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Parliament passes counter terror laws

Published:Thursday | October 2, 2014 | 10:00 AM
A police officer (left) speaks with two people outside of a house where a man was taken into custody during a counterterrorism raid in Seabrook in suburban Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday.

CANBERRA, (AP): The Australian Parliament yesterday passed a raft of counterterrorism laws that extend secret service powers despite concerns about their impact on press freedom.

The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill gives greater search and surveillance powers to the nation's domestic spy agency, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

The bill is the first of three tranches of tough new counterterrorism laws designed to better equip security agencies to deal with extremist networks such as the Islamic State.

The most contentious section of legislation passed by the House of Representatives yesterday carries a potential 10-year prison sentence for anyone who discloses information that relates to a "special-intelligence operation."

The national journalists' union, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), condemned the law as "an outrageous attack on press freedom in Australia."

JOURNALISTS ON RADAR

"The bill criminalises legitimate journalist reporting of matters in the public interest. It overturns the public's right to know." MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren said in a statement.

That opinion was echoed by the minor Greens party that unsuccessfully attempted to amend the legislation to bolster public-interest protections for journalists and whistle-blowers.

"Our security agencies could inadvertently kill an innocent bystander and journalists would not be able to report on it," Greens lawmaker Adam Bandt told Parliament.

Attorney-General George Brandis said an operation had to be "unusual" and "covert" before he could classify it as a special-intelligence operation with the special secrecy protections.

"The idea that these could simply be rubber-stamped to cover up or gloss over anything that ASIO might choose to do is nonsense," Brandis told the National Press Club.

The legislation passed easily with the support of lawmakers from the conservative government and centre-left Labour Party opposition.

AUSTRALIA