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Australian Law and Politics

Comprehensive Response to National Security Legislation Reviews


Attorney-General Robert McClelland today tabled in Parliament the Rudd Government’s comprehensive response to outstanding reviews of national security legislation from the term of the former Government.

At the same time, Mr McClelland tabled in Parliament the public report of the Inquiry by the Hon. John Clarke QC into the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef and the Government’s response to that report.

“At the last election, the Rudd Government gave a commitment to ensure Australia has strong counter-terrorism laws that protect the security of Australians while preserving the values and freedoms that are part of the Australian way of life,” Mr McClelland said.

“The measures announced today deliver on that commitment.”

“They are designed to give the Australian community confidence that our law enforcement and security agencies have the tools they need to fight terrorism, while ensuring the laws and powers are balanced by appropriate safeguards.”

“The focus of the laws will remain on preventing a terrorist attack from occurring in the first place – not just waiting to punish those who would commit such heinous crimes until after they occur.”

“And the measures are a comprehensive response to recommendations made by bipartisan parliamentary committees and independent reviews of Australia’s counter-terrorism laws over the past three years.”

Consistent with its commitment to a bipartisan approach to national security, the Rudd Government will develop this legislation in a careful, transparent and consultative manner. The Government will prepare a discussion paper and exposure draft of the legislation for release in the first half of 2009.

Some national security legislation is underpinned by a referral of legislative power from the States. In accordance with the intergovernmental agreement which supports this referral of power, the Commonwealth will also consult with State and Territory Governments in the development of the proposals.

Key aspects of the proposals are:

1. Improvements to counter-terrorism offences
The Government will make improvements to the counter-terrorism offences, including ensuring they cover psychological as well as physical harm, ensuring they apply clearly to threats of terrorist action, recognising that international organisations (such as the United Nations) can be the target of terrorist violence, and creating a new offence covering terrorist-related hoaxes committed without the use of the post or a telecommunications network.

2. National Security Legislation Monitor
The Government will establish a National Security Legislation Monitor to review the practical operation of counter-terrorism legislation on an annual basis. The Monitor will be an independent statutory office within the Prime Minister’s portfolio and will report to Parliament. An independent review mechanism was recommended by the Sheller Committee in April 2006, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) in December 2006, and most recently Mr Clarke. The Government will progress this proposal as a priority.

To implement bipartisan recommendations of the PJCIS, the Government will refer two particular aspects of the counter-terrorism legislation to the Monitor once the office is established. These will be the offence of associating with a terrorist organisation, and strict liability aspects of other terrorism offences.

3. Parliamentary oversight of the Australian Federal Police
The Government will establish a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement to extend parliamentary oversight to include the Australian Federal Police. This implements a bipartisan recommendation of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission in November 2005.

The Government will also establish a mechanism to enable the PJCIS, which oversights security and intelligence agencies, to extend inquiries to include the Australian Federal Police with the Attorney-General’s consent. This will occur where a security or intelligence issue can only satisfactorily be examined by going beyond the Australian Intelligence Community.

4. Extended mandate of Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security
The Government will also extend the mandate of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) to enable the IGIS, by direction of the Prime Minister, to extend inquiries to cover other agencies. Again, this will occur where a security or intelligence issue can only be adequately examined by looking beyond the Australian Intelligence Community.

5. Implementation of ALRC recommendations on sedition
The Government will honour its election commitment to implement the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission in July 2006 on federal sedition laws. These include changing the title of the offence from “sedition” to “urging violence”, clarifying and modernising the elements of the offence, and repealing obsolete and never-used provisions enacted in the 1920s for the proscription of “unlawful associations”. It will also ensure there is an offence of urging violence against a group or individual on the basis of race, religion, nationality, national origin or political opinion.

6. Implementation of the recommendations of the Clarke Inquiry
The Government has accepted and will implement all 10 recommendations made by Mr Clarke, to improve the operation of relevant legislation and promote cooperation and information sharing between government departments and agencies in counter-terrorism matters.

This includes reviewing the operation of the police investigative detention powers for counter-terrorism offences. The Government’s proposals will be included in the discussion paper that will accompany the exposure draft legislation in the first half of 2009.

“The report represents 7 months of detailed examination and analysis by Mr Clarke and his staff into the issues raised by his terms of reference,” Mr McClelland said. “The report is balanced, thorough and constructive. Most importantly, it will assist the Government in ensuring Australia’s security agencies are working as well as they can – individually and collectively.”

The completion of the Clarke Inquiry honours another election commitment of the Rudd Government.

ALP Media Release Robert McClelland (Attorney General)
23rd Dec 2008

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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