Tue, Nov 01, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Lawmakers object to counterterror legislation

AP , CANBERRA

Prime Minister John Howard's plans to push through tough new counterterror laws before Australia hosts the Commonwealth Games early next year have run into opposition from his own party and state leaders who fear they trample civil liberties.

Howard's center-right administration needs the support of the states -- all governed by the center-left Labor Party -- to enforce the new laws, which include jailing terror suspects without charge for up to two weeks and fitting them with electronic tracking devices.

State leaders have until today to agree to the detail of the legislation, which Howard wants passed through federal parliament by Christmas and ahead of the Commonwealth Games, one of the world's largest sporting events, in March.

The games, to be opened in Melbourne by British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, are held every four years and draw thousands of competitors from 71 countries that belonged to the former British empire.

Paul Neville, a lawmaker with the Howard's junior coalition partner the Nationals, said yesterday that he was worried about moves to lock up people without charge -- so called preventative detention measures -- and severely restricting who they can tell about it while they are detained.

"To me, that cuts at the essence of our way of life or our normal legal rights," Neville told reporters. "I'd just like to be convinced that that was necessary."

Government lawmaker Bruce Baird, chairman of federal parliament's Amnesty International rights group, told reporters "there are some areas of concern" but declined to detail them publicly.

Attorney General Philip Ruddock said he would talk to the government lawmakers about their concerns, but the government remained intent on implementing the laws, broad details of which state leaders agreed to at a summit last month.

Queensland state leader Premier Peter Beattie warned against rushing the laws which were proposed in response to the July 7 London bombings that killed 52.

"Frankly, we need to get it right so that we protect Australians and we just may need a bit more time," Beattie told Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) radio. "They can sit on Christmas Eve if they have to if they want to get these laws in prior to Christmas."

Howard aims to have the laws passed before parliament is due to adjourn for the year early next month.

Labor's left-wing faction passed a resolution on Sunday warning state leaders that the proposed laws could breach Australia's international human rights obligations.

Federal Labor lawmaker Daryl Melham, a member of the left faction, said the new laws would enable the nation's top spy agency Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) to harass Australians who had trained with terrorist organizations in the past but posed no threat and had broken no laws.

"I think the laws will enable ASIO and other organizations to basically terrorize some of our citizens in terms of control orders," Melham told ABC radio. "I think this is just madness."

However, Labor Leader Kim Beazley, who is keen to appear tough on terrorism, has said the laws should go further and outlaw any books that promote hate and violence.

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