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ASIO Director-General warns Senate inquiry of possibility of a terrorist attack; deadline for anti-terrorism legislation will not be met.

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Tuesday 1 November 2005

ASIO Director-General warns Senate inquiry of possibility of a terrorist attack; deadline for anti-terrorism legislation will not be met


TONY EASTL EY: Today's deadline for the States and Territories to sign off on the Commonwealth's draft counter terror laws looks like passing without resolution. 


The States still want more safeguards, before they'll agree to the new laws. 


The State Solicitors General are working this morning on a submission to the Commonwealth that will identify the areas they believe need resolution. 


The Prime Minister wants the legislation in place by Christmas. 


While debate rages on both sides of federal politics, the new head of ASIO has appeared before a Senate inquiry, warning again about the threat of a terrorist attack in Australia. 


From Canberra, Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: After three months in the job, ASIO's Director General Paul O'Sullivan has appeared before a Senate Estimates committee, offering this sobering assessment. 


PAUL O'SULLIVAN: Our assessment is that a terrorist attack in Australia is feasible and could well occur, and that assessment is based on intelligence, public statements and actual attacks that show we have been within the strategic vision of Islamic extremists since before September 2001. 


PETA DONALD: It failed to deter the Greens Senator Bob Brown, who's concerned about what the planned new laws against sedition could mean. 


BOB BROWN: If you urge disaffection with the Commonwealth Government or the Parliament, you could face seven years in jail. Now, that's a very serious matter. 


PETA DONALD: The Federal Government insists there'll be a defence for sedition, of not deliberately seeking to incite violence. Last night in the inquiry, the Justice Minister Chris Ellison took up the case. 


CHRIS ELLISON: Activity that would entail advocating a terrorist act, that is advocating that Sydney Harbour Bridge be blown up, or that innocent women and children be sacrificed to demonstrate a political point. 


PETA DONALD: Senator Brown wasn't convinced. 


BOB BROWN: Could you point to me where in the legislation - or you, Minister - it says that the anti-sedition components of the anti-terrorist laws have to be combined with an intention to incite terrorism or violence. Where is that? 


CHRIS ELLISON: The proposed bill hasn't been released yet. 


PETA DONALD: Indeed it hasn't. Senator Ellison went on. 


CHRIS ELLISON: Discussions are ongoing, and it is a work in progress. 


PETA DONALD: But it's a work in progress the Prime Minister had been hoping would take a more definite shape by today, with the agreement of at least four States. But the States are still calling for a raft of changes.  


Queensland Premier Peter Beattie doesn't think he'll be giving his approval today. 


PETER BEATTIE: I think that's very unlikely, and I think in fact it's very, very unlikely. 


PETA DONALD: How long is it going to take? 


PETER BEATTIE: Well I don't know at this point, but as soon as we possibly can we'll do it. We're not interested in mucking about, we're not interested in causing anyone grief. We just want to do the sensible thing here - have laws that protect Australians, but also… from terrorists, but also protect Australians' basic rights. 


PETA DONALD: So with the legislation still being hammered out between the States and the Commonwealth, meetings in Canberra today of the Coalition party room, and the Labor caucus won't have a bill to debate.  


It's unlikely to quieten dissent though on both sides of politics. Last night a meeting of Labor's left caucus expressed strong concerns. 


Although one member of the left, Anthony Albanese, is backing the leader Kim Beazley's position to support the bill through the Parliament.  


ANTHONY ALBANESE: And I'm very confident that Labor's position, which essentially, when you get rid of some of the marginal debates, essentially is agreed across the board, which is that we need safeguards, along with strong security legislation. 


TONY EASTLEY: Labor's Anthony Albanese ending that report from Peta Donald.