PM confirms racial discrimination changes 'off the table'

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The government is dropping its bid to change the Racial Discrimination Act, because of objections from some sections of the community which it wants to join in the fight against extremism. The federal government has announced a range of new measures to counter what it describes as a heightened concern about terrorism.

 

Mr Abbott told the ABC AM program this morning the proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were definitely "off the table" after the Government dropped the reforms from changes to anti-terrorism laws yesterday because of objections from some community groups.

“It’s off the table. It’s gone. It’s disappeared,” he said.

“Our intention is to work as effectively as we can with the communities of Australia to ensure that we take a ‘team Australia’ approach to countering terrorism”.

Yesterday after the announcement was made he said the government wants all sections of the community to join in efforts to stop terrorist threats emerging.

"When it comes to counter-terrorism, everyone needs to be part of Team Australia. And I have to say that the government's proposals to change 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act have become a complication in that respect. I don't want to do anything that puts our national unity at risk at this time, and so those proposals are now off the table."

The proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act had been strongly supported by the Attorney-General - but had been widely opposed by many ethnic, Indigenous and other community groups.

Mr Abbott says he took a personal decision to drop the proposed plan.

He says instead, Senator Brandis will be proceeding with other legislation, in relation to terrorism.

Mr Abbott also said the Government is acutely conscious of the danger posed by people returning to Australia, who have been radicalised and militarised by working with militant organisations in countries like Syria and Iraq.
The government is planning to make it a criminal offence to travel to designated battle regions overseas without a valid reason.

Attorney-General George Brandis says individuals will have to explain why they went to such areas.

"A provision will prohibit travel to a designated locality, certified by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the basis that it is a locality in which there is a level of terrorist activity, so that a person who travels to a designated locality commits an offence and will have to explain that the purpose of their travel to that designated locality was for humanitarian purposes, family purposes, or other innocuous purposes."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the government will spend an extra $630 million on security and intelligence services over the next four years.

He says it's necessary spending to keep up with the threat from terrorism.

"I stress that the terrorist threat here in this country has not changed. Nevertheless is as high as it has ever been. As a result the government is determined to take a series of measures to strengthen our security and intelligence organisations."

The Attorney General says this legislation will include broader definitions of terrorist conduct, or support for it.

"We're going to change the definition of conduct prescribed as terrorist conduct. At the moment, the scheme of the legislation is to require the identification of a 'terrorist act' rather than 'terrorism'. As such, we are going to broaden the definition so that the legislation operates as well in relation to 'terrorism', not merely a 'terrorist act'. We're going to extend the offence of 'advocating the commission of a terrorist act' to include the promotion or encouragement of terrorism.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia is not alone in being concerned about its citizens fighting with militant groups overseas.

She says it has become one of Australia's highest national security priorities.

"Along with other countries, we are deeply concerned that this domestic security challenge will mean that Australian citizens fighting in these conflicts overseas will return to this country as hardened home-grown terrorists who may use their experiences and skills they have gained to carry out an attack in this country."

The government says the new counter-terrorism legislation will be introduced in the Spring session of parliament.

Source AAP

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