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Support for laws to keep terrorists in jail after sentence -

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MARK COLVIN: The Federal Government received some crucial support today for its plan for a tough new anti-terrorism detention regime.

New laws would let convicted terrorists be kept in jail after finishing their sentences, if they were deemed still to be a risk to the community.

State legislation would be needed, and today state leaders indicated they would follow through with their earlier support.

Civil libertarians have raised concerns. Outside wartime, Australian law does not usually allow for indefinite detention.

But the Law Council of Australia believes the Government is on the right track, as long as there are appropriate safeguards.

From Canberra, Peta Donald reports.

PETA DONALD: Laws to keep terrorists in jail after they've served their time have been in train since late last year.

But today the Prime Minister talked of recent international terror attacks to bolster his case.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: In the wake of Orlando, Nice, and other terrorist incidents, as well as our own experience of 16 counter-terrorism operations since September 2014, resulting in the charging of 44 persons, we cannot afford for a moment to be complacent.

PETA DONALD: A court would make the decision if a convicted terrorist remained a risk to the community - based on medical and psychological assessments, behaviour in jail, and a prisoner's willingness to take part in rehabilitation would be taken into account.

Malcolm Turnbull.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: They balance the need to keep the community safe with our commitment to privacy and the rights of the individual.

PETA DONALD: He says it's also about deterrence.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The existence of post-sentence preventative detention as a measure will serve as a very real incentive for those imprisoned for terrorist offences to reform. It will provide a very real incentive for people in prison for terrorist offences not to engage in continued extremist activity.

PETA DONALD: The Commonwealth wants uniform laws across the states and territories. The federal attorney general George Brandis will meet state and territory attorneys general this week to work on the details.

The states have already given in-principle support in December and again at a meeting in April.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is signalling that support will continue.

DANIEL ANDREWS: We do sadly in these dangerous time we do face some unreasonable risks, people who pose an unreasonable threat. Now that's always a difficult balance to strike but it's one that we have to strike because you know the threat from extremists is very real.

PETA DONALD: South Australia is among states who already have similar laws, allowing for child sex offenders to be kept in prison even after their sentence is up. Such laws have survived a high court challenge.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.

JAY WEATHERILL: I spoke to the Prime Minister last night and offered him my support for measures of this sort. Obviously we need to see the detail but in general terms we're supportive of the Government's efforts to combat terrorism in this nation.

PETA DONALD: The Federal Opposition's support is still to be decided by the Labor caucus, but the shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus is sounding supportive.

MARK DREYFUS: Labor recognises that the terrorism threat in Australia is evolving constantly and requires new approaches in response.

PETA DONALD: Mr Dreyfus points out the Government has given an assurance a post-detention order would be subjected to court review and reviewed periodically. He says it's important the orders are reserved for the most extreme cases.

MARK DREYFUS: Checks and balances on this new power are going to be crucial to prevent the possibility of legislative overreach or unjust deprivation of liberty.

The Law Council of Australia too is giving qualified support.

STUART CLARK: I believe that the approach that the government is taking to date under George Brandis and Malcolm Turnbull is the right one.

Council President Stuart Clark is also stressing the importance of safeguards.

STUART CLARK: We would be very unhappy to see a regime whereby a single order could be made for indefinite detention. Rather, we believe that there should be a regime whereby an application is made for a fixed period of time, albeit the Government may come back and ask for a further extension, but it should not be indefinite from the start.

There should also be the ability of the person who's the subject of the order to make an application to the court at any time if they believe their circumstances have changed or if their attitude has changed.

PETA DONALD: Civil liberties groups are voicing outright opposition.

Stephen Blanks from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties argues the intense surveillance available under control orders is enough.

STEPHEN BLANKS: What is the point of those halfway regimes if they aren't to keep the community safe within the principles of a free society? And remember, if we give up having a free society, we're creating incentives for terrorists to attack us.

MARK COLVIN: Stephen Blanks from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, ending Peta Donald's report.