Parliamentary inquiry hears concerns over terror law changes

The Government wants to lower the age for control orders so they can apply to terrorism suspects as young as 14 years old.

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But the Law Council of Australia has expressed concerns, shared by the Australian Human Rights Commission and a group of Muslim lawyers, about the impact of such laws.

They are calling for better safeguards to protect children.

The bill at the centre of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s inquiry contains several proposed changes to counterterrorism legislation.

They include allowing a control order to be imposed on children as young as 14 instead of 16, enhanced monitoring powers and a new offence of advocating genocide.

The Muslim Legal Network is voicing its concerns over the Federal Government’s proposed laws.

The New South Wales Muslim Legal Network has told the committee that moves to strengthen counterterrorism laws seem geared towards regulating potentially at-risk youths.

The network’s president, Zaahir Edries, says community intervention is more effective.

“The lowering of the age of control orders to 14 concerns us primarily because subjecting children to control orders will, in practical terms, further marginalise and alienate young people who are already feeling disconnected from society.”

Federal police say they have seen a change of behaviour in at least two people subject to anti-terrorism control orders.

Four Australians in the past 16 months have been placed under orders restricting their movements and communication in attempts to help prevent a terrorist attack.

It is one of many controls at Australian Federal Police disposal, but AFP assistant commissioner Neil Gaughan argues it is the most effective.

However, the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission are urging changes.

They say their proposed changes would ensure the courts give children’s best interests primary consideration when determining if control orders should be applied.

Commission president Gillian Triggs says the amendments raise significant human-rights concerns.

“The purpose of the counterterrorism laws is, ultimately, to protect the human rights of all Australians and those under Australian jurisdiction. We should not risk undermining democracy while purporting to defend it in these ways.”

The Law Council has also warned the revised test for granting preventative detention orders could be subject to legal challenge.

It suggests changing the wording.

And the council’s Duncan McConnel has added his voice to concerns over the potential impact of lowering the age for imposing control orders to 14.

“Control orders are a particularly intrusive form of restraint on personal liberty without there being any criminal conviction or even charge. The terms of a control order may impose significant obligations, prohibitions and restrictions on the person subject to that order.”

The bill is part of the Government’s fifth tranche of counterterrorism laws.

They were introduced following the shooting of New South Wales police worker Curtis Cheng in October in Parramatta, in western Sydney.

 

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