Govt urged to alter anti-terrorist laws

A bipartisan parliamentary committee has recommended the government's foreign fighters bill pass, but with changes to several controversial elements.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott

PM Tony Abbott has said the government will seriously consider a review of new anti-terrorism laws. (AAP)

A bipartisan parliamentary committee has backed the Abbott government's controversial foreign fighters bill but wants more checks to prevent unintended consequences.

Attorney-General George Brandis says the government is considering its recommendations but wants its counter-terrorism measures passed in the next two weeks.

"This is urgent legislation which deals with a clear and immediate threat for the safety of the Australian public," Senator Brandis said.

But critics are urging a delay to allow more scrutiny amid concerns it restricts personal freedom, will impinge on free speech and is not needed.

The proposed laws make it a crime to encourage or promote terrorism to catch a "broader range of behaviour" than is legislated for under present law.

But the committee says this "highly contentious" charge is unclear.

One of its 37 recommendations is that definitions must be provided to prevent unintended consequences, and inform people of their criminal liability.

The bill allows for imprisonment for up for five years if people travel to designated no-go zones in terrorism hotspots.

Only people with legitimate business such as aid workers, journalists, government and UN officials and people genuinely visiting family members will be able to go to the no-go zones.

The committee wants that power restricted and recommends it extend to only parts of countries and not entire nations.

The crime of "entering, or remaining in, a declared area" should also expire two years after the federal election, rather than in 10 years as proposed in the bill.

The report also urges the government to water down its plans to extend preventative detention orders, control orders and stop search and seizure powers for terrorist suspects.

They should expire in 2018 rather than the proposed 10 years, it says.

"Given the nature of these powers, it is important that their use and ongoing need is assessed within a reasonable timeframe," the report says.

The preventative detention order allows police to detain a terrorism suspect for 14 days with the aim of preventing an imminent terrorist attack.

Privacy advocates are concerned about the bill's proposed expansion of biometric data collection, with the Department of Immigration to store more details of millions of Australians travelling in and out of the country.

The government wants to legislate for future collection of data such as fingerprints and iris scans, should technology improve.

But the committee wants that removed from the bill and "given the sensitive nature of the data" recommends the government introduce it as separate legislation.

Despite supporting the bill, Labor is concerned the legislation is being rushed through and hasn't been properly analysed.

Australian Greens leader Christine Milne says Australians should be worried by the laws, which are an "overreach" and impinge on the rights of ordinary people.

3 min read
Published 17 October 2014 at 10:43am