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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 November 2005, 10:39 GMT
Australia terror bill introduced
Relatives and friends of victims remember those who lost their lives, at a memorial service in Sydney, 12 October 2005
Australians have been killed abroad in terrorist attacks
Australia's government has introduced a package of tough new counter-terrorism measures to parliament.

The measures were due to be debated earlier this week, but were delayed due to concern among some state leaders that they threatened civil liberties.

The move comes a day after leader John Howard announced an amendment to existing laws, in light of specific intelligence of a possible attack.

The amendment was passed by the Senate on Thursday.

Australia has not experienced a major terrorist attack on its soil, although Australians overseas have been targeted in blasts in Indonesia.

There is growing concern that an attack may take place closer to home, with the Australian newspaper saying on Thursday that the cities of Sydney and Melbourne were on "terror alert".

'Strongest position possible'

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the counter-terrorism bill to parliament on Thursday, following behind-the-scenes assurances on a few key areas of concern.

"The bill ensures that we are in the strongest position possible to prevent new and emerging threats, to stop terrorists carrying out their intended acts," Mr Ruddock told parliament.

The proposed measures include allowing security forces to hold terror suspects without charge for up to 14 days.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard
Prime Minister John Howard is keen to introduce the new laws
Security services will also be able to track people suspected of involvement with terrorist groups for up to a year.

The bill's passage was held up on Tuesday, due to concern by backbenchers and state leaders.

In light of their fears, the government has said it will re-examine what constitutes incitement to a terrorist attack, as well as rules relating to preventative detention orders.

A planned shoot-to-kill provision for police is also expected to be watered down.

The government hopes the bill will become law by Christmas.

Amendment

Meanwhile an amendment to the existing anti-terror laws was rushed through the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

It was then passed by a special sitting of the Senate on Thursday.

The amendment replaces the word "the" with "a" in the definition of a terrorism offence, to clarify that it is not necessary to identify a particular terrorist act.

It also means that people can be charged for considering a terrorist attack, even if they had not yet decided on its timing and location.

Mr Howard said on Wednesday that he had received specific intelligence of a possible attack, but could give no further details for operational reasons.

According to the Australian newspaper, the intelligence relates to home-grown terrorist suspects in Melbourne and Sydney, who are believed to be building the capability to mount an attack.

Mr Howard's announcement caused anxiety, but the lack of detail in the warning prompted some politicians to cast doubt on the seriousness of the threat.

Opposition parties said the timing of Wednesday's warning was a political ploy to divert attention from both the main anti-terror laws and unpopular labour laws introduced to parliament on Wednesday.

"I think it's convenient for the government to constantly keep people fearful about the terrorist threat to this country," said Democrats leader Lynn Allison.

But Mr Howard told a Sydney radio station on Thursday that "the idea that yesterday was some giant manipulative conspiracy is ridiculous".




SEE ALSO:
Australia warned of terror threat
02 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
New Australia terror laws delayed
01 Nov 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia agrees new terror laws
27 Sep 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia mulls new security laws
24 Jul 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia PM set for terror talks
15 Jul 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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