Australian lawmakers passed a raft of tough new counterterror laws Tuesday that civil opponents warned would sweep away civil liberties. The laws let police and intelligence agencies detain terror suspects without charge for up to 14 days and control their movements, including fitting them with electronic tags, for a year. The package also gives police tougher powers to stop, search and seize evidence from suspects and clears the way for more close circuit television cameras to be used to monitor public places.
Prime Minister John Howard introduced the package in the aftermath of the deadly July public transport bombings in London and they were broadly supported by the opposition Labor Party. Justice Minister Chris Ellison told the Senate the laws would give authorities the necessary tools to tackle terrorism.
While Australia has never been hit by a major terror attack, it has been singled out by al-Qaida as a possible target because of its strong support for the U.S.-led war on terror and campaign in Iraq. Last month, police arrested 18 suspected members of extremist Islamic cells in Sydney and Melbourne and said they were plotting a catastrophic attack in Australia, possibly targeting a nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Sydney. But Australian Greens leader Bob Brown condemned the laws.
"We are in a new period of McCarthyism and we need to know that, and understand it, and worry that this time it won't be turned around, that citizens, using a law like this, will be brought before courts for political reasons, not security reasons," he told parliament. And John North, president of the Law Council of Australia and an outspoken critic of the package said lawyers would monitor the government's use of its new powers, reports the AP. I.L.