Civil rights groups baulk at anti-terror laws

By Greg Ansley

Proposed tough new anti-terror laws are causing concern among civil rights groups that believe existing laws are repressive.

Prime Minister John Howard announced the new laws as part of the package he promised after the London bombings. Terror suspects could be forced to wear electronic tracking devices for up to a year, and their freedom to travel and of association could be restricted.

People suspected of links to terrorism could be held for 48 hours in an emergency and law agencies will get greater powers to question and search people. Random bag searches will be permitted, and surveillance will be extended.

Financing terrorism will be a criminal offence, checks to ensure charities are not funnelling money to terrorists will be stepped up, and becoming a citizen will take a year longer.

It will become an offence to leave bags unattended at an airport or to incite violence - including against Australian troops serving overseas.

Howard rejected suggestions the laws would create a police state. "There is nothing in these measures that can possibly be regarded as a creating a quasi-police state," he said.

But the Law Council of Australia said the new laws would allow large numbers of Australians to be investigated and held for long periods. And Council for Civil Liberties chairman Terry O'Gorman said they would push Australia down the path of becoming a police state.

Muslim groups have also warned that potential radicals would be driven underground. They also said legitimate opposition to situations such as Iraq could be suppressed.

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