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Upgrading Australia's counter-terrorism capabilities.
ATTORNEY- GENERAL ___________________________________________________
THE HON DARYL WILLIAMS AM QC MP ___________________________________________________
18 December 2001 1080
UPGRADING AUSTRALIA’S COUNTER-TERRORISM CAPABILITIES
Cabinet today endorsed a series of measures to strengthen Australia’s counter terrorism capabilities. These measures implement recommendations arising from a high level review of Australia’s security and counter-terrorism arrangements instigated after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The review, headed by Attorney-General’s Department Secretary Mr Robert Cornall, found that the profound shift in the international security environment has meant that Australia’s profile as a terrorist target has risen and our interests abroad face a higher level of terrorist threat.
While there remains no known specific threat of terrorism in Australia, Cabinet has endorsed a raft of measures to enhance our ability to meet the challenges of the new terrorist environment.
Cabinet agreed that new counter-terrorism legislation, enhanced Commonwealth powers and a consolidation and strengthening of Commonwealth agencies that deal with counter-terrorism are required to meet those challenges. Some of the proposals affect State and Territory powers and responsibilities. Cabinet agreed to work with the States and Territories on these issues before discussions at the Prime Minister’s Leader’s Summit in March.
Cabinet agreed on 2 October to: enhance the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation; create a new general offence of terrorism and an offence related to preparing for or planning terrorist acts; and allow terrorist property to be frozen and seized. In addition, on 6 October the Commonwealth implemented United Nations regulations to block financial transactions that might assist terrorists and on 16 October the Prime Minister announced our intention to introduce new anti-hoax laws.
Today’s Cabinet meeting approved further details in the preparation of legislation that will assist in dealing with international terrorism.
As previously announced, ASIO will be given the power to question people who may have information about terrorism, including those who may not themselves be involved in terrorist activity. Cabinet agreed that ASIO will be given the power to seek to detain people for up to 48 hours without legal representation only in very serious cases where such a step is necessary to prevent a terrorist attack. For example, a terrorist sympathiser who knows of a planned bombing on an embassy could be held incommunicado for questioning so authorities could close in on the would-be perpetrators of this serious crime.
This power will have strict safeguards and I anticipate will be used only rarely. The Director-General of Security, with the consent of the Attorney-General, will be required to seek a warrant requiring a person to appear before a prescribed authority to provide information or produce documents or things. A warrant would be issued by a federal magistrate, or a senior legal member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) with legal qualifications. ASIO will also be required to give the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security a copy of any warrant that is issued and a statement containing details of any detention that takes place. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD will be asked to review the new powers and provide a report on their operation.
Terrorism offences will be inserted into the Criminal Code. These will relate to ‘terrorist activity’ which will be defined as an act or omission that constitutes an offence under the UN and other international counter-terrorism instruments, or an act committed for a political, religious or ideological purpose designed to intimidate the public with regard to its security and intended to cause serious damage to persons, property or infrastructure. The Criminal Code will also cover ancillary conduct such as aiding, abetting, conspiracy, attempt and incitement. The offences will carry a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.
Funding of terrorism will be explicitly criminalised in the Criminal Code. This will cover collection, receipt, use and provision of funds for the preparation and planning of terrorist activities. Knowingly assisting in any of these activities will also be an offence. The offences will carry a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment.
Amendments will be made to the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 to ensure the reporting of possible terrorist-related transactions and international funds transfers. The Act will also be amended to enable AUSTRAC to share financial transaction reports information with other countries and to enable ASIO and the AFP, subject to appropriate monitoring and approvals, to share such information with equivalent agencies overseas.
Responsibility for airport physical security and counter-terrorism first response will be moved to the Attorney-General’s portfolio where national security already lies.
At present, an agency with a valid search warrant cannot access e-mail communications unless they have been read, or otherwise consciously dealt with, by the intended recipient. The Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 will be amended to permit access to unread e-mails where another form of lawful access to the system or device capable of displaying the communication is held by the relevant agency. The Act will also be amended to include terrorism offences in the definition of ‘class 1 offences’ for the purposes of telecommunications interception warrants.
Cabinet will give further consideration to a range of additional issues arising out of the review early in the new year.
Media contact: Catherine Fitzpatrick 0419 423 965
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