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Australia rights group criticizes proposed terrorism law changes

[JURIST] Australian rights group Civil Liberties Australia (CLA) [advocacy website] on Wednesday sharply criticized [press release] the government's proposed reforms [materials] to Australia's national security and anti-terrorism legislation. Last week, Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland [official website] released a 452-page discussion paper [text, PDF] detailing the proposed changes, including "providing police with new emergency powers to enter and search premises without a warrant where it is suspected, on reasonable grounds, that there is material relevant to a terrorism offence and there is a threat to public health or safety" and "extending the time available for police to re-enter a premises under a search warrant from one hour to 12 hours in emergency circumstances." CLA called these expanded powers "highly problematic," saying:

They would fundamentally undermine existing safeguards that require a judicial officer issuing a warrant. And it is questionable whether there is actually a need for enhanced powers. There is no evidence to suggest, for example, that police are unduly limited by the requirement to apply for a warrant before entering suspicious premises.

CLA did applaud the government for publishing a discussion paper that will be open for public comment until September 25.

McClelland announced plans to reform Australian anti-terrorism laws [JURIST report] last December in accordance with the recommendations [text] of a report [text, PDF] into the case of Dr. Mohammad Haneef [JURIST news archive; timeline] which concluded that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) [official website] had no evidence to detain him. Haneef was arrested in July 2007 and held for 25 days without charges after his cousin allegedly participated in the Glasgow Scotland airport attack [BBC report]. Haneef was later charged with providing support to a terrorist organization. The charges were eventually dropped, but Haneef's visa was revoked. The report, authored by retired judge John Clarke, found that Haneef should never have been charged and that there was "no evidence that [Haneef] was associated with or had foreknowledge of the terrorist events or of the possible involvement of his second cousins Dr Sabeel Ahmed and Mr Kafeel Ahmed in terrorist activities." The report also found that the government of former Prime Minister John Howard had not engaged in any wrongdoing, but that mistakes were made.

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