September 27, 2005

Australia to impose “draconian” anti-terror laws

By Michelle Nichols

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia is to impose "draconian"
counter-terrorism laws after state and territory leaders agreed
on Tuesday to wide-ranging security proposals made by Prime
Minister John Howard in the wake of the London bombings.

Howard said the new laws, which include detaining suspects
for up to 48 hours without charge and using electronic tracking
devices to keep tabs on terror suspects, were needed to combat
"unusual circumstances."

"We do live in very dangerous and different and threatening
circumstances, and a strong and comprehensive response is
needed. I think all of these powers are needed," Howard told a
news conference after the leaders' terrorism summit in

"I cannot guarantee that Australia will not be the subject
of a terror attack ... but as a result of the decisions taken
today we are in a stronger and better position to give peace of
mind to the Australian community," he said.

Howard also unveiled plans to spend A$20 million on an
Australian Federal Police chemical, biological, radiological
and nuclear research facility.

Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship
Association of Australia, condemned the new laws, which came
from a review of Australia's counter-terror legislation
following the July 7 London bus and subway bombings.

"These laws will be unfair and could lead to the creation
of a fascist state," he said.

Australia, a staunch U.S. ally with troops in Iraq and
Afghanistan, has steadily beefed up security and anti-terrorism
laws since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United

Australia has never suffered a major peacetime attack on
home soil, but 88 Australians were among 202 people killed in
the 2002 Bali bombings and 10 Indonesians were killed when the
Australian embassy in Jakarta was hit by a suicide bomb on
September 9, 2004.

Under the planned changes, existing sedition laws are to be
replaced by a new law making it a crime to incite violence
against the community or against Australian soldiers serving
overseas or to support Australia's enemies.

"In many sense the laws that we have agreed to today are
draconian laws, but they are necessary laws to protect
Australians," Queensland state premier Peter Beattie told a
news conference.

Howard agreed to a demand by the states and territories for
a review of the new laws, which have been condemned by civil
rights activists, after five years and a sunset clause meaning
that they would have to be reauthorize after 10 years.

Australia's six states and two territories are all governed
by leaders from the center-left Labor party, which is in
opposition to Howard's conservative Liberal/National coalition
at a federal level.

The leaders agreed to strengthen citizenship laws to make
immigrants to Australia wait three years instead of two before
they would qualify to become Australian citizens.

Police would also have wider powers to stop and search
people, and it would become a crime to leave any baggage
unattended at an airport.