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Australia's Proposed New Counter-Terror Laws Will Target Teenagers

If passed, the laws will lower the age that control orders can be applied and extend the period police can hold a terror suspect without charge.
October 13, 2015, 4:25pm
Screen grab via Sky News

The Australian federal government just announced a suite of new anti-terror laws that will lower the age that control orders can be applied, and extend the period police can hold a terror suspect without charge. The changes were first introduced on Monday evening, when Attorney-General George Brandis explained the Turnbull government would introduce legislation containing "a fifth installment of counter-terrorism laws which have been developed in conjunction with NSW and other states and territories."

The push for the amended laws comes in the wake of the police shooting in Parramatta, where 15-year-old Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar gunned down NSW Police employee Curtis Cheng. On Monday, NSW Premier Mike Baird wrote to Prime Minister Turnbull urging him to implement more aggressive new laws, commenting: "The terrorism environment in Australia is shifting quickly, with younger people ­becoming involved, and we need to respond just as swiftly."

The new measures are largely based on present British laws, and would lower the age in which control orders can be applied from 14 to 16-years-old. Speaking to ABC radio Senator Brandis defended the focus on younger individuals by highlighting that "the reach of ISIL and ISIL surrogates and agents in Australia is extending to younger and younger people."

He did note there will be safeguards for minors that will limit the "capacity of police to question or deal with minors in a way which is regarded—given the age of the person—to be unreasonable."

As well as increasing the focus on younger terror suspects, the NSW government has expressed they want to extend how long an individual can be held in custody without being charged. Presently a suspect can be detained for up to four hours before an application needs to be made to extend detention up to eight days. The suggested changes would allow suspects to be held for four days, with a court being able to extend this to 28 days. These changes were defended on the grounds that the current time limit isn't enough for questioning.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties have already stated they feel these amendments would be a breach of human rights. Council president Stephen Blanks commented, "The idea of detaining 14-year-old children for questioning without charge, and secretly for long periods of time, should be obviously unacceptable to the whole community." While Greens senator Nick McKim lamented to reporters that "our hard won civil liberties are being eroded with no evidence at all."

Going further, The Australian Lawyers Alliance warned harsher counter-terrorist measures, especially those targeting young people, could backfire. Greg Barns, a spokesman for the group, expressed concern that alienating adolescents from society in this way risks further radicalizing them. Telling NewsRadio, "The more oppression you provide to younger people, the more it spurs them on."

In line with Mr. Barns's argument, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon urged the government to make community engagement a focus, to "ensure that young people's minds aren't being brainwashed in the first place."

Security chiefs and government agencies will meet on Thursday to continue discussion on ways to combat violent extremism ahead of the measures being introduced to parliament in November.

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