Terror laws pass, but not without a fight

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 has passed the Australian Senate without major changes, despite a last minute bid by Labor for the addition of a “good faith” exclusion to the bill.

The amendment, which was introduced by Labor Senator Jacinta Collins, would have provided an exception from charges of “advocating terrorism” if it could be established those concerned were engaged in good faith public discussion “of any genuine academic, artistic, scientific, political or religious matter”.

Labor lost the vote, despite support by The Greens and Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm. It was voted down by the government, as well as the Palmer United Party, independent senator Nick Xenophon, Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir, Democratic Labour Party senator John Madigan and Family First senator Bob Day.

The final senate vote on the bill saw it pass 43 votes to 12, with the only opposition votes coming from Senator Xenophon, Senator Leyonhjelm and the 10 Greens senators.

Before passage of the bill, Attorney General George Brandis made several amendments to reflect changes recommended in a parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security inquiry earlier this month.

The committee report recommended improvements to the clarity of certain provisions within the bill, the addition of exceptions for several legislated offences, and the expiration, or “sunset”, of several powers enacted in the bill after 24 months, allowing for a review of the bill’s provisions after the necessary time.

However, the report did not recommend changes to sections of the bill that would affect the operations of media organisations and journalists, which were outlined in a submission to the committee by an alliance of media organisations after the release of the bill – and it passed Parliament unchanged.

Section 119.7 of the bill, creates offences for “publishing in Australia an advertisement or item of news…for the purpose of recruiting persons to serve in any capacity in or with an armed force in a foreign country,” with a penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The Crown, however, would have to prove those charged had acted in a “reckless” way in relation to the publication of the material.

The committee report did not recommend any changes to 119.7 and the bill passed parliament with this section unchanged.

Provisions in the bill regarding the publication of information related to delayed notification search warrants, which media organisations asked to have removed from the bill, were also passed, although several amendments were made to the bill after recommendations from the committee report.

These provisions would make it an offence for journalists to disclose information regarding the application for or execution of a delayed notification search warrant – a type of warrant that give authorities the right to search a private property and notify the property owner up to 12 months after the fact.

After the joint committee inquiry report, amendments were made to this section including exceptions for disclosure in the interest of legal proceedings or after the warrant premise’s occupant had been notified of the warrant.

The joint media submission’s request for the addition of the public interest defence was ignored, however the committee recommended and the government approved an amendment to the bill making it compulsory for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions take into account the public interest before making any prosecutions under this provision.

For a deeper look at how Australia’s two new national security bills will affect journalists, publishers and advertisers, check out ‘The terror law trap’, a feature that was published in the latest edition of The Bulletin.


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