The Australian government, re-elected with an increased majority two weeks ago, announced plans yesterday to toughen its counterterrorism legislation after previous efforts were stalled in the Senate.
Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the government sees an urgent need to pass three security bills which were before the upper house when the election was called. Among proposed measures is legislation giving more powers to the key Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) and federal police to use listening devices, intercept emails and prevent the release of classified information during court hearings of terrorism cases.
"It can be quite an impediment to the organizations, such as ASIO, to outline the methods they use, the equipment that they have, to outline human intelligence that they may have received which could identify people who are still involved in providing information to them," Ruddock told commercial television here.
"To do so in open court exposes to risk your ongoing inquiries."
Ruddock's statement followed last week's decision by Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, to give counterterrorism police increased powers to carry out covert surveillance to help destroy extremist cells.
State Premier Bob Carr said the new powers would allow counterterrorist police to obtain covert search warrants which would allow them to enter homes, conduct searches and install listening devices without the resident being informed.
The federal government has significantly toughened its anti-terror laws since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US and the Bali bombings which claimed 202 lives, 88 of them Australian, in October 2002. But it was prevented by opposition parties from going as far as it wanted.
The opposition used its upper house majority in the previous parliament to refer the legislation to a Senate committee, effectively stalling it until it lapsed when the election was called and parliament prorogued. However, in the Oct. 9 poll the government won an increased majority and, although the Senate vote is still being counted, appears likely to win effective control of the house with at least 38 of the 76 seats.