Australia tightens border security

By Greg Ansley

Australia is going to tighten its borders. Photo / Getty Images
Australia is going to tighten its borders. Photo / Getty Images

CANBERRA - Australia will tighten its borders with intense biometric scrutiny of travellers from high-risk countries in a move that could heighten tensions with other nations in the region.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the planned introduction of fingerprinting and facial recognition technology for visas in 10 as-yet unnamed countries as part of new measures to protect Australia from terrorism.

Canberra will also set up a new Counter-Terrorism Control Centre, led by the domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, to increase co-operation between federal and state law agencies.

It follows a range of moves to tighten borders, including a A$200 million ($257 million) plan to boost aviation security that includes body-scanners and cutting-edge x-ray technology at airports.

The measures were announced during the release of a white paper on terrorism that warned Australia would be a specific target for terrorists for the foreseeable future.

"The threat is not diminishing," Rudd said.

Since 2001 more than 100 Australians have died in terror attacks overseas, and the white paper said numerous attacks had been thwarted within Australia.

The paper, which said no government could guarantee complete protection from terror, warned that foreign jihadists and Australian-born radicals attracted to a distorted and militant view of Islam presented a permanent and increased threat.

The new visa system, being developed with Britain in a four-year, A$69 million programme, will match fingerprints and faces with Australian and international databases in a bid to stop suspected terrorists before they get on a plane.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said Canberra was working with Britain to develop a system that would draw on each others' intelligence resources.

"We will be working with the UK to work out where they have coverage and, of course, rather than duplicating their coverage, we may be able to value-add to theirs and respectively get the benefit of where they are locating their [similar] technologies," he said.

The inclusion of countries on the list is likely to be sensitive, especially for nations such as Indonesia.

McClelland and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith declined to comment on the possible inclusion of Australia's closest neighbour, with which it maintains a delicate relationship.

"We are not proposing to identify the countries concerned until we actually engage in the rollout for all of the obvious reasons, but that will become apparent as the programme is rolled out," Smith told the ABC.

He said Canberra would consult the countries concerned.

McClelland said the list would be determined by a country's "propensity of instability", the existence of terrorist organisations within its borders, and the presence of individuals supportive of or assisting them.

Under that criteria, Malaysia and the Philippines could also qualify for inclusion.

The white paper said Southeast Asian countries had met with significant success in the fight against terrorism, but the July 2009 Jakarta hotel attacks underscored the ongoing threat to Indonesians, Australians and others in the region.

It said Southeast Asia had become home to loosely affiliated terror networks, including Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf group, which would continue to adapt and combine local and international agendas in unpredictable ways.

With other global terror groups and the threat of a new wave of terrorism spreading from Afghanistan and Pakistan, the danger to Australia was real.

"The Government's intelligence agencies assess that further attacks could occur at any time," the white paper said.

It also warned homegrown terrorism was an increasing danger and past successes - which had seen 38 people charged with terror-related charges and 40 others denied passports - should not raise false confidence.

There was a significant number of Australian extremists willing to engage in violence to advance their political aims, and a wider, if small, group of al Qaeda sympathisers who would continue to provide financial support to foreign groups and who could later themselves be radicalised.

"A number of Australians are known to subscribe to the violent jihadist message," the white paper said.

"Some have travelled overseas ... to engage in terrorist training and fighting, and it is likely others will seek to do so in the future.

"It is also possible Australians travelling or living overseas will be exposed to extremist ideas [and] ... engage in terrorism.

"Regardless of where radicalisation occurs, Australian extremists have engaged in terrorist activities not only in Australia but also in other countries.

"We expect this to continue."

- NZ Herald

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