Turnbull push for three big changes to terrorism laws

Terrorism suspects could be interrogated for up to 14 days before being charged under a major shake up of Australia's terrorism laws being proposed by the Turnbull government.

And it would be an offence to possess "instructional terrorist material" and to make terrorism hoaxes under two new laws that will be considered by state and federal leaders at a special terrorism-focused Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on Thursday.

The proposal to hold suspects for 14 days without charge and the two new offences are the three key proposals that will be examined at the special meeting, but a broad range of other counter-terrorism issues will be discussed.

The Turnbull government believes the recently foiled plot to blow up a plane in Sydney serves as the best example for the shift to a nationally consistent 14 days detention regime.

In that case, the first suspect was charged after a couple of days of questioning and the second suspect after seven days - but if the plot had taken place in another state such as Queensland or South Australia, the suspects may have had to have been released without charge after as little as eight hours questioning.

Former NSW Premier Mike Baird moved to adopt the 14 day pre-charge detention period back in March 2016, and at the time urged other states to adopt a similar regime. Most states have a maximum of seven days but in South Australia, for example, it is as little as eight hours.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' government recently outlined a proposal that would give police the power to hold terrorism suspects for four days without access to a court and potentially without even seeing a lawyer.

The Victorian proposal prompted fierce criticism from criminal barrister Greg Barns and the federal proposal is likely to attract similar criticism from civil rights groups.

Law professor George Williams said, commenting on the proposed hoax and instructional material laws, that it was important the federal government outlined why existing laws were not sufficient and the changes were needed.

"We need to see what the specifics are, maybe there is a gap."

Mr Turnbull, Attorney-General George Brandis and Justice Minister Michael Keenan have been working to address the legal concerns about detaining someone for 14 days without charge by devising additional legal safeguards which, they believe, would ensure natural justice to suspects.

The proposed new offence for possessing "instructional terrorist material" is designed to target offences at the lower end of the spectrum, where a person possesses a terrorist instruction manual but has not yet developed the ability to act.

The new law for proposed terrorist hoaxes would cover a broad range of offence, carry tough criminal penalties and ensure a nationally consistent law to address the offence, which is currently covered by various state laws.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Turnbull said the Coalition, which has passed nine tranches of national security legislation in three-and-a-half years, was determined to "stay ahead of the threat of terrorism and keep Australians safe".

"It's vital that we have nationally consistent terrorism laws. I'm asking state and territory leaders to work with me to deliver safety and security," he said.

"People who are using the internet to spread terrorist propaganda and instructions will be tracked down and caught. They must face the full force of the law. We need nationally consistent pre-charge detention laws so that those who seek to do us harm can be held to account no matter where they are."

State premiers will also be briefing on the terrorism threats facing Australia at the COAG meeting, and discussions will be held about establishing a nationally consistent approach to bail and parole for terror suspects and on plans to enhance Defence's ability to support the states and territories' "response capabilities" to terror incidents.

Since September 2014, there have been five terrorism attacks in Australia and 13 major operations have disrupted terrorism plots.

The story Turnbull push for three big changes to terrorism laws first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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