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Queensland: Premier accuses federal government of scaremongering by proposing to call out the military in the event of a terrorist threat.

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Monday 7 November 2005

Queensland: Premier accuses federal government of scaremongering by proposing to call out the military in the event of a terrorist threat


TONY EASTL EY: The Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, says the Defence Minister's proposal to call out the military in the event of a terrorist threat has whipped up fear unnecessarily. 


Robert Hill's proposal has brought more claims that the Government is using terrorism for political purposes.  


The Greens say there are already clear laws for calling out the military, and Senator Hill has failed to explain why they should be strengthened. 


Louise Yaxley reports. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Defence Minister, Robert Hill, wants to make it easier for the Government to call the troops onto the streets if there's a terrorist threat. He wants more flexibility to be able to use the reserves alongside the regular units, and to be able to send them into action against a rogue ship or aircraft.  


He hopes Cabinet will agree and the amendments could be introduced before Christmas and passed next year in time for the March Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. 


But the Victorian Government, which is hosting those games, says it knows nothing of this plan. 


Senator Hill's spokeswoman says that's because it hasn't yet gone through Cabinet. 


The Greens Senator Kerry Nettle says the Government already has the powers Senator Hill is talking about. 


KERRY NETTLE: Extraordinary new powers were passed in 2000, which gave significantly more powers to the army than they had ever received. Troops were given the power to cordon off areas, to stop and search, to detain people, and shoot-to-kill powers. That's pretty extensive powers, and that's all of the areas that the Defence Minister has indicated he wants troops to be able to do. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Senator Hill's spokeswoman says counter-terrorism exercises have shown there is a need to streamline the existing process. She says it would mean troops could be used for a potential threat; at the moment there has to be a specific threat. 


But Senator Nettle says it's a smokescreen. 


KERRY NETTLE: We've seen now, twice, the terror card played by the Government as a way of seeking to garner support for their moves and making sure industrial relations isn't on the front page of the newspaper. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: Robert Hill's plan has seen front-page headlines about soldiers with shoot-to-kill powers on the city streets, and that concerns the Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who says the Defence Minister should have been more careful when there's already unease in the community. 


PETER BEATTIE: I mean, it just alarms people unnecessarily. I mean, people would expect that if there was a major terrorism incident in this country that the army would have a role to play and I don't think anyone would argue about that. They should just get on and do it.  


My worry is that we've had an extensive debate about these tough laws. I think the consensus is most sensible people are supporting them. I just think sometimes the language used is unnecessary, and I think that's the case here. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: And the Executive Director of the Australia Defence Association, Neil James, says Senator Hill's plan could have been explained a lot better. 


NEIL JAMES: Well certainly in the current situation, where there's been a lot of silly speculation and scaremongering about counter-terrorism measures in the papers, people could be frightened by that possibility. But, you know, we really can't see it happening, for the simple reason that you've got to remember that when the military are called out to assist the police, they're only assisting the police, and they remain under police control.  


So it's not going to be a case of the military are going to be prowling the streets, armed to the teeth, you know, arresting people left, right and centre. I mean, that's just a farcical situation that you couldn't imagine happening. Although you could imagine that at some stage, elements of the military might be called in to assist the police, to enforce the normal laws. 


TONY EASTLEY: Neil James from the Australian Defence Association, ending Louise Yaxley's report.