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Monday 25 March 2019
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Time to pass terrorism bill

THE ANTI-TERRORISM (Amendment) Bill 2018 – which is to be considered at long last in the House of Representatives today – proposes a significant expansion of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005. It introduces a ban on recruiting children into terrorism. Unanimous approval by Parliament on this is absolutely necessary.

Will it happen? Attorney General (AG) Faris Al-Rawi has said the legislation must be supported by the Opposition because of the risk of blacklisting by an international agency.

However, that is not a good enough reason. Blacklisting would certainly do harm to this country. But it is the job of Parliament to pass good law, not to be blackmailed into approving defective measures.

That said, the Opposition’s contention that the bill should be rejected owing to a clause giving the AG power to request a terrorist probe is equally untenable. The objection is fundamentally lopsided.

The provisions relating to the AG bestow a highly circumscribed power. Only information relevant to a possible application to a judge goes back to the post-holder. He or she does not have the power to compel the police to hand over all information gathered on the individual or entity probed. What is more, the very detailed definitions of terrorist activity introduced in this bill reduce the scope for abuse significantly. In any event, Section 22B of the current act already gives the AG a role in the process.

The provisions in relation to the AG must be understood against the backdrop of the bill as a whole. It seeks to plug enormous gaps in the existing law. It would empower authorities, for the first time, to fine and imprison people who seek to recruit or train children for the purpose of terrorism.

It also targets the indoctrination of individuals “in person or through electronic means,” addressing the significant problem of the use of social media and encrypted communication by terrorist cells.

Also for the first time, travelling to commit, plan, support or facilitate a terrorist act will be outlawed. This will capture crucial behind-the-scenes players who do things like provide documents or maintain a sleeper presence within a designated area. Importantly, the bill also seeks to introduce new fines, ranging from $25 million to $30 million.

This absolutely vital legislation has been languishing in Parliament since January. It was subject to a joint select committee that met a dozen times. More than a dozen stakeholder organisations and entities were consulted and made submissions.

With all due respect to the Opposition MPs, there is no good reason for this legislation not to go forward. In fact, if only for the sake of protecting children from terrorists, this bill must be approved.

Anti-terror laws do represent an infringement of rights. But there are enough stipulations in the bill to ensure due process and to balance those rights.

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