Track and tag - the new war on terrorism Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2005


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 they met.


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 palatable.


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 state".

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 Bevis.


Cynthia Banham and Marian Wilkinson

Sydney  Morning Herald, 9 September 1005

Copyright © 2002 - 2023 AMCRAN. All Rights Reserved.
PO Box 3610 Bankstown NSW 2200 Phone: (02) 9708 0009 Fax: (02) 9708 0008
Joomla Templates by JoomlaShack Joomla Templates