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Terrorist threats increasing legal complexity

By Peter Coates - posted Friday, 4 July 2014

Ongoing civil wars in Syria and Iraq are making the job of police and security agencies in Australia even more complex and daunting than usual. An increase in the number of young men going overseas to fight in these civil wars carries with it the risk they will bring terrorism back to Australia. Other countries, including those in Europe, are also responding, to the increasing threat of terrorism. We may be of many faiths but we are Australians first so shouldn't be ruled by religion.

The Federal Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, discussed these issues with the peak Islamic leadership (senior Imams) on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Senator Brandis said "The Abbott government is absolutely determined that the troubles in the Middle East will not have an impact of Australia's domestic population. We acknowledge that this is an important national security issue." Sheikh Saleem, a member of the National Imams Council responded that "It is a matter for all of us…to build a secure and peaceful Australia and this a very challenging time [. The] news that over 60 Australians are participating in war in Syria and Iraq is a shock to every individual Muslim in this country."

To address these heightened concerns about international and home-grown terrorism the Government is scheduled, on July 14, 2014, to introduce a range of proposed amendments to national security legislation into Parliament. These proposals concern: Australian police and security agencies' powers to conduct surveillance in countries where governance has broken down; powers to monitor and disrupt suspect computer networks; suspension of passports; and other issues.


These represent the most major proposed amendments to counter-terrorism laws since those introduced by the Howard Government in 2005. This will be followed by more proposed amendments over the next few months. The amendments are mainly based on recommendations of a parliamentary committee inquiry into intelligence and security. These are contained in a report tabled under the Labor Governmentlast year. The proposed amendments also draw on recommendations in the latest Annual Report of the outgoing Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM), Bret Walker.

Checks and balances are important particularly over major changes to counter-terrorism laws, but it appears one check is to be abolished. While these major counter-terrorism legislative amendments are to be proposed the Federal Government is recommending that to save money and reduce duplication the position of INSLM should be terminated (see this Brisbane Times article).Bret Walker as the current monitor said on page 3 of the 2014 INSLM Annual Report: "The INSLM is not aware of any other officer, agency or "level" of government doing what Parliament required to be done by the INSLM Act enacted in 2010.''

Australia's concern over heightened radicalism caused by the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars has also been felt by other Western countries including those in Europe. More than 300 Germans and 2,000 – 3,000 other Europeans are estimated to be involved in Syrian and Iraqi fighting.

It is thought that most Europeans and Australians who are involved have used Turkey as the initial entry point by walking, or been driven, over the Turkish border into Syria. McClatchy News reports that since 2011 Turkeyhas not banned this movement of young men crossing over the Turkish border to fight in Syria or Iraq. Religious difference may play a part in this situation. Most Turks are Sunni, like most fighters, while Syrian and Iraqi government forces are mainly Shiite.

McClatchy News reports an aspect of what might be a relatively humanitarian German approach to terrorism issues : "Claudia Dantschke, a German specialist in Islam who tries to identify and counsel families where the young people are at risk of choosing the fight, says the official reaction struggles to keep up with the increased intensity of recruiting actions."She wrote in an email "The public awareness for the problem of young people from Germany joining the jihad has increased, so more families are turning to us for help." She says Germany faces "a massive increase in propaganda from recruiters for [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)]…[ISIS] have Germans spreading their propaganda on Facebook in German, in groups frequented by teenagers and on pages of people they identify with. The extent and effect of this radical direct approach is a new thing."

Anxiety that civil wars in the Middle East may result in violence here in Australia provide one of the justifications for amended counter-terrorism laws. Australians shouldn't become involved in other people's wars. If they do it should be as a result of legitimately constituted processes of government. The comeback that our armed forces become involved forgets that Australia's leaders are democratically voted in by all Australians over 18 and can be voted out. There is also little risk that ours soldiers might commit violent acts once they return to Australia. Terrorism is a global fear that shouldn't impinge on our lives.

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About the Author

Peter Coates has been writing articles on military, security and international relations issues since 2006. In 2014 he completed a Master’s Degree in International Relations, with a high distinction average. His website is Submarine Matters.

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