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Anti-terror laws passed

The Age/ Australia
December 6, 2005 - 8:19PM

Key points

  • Control orders to monitor terrorism suspects.
  • Preventative detention of suspects without charge for up to 14 days.
  • 16- to 18-year-olds suspected of terrorism can be subject to control and detention orders.
  • Seven-year jail terms for urging violence against the government or sections of the community.
  • Tougher police stop, search and seizure powers.
  • Police and ASIO powers to examine passenger and business information.
  • Broader use of surveillance cameras at transport hubs.
  • Ombudsman to oversee police use of new powers.
  • Parliament to receive reports on police powers.
  • Ten-year expiry date and five-year review of laws.
  • Law Reform Commission to review sedition laws in 2006.

Parliament today handed the federal government sweeping new powers to crack down on home-grown terrorists after months of heated debate over civil liberties.

The Australian Greens, the Democrats and the Law Council today accused Labor of selling out civil rights by supporting the bill, which will give unprecedented powers to police and spy agencies.

But Labor joined criticism of a government move to gag debate on the bill, spending only three and a half hours examining more than 100 amendments - most of which were forced on the government in a backbench revolt.

Prime Minister John Howard, who secured support for the powers from the Labor premiers in September, told a coalition party room meeting it was "complete nonsense" that the government was acting with undue haste.

"When the public realise that the sky has not fallen in and the legislation is in fact in the nation's interest, that we will be vindicated for the positions that we have held strongly and delivered on," a party room spokesman quoted Mr Howard as saying.

The laws allow for the first time terror suspects to be detained without charge for up to 14 days as well as controls on their movement and communication for up to 12 months.

They also update sedition laws, give police tougher stop, search and seizure powers and allow greater use of security cameras.

Government amendments included giving more time for businesses to respond to anti-terror financing checks, enabling courts to consider a summary of grounds when deciding whether to issue the interim control order and greater access to lawyers for those facing preventative detention.

The Commonwealth ombudsman would be given more power to oversee detention, detainees would have greater access to relatives and police would need to satisfy a greater number of grounds to impose limits on who a suspect could contact.

Changes to sedition laws would protect the publication of news reports or commentaries about matters of public interest.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison told the Senate the laws would give authorities the necessary tools to tackle terrorism, while being consistent with international human rights obligations.

Opposition justice spokesman Joe Ludwig said the latest draft of the bill had been greatly improved since the first "extreme" draft was leaked by ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope.

But Labor failed to secure support for three monthly reporting to parliament on the use of the new powers and more protections for freedom of speech built into the sedition section.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown compared the laws to the 1950s crackdown on communism in the United States.

"We are in a new period of McCarthyism and we need to know that, and understand it, and worry that this time it won't be turned around, that citizens, using a law like this, will be brought before courts for political reasons, not security reasons," he told parliament.

Australian Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, who sought a three-year expiry date for the laws, said it was the government that was acting seditiously.

"Indeed I suggest the process that has been put forward by government, gagging debate, truncating debate, circulating amendments at the last moment, explanatory memoranda that do or don't turn up depending on what bill you're referring to ... this process in itself is positively seditious," she said.

The Australian Law Reform Commission will review the sedition provisions next year.

Law Council of Australia president John North, who has been a prominent critic of the laws, today pledged the nation's lawyers would ensure that the laws were not misused or abused.

"We want governments to know that almost 50,000 lawyers will be watching closely to make sure the new laws are not implemented at the expense of our civil liberties," Mr North said.

He said unlike Labor, the council had "put up a decent fight" to overturn the bill.


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