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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 September 2005, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Australia agrees new terror laws
Sydney International Airport
The measures include tightened security at airports
Australia's federal government has reached agreement with leaders of the country's regions over the enforcement of tough new anti-terror laws.

The state leaders said they would back the law, in return for a promise from Prime Minister John Howard that the measures be reviewed after five years.

They allow terror suspects to be held without charge for up to 14 days.

The move came as a respected think-tank said a terror group blamed for the Bali attacks no longer threatened Australia.

Queensland State Premier Peter Beattie called the new laws - which will also see suspects tracked for up to a year - draconian, but necessary to protect Australians.

Some Muslims have expressed the fear that the measures could be targeted at their community.

'Dangerous circumstances'

Mr Howard said he could not guarantee that Australia would not suffer a major terrorist attack, but the laws "went the necessary distance".

"There has been unanimous agreement coming out of the meeting for major changes that will enhance the security of this country," he said.

"We do live in very dangerous and different and threatening circumstances and a strong and comprehensive response is needed."

But the head of think-tank International Crisis Group (ICG) appeared to question the extent of the threat on Tuesday.

Gareth Evans, a former Australian Foreign Minister, was due to make a speech in Sydney downplaying the terrorist threat to Australia, especially from South East Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

"Such information and analysis as is available to me suggests that the threat to Australians at home and abroad is real but moderate," Mr Evans was expected to say, according to a transcript of his speech released to the media.

"Crisis Group's perception is that the JI regional division that covered Australia has been effectively smashed, and that JI as such no longer constitutes the serious threat to Australia and Australian interests that it previously did.

"And we at Crisis Group have no current information suggesting that there are sleeper cells in Australia, or any thought of targeting Australia in this way," Mr Evans was expected to say.

Intolerance fear

Under the new measures, police will be given greater stop and search powers and a unified command will be set up at the country's airports.

The prime minister added that a strategy would also need to be developed to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

But Mr Howard agreed to a "sunset clause", by which the laws will have to be dropped, altered or renewed after 10 years. They will be reviewed half way through this period.

Correspondents say the while the federal government can pass most of the laws it needs the co-operation of the states to ensure they are enforced.

Muslim leaders expressed the fear that the laws would spread intolerance.

"We are concerned that some of the proposals that the government is putting forward [are] putting the perception that the Muslim community is being specifically targeted," Australian Islamic Mission president Zachariah Matthews told local media.

Australia has never suffered a major terrorist attack on home soil, but has tightened security since the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US.

A total of 88 Australians died in bomb attacks on nightclubs on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali in 2002.

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