6:01p.m. 22nd July 2009
By Max Blenkin
Australia needs proper resourcing of national security agencies to deal with terrorism, not more invasive laws, the coalition says.
Shadow attorney general George Brandis said the coalition would carefully examine proposed government changes to anti-terrorism laws and would back changes where existing laws were shown to be inadequate.
But he said the Howard government comprehensively reviewed and significantly extended anti-terrorism laws in 2004.
"Despite criticism from the legal profession and the civil liberties lobby that those laws were too invasive, we believed we had struck the right balance between protection of the public and respect for individual rights and liberties," he said in a statement.
"The most urgent need in counter-terrorism is proper resourcing of the national security agencies, not more invasive laws."
Senator Brandis said Labor would not have slashed money from the Australian Federal Police counter-terrorism and intelligence programs if it was as serious as it claimed to be about counter-terrorism.
Nor would it have reduced the staffing levels of the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, he said.
In a speech on Tuesday, Attorney General Robert McClelland foreshadowed the release of a discussion paper on proposed reforms to anti-terrorism laws.
The laws were introduced by the former coalition government following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US and have been criticised by human rights lawyers and others for being draconian.
The laws include provisions for apprehending suspects before they commit any actual terrorist act, preventive detention and extended police questioning.
Mr McClelland said a range of reforms would be put forward for consultation, including seeking public comment on a new offence related to inciting violence against an individual on the basis of race, religion or nationality.
"Notably, this would expand the opportunity for prosecuting those who attempt to induce others, including vulnerable youths, to commit acts of politically motivated violence and will supplement the existing Commonwealth offence of inciting violence against a group," he said.
Greens leader Bob Brown said the Greens would consider any proposed changes to the laws.
He said racial vilification was very nasty and had no place in a modern, open society like Australia but any changes to laws would be difficult to enforce.
It was important not to trample on the rights of people to express their views, he said.
Liberal senator Russell Trood said there was so far no sign of Labor's promised counter-terrorism white paper.
Senator Trood said last week's bomb attacks in Jakarta were a painful and alarming reminder that terrorism remained central to Australia's national interest.
He said those attacks underscored the pressing need for release of the white paper to reassure Australians that the government was focused on protecting citizens at home and abroad.
"Judging by the absurdly long delay ... it seems that Kevin Rudd would have us believe that the threat of terrorism is contained and under control," he said.