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PM says new national security laws to provide 'incentive to reform' -

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ELEANOR HALL: The Prime Minister says convicted terrorists will have a powerful incentive to rehabilitate under the Government's latest proposed national security laws.

The Commonwealth is asking the states and territories to introduce measures to extend the detention of terrorists for as long as they’re judged to pose a risk to the community.

But far from encouraging rehabilitation, one counter-terrorism expert says this could leave young offenders with a dangerous lack of hope.

From Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the threat posed by terrorism in Australia is very real.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The threat of terrorism is evolving, as I said. It is a - it is moving rapidly, it changes form and shape and nature. And what we need to ensure is that we have all of the tools that we can provide; our legal system, our security agencies, our police service, our intelligence services to deal with it.

NAOMI WOODLEY: State and territory leaders agreed in April to develop nationally consistent laws to keep convicted terrorists in jail at the end of their sentence if they still pose a risk. The Prime Minister says he's now asking them to act quickly on that promise.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We're now in a position to have the new arrangements legislated across all jurisdictions as quickly as we can.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The laws would only apply to people judged to pose a continuing, high level risk to the community. The Government says it'll be supervised by the courts, based on rehabilitation, medical and psychological advice, and the offender can apply to have the order overturned.

Despite earlier describing it as potentially representing "indefinite detention", the Attorney-General George Brandis now says it's more like "extended detention."

GEORGE BRANDIS: A period of detention per sentence may be extended for a defined period and then - on the application of the Attorney-General - and then when that period is expiring, obviously the case will be reviewed. And if there is cause to seek a further extension on that period, then that decision will be made at that time.

NAOMI WOODLEY: But an expert in constitutional law from the University of New South Wales, George Williams, told AM it could represent indefinite detention.

GEORGE WILLIAMS: Well yes it is, and that's because if indeed a judge, as the attorney has suggested, finds that the person is a continuing risk to the public, then there will be no basis for that prisoner's release.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Professor Williams says some states already have similar laws for paedophiles and extremely violent offenders and they have been upheld by the High Court.

GEORGE WILLIAMS: Indeed what the High Court found in the case called Fardon in 2004 was that the Queensland scheme for high risk sex offenders was valid, but what the court also indicated was that it might not be valid if it was passed by the federal parliament, that perhaps this could only be a state scheme.

And that's the reason why we're seeing the Commonwealth not deciding to go it alone. They're negotiating with the states and territories and they would like to insulate themselves from that legal risk by having it set up at the level that the High Court has said can support these type of regimes.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Doctor Clarke Jones from the Australian Intervention Support Hub at the Australian National University says he agrees that community safety must be the priority. But he questions why terrorism offences should be in a special category.

CLARKE JONES: I would hope that the assessments are within corrections, remains within corrections that the appropriate risk assessment models are adhered to rather than a political rhetoric and keeping offenders behind bars just because of the offense category.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the proposed laws should send a clear message to those already in jail.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The existence of post-sentence preventative detention as a measure will serve as a very real incentive for those imprisoned for terrorist offenses to reform.

NAOMI WOODLEY: But Dr Clarke Jones from ANU says it could send a very different message.

CLARKE JONES: I think there are some cases where I can understand the Government's concern about allowing some people just to ring into the community without any type of de-radicalisation or rehabilitation program.

So I can understand the Government's concerns, but we've got to also remember that inmates need some sort of motivation to be, if they're going to change while they're in prison, if there's no hope of change and if they feel like they're going to remain in prison for the rest of their lives or for indefinite periods then, you know, it's just this lock away, throw away the key type mentality, and I'm just not sure if that's the right about doing things.

NAOMI WOODLEY: So if the Government does proceed down this path or gets the states and territories to agree to go down this path, you'd argue that it has to be accompanied by de-radicalisation programs within prison to minimise the number of people who may be affected by this change?

CLARKE JONES: Oh look, certainly. And I think this particularly, as you’re seeing younger and younger cohorts getting involved in this type of offending, I think we've got a real responsibility, particularly those under the age of 25, we've got a real responsibility to try and correct their behaviour.

Only then will we start to reduce the prospects of future offending and future acts of terrorism.

NAOMI WOODLEY: The Government has also announced it will accept all recommendations of a parliamentary inquiry into its plans to extend control orders to terrorism suspects as young as 14.

The parliament ran out of time to pass the bill before the election. The Government says it will introduce those measures again once parliament resumes at the end of August.

ELEANOR HALL: Naomi Woodley in Canberra.