transport hubs.


ASIO powers to record people's movements and conversations would be extended, while warrants allowing ASIO to access and seize property would be expanded.


Opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Nicola Roxon said Labor had yet to see the detail of the changes but would support any that were in the national interest.


Paul  Osborne and Maria Hawthorne, 8 September 2005

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