Downer defends new terror law

Federal Parliament will next week consider extending search powers for Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian Crime Commission (ACC) investigators.

The extensive powers – which also give federal police the right to monitor communications equipment without an interceptions warrant – come amid growing public disquiet about counter-terrorism powers following the bungled handling of the Mohamed Haneef case.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports under the laws, officers from the federal police and other agencies would be able to execute "delayed notification warrants", allowing them to undertake searches, seize equipment and plant listening devices in businesses and homes.

Police and security officers will be able to assume false identities to gain entry and conduct the searches.

But the person affected by the raid does not have to be informed for at least six months, and can remain in the dark for 18 months if the warrant is rolled over.

The warrant is to be issued by the head of a police service or security agency without the approval of a judicial officer.

It can also be extended for more than 18 months with the sanction of the minister.

Under the new law, the warrant can be issued for any offence that carries a prison term of 10 years or more.

The proposed laws are scheduled to be introduced to the Senate on Tuesday when Parliament resumes.

Downer defends laws

Mr Downer today said the government was trying to find the right compromise between Australia's tradition of civil liberties and preventing fatal terrorist attacks.

"You know how it is. If people get killed everyone will want to know why we didn't have tougher laws to stop attacks happening," he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.

"Now, the laws we have and the work that's been done by the federal police and our intelligence agencies and some of the state police forces up until now have protected us from terrorism, at least within Australia.

"But we need to listen to them (the police and intelligence agencies).

"If they want any more powers, they need more scope to investigate terrorism or alleged terrorist activities, well we need to listen to them and then in the end the parliament will have to make a judgment about whether laws should be changed or not."

Criticism

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle has raised concerns about the proposed changes.

"We're seeing yet again a piece of security legislation being brought in without the sort of justifications for its use that we think are appropriate, and it has a very broad scope," she said.

Cameron Murphy, from the Council of Civil Liberties, has told 2GB radio Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef's recent case proves how much power authorities already have.

"These powers are excessive, they’re an invasion of people’s privacy and we simply can’t trust the police to use these powers appropriately given the debacle that was the Dr Haneef case,” he said.

Support

Justice Minister David Johnston has told the ABC state police already have the powers and they should also be granted to federal investigators.

"These warrants are overseen, oversighted by judicial officers and by the inspector-general and by the ombudsman, there's a multitude of oversight," he said.

"I have absolutely no doubt that these are vitally necessary powers, in fact they're not new as I say, and that they are used appropriately and properly in the circumstances."