THE country's first legal officer has moved to soften Australia's counter-terrorism laws, just a week after police raided a cell of suspected terrorists in Melbourne.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland has announced the release of a discussion paper that aims to move beyond the laws created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States and the 2002 Bali bombings.
The changes, announced last night, hands police the power to enter a location such as a house and remove a dangerous substance for the purpose of public safety. McClelland told Sky News today, it is not a premise search as much as a removal of a dangerous substance that is allowed.
As well, the changes would see police allowed to detain terror suspects for a maximum of nine days.
McClelland said the government's plans toughened Australia's laws in some areas and moderated them in others. But the general move reflects a softening of the body of laws introduced by the Howard government.
McClelland said the previous government's laws had been passed "expeditiously" following the September 11 attacks and the Bali bombings.
McClelland said: "Essentially, our philosophy has been that these laws were introduced necessarily expeditiously in light of September 11 ... we've said, the reality is, these threats are going to be with us for the long term. Let's recalibrate them so that they are effective, but also acceptable to the general community."
The discussion paper will seek to achieve an appropriate balance between the Government's responsibility to protect Australia, McClelland said. It will "instill confidence that our laws will be exercised in a just and accountable way".
The most significant change would see a cap of nine days placed on the time police can detain a terror suspct without charge. The cap is a direct response to the case of Indian doctor Mohamed Haneef, who was detained without charge for 13 days.
"We're putting a cap on that, so that the period of suspension of questioning to obtain information is capped at seven days," McClelland told Sky News.
"But even before that, we have pre-conditions that it has to go through a senior police officer, a Magistrate and we're introducing additional oversight of the actions of the Federal Police, including the establishment of a Joint Parliamentary Committee of law enforcement and the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security will also be given the expanded powers to look at the operations of the Federal Police."
The discussion paper will be open for public comments until 25 September 2009.