The Attorney-General Robert McClelland revealed on Tuesday that, in view of the recent Jakarta bombings, he will be releasing a significant package of suggested reforms to Australia's national security and counter-terrorism laws in coming weeks.
Speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra, McClelland said he has tasked his department to act as a "lynchpin" for bringing existing and new efforts together to fight what he called "violent extremism" - including so-called acts of terrorism.
McClelland said that within his package of reforms, he will ask the public to express opinion of the offence of inciting violence against an individual on the basis of race, religion or nationality.
"Notably, this would expand the opportunity for prosecuting those who attempt to induce others, including vulnerable youths, to commit acts of politically motivated violence, and will supplement the existing Commonwealth offence of inciting violence against a group," he said.
But Stephen J. Keim SC, former barrister for Dr Mohamed Haneef, warned against legislating for the sake of legislating, noting the numerous introduction of bills regarding terrorism over the last five years. "This idea of legislating in haste and repenting at leisure is a problem we have," he said.
Still, Keim noted there are plenty of opportunities to reform existing anti-terror laws, and said the best place to start would be in addressing what he considers the fundamental problems around the broad definition of "terrorism" that produces too much uncertainty in the eyes of the law.
"If you create legislation that when you write it you don't actually know what it means - and then you extend and extend it - ultimately a case like Dr Haneef's case will happen because no body knew what the legislation meant," he said.
The Attorney-General said the package will come in line with other measures, including the identification of violent extremists, support networks for assisting at-risk groups and individuals, and enhanced social policy work to protect communities and social groups.
McClelland also highlighted effective language reforms as a necessary means of shifting public attitudes towards violent extremists, stating that "certain words have the potential to glorify terrorism and terrorists, while others can cause anxiety among Australians and create divisions within and between communities".
He said it was vital that any messages that could in any way glorify terrorism or suggest a clash of cultures or religion be stopped. "Instead we need to adopt language that depicts acts of politically motivated violence as base criminal conduct of the most reprehensible kind."
Adapting language will fall within the existing project, the Lexicon of Terrorism, led by Victoria Police in partnership with the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Australian Multicultural Foundation and the Attorney-General's Department.
For more legal opinions on the Attorney-General's announced reforms around anti-terror laws, see next week's edition of Lawyers Weekly.
- Angela Priestley