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George Brandis defends new terror control orders for 14-year-olds

THE AUSTRALIAN, 13 Oct 2015 10:07AM

Attorney-General George Brandis says he’s comfortable with the prospect of 14-year-olds being detained without having been charged, as the Turnbull government prepares to introduce a new section of the nation’s counter-terrorism laws.

In an announcement last night, Senator Brandis said a fifth-instalment of the laws would, among other things, lower the age at which a control order can be applied from 16 to 14. While lawyers have begun speaking out against the proposal, Senate Brandis said it was necessary after a radicalised teenager shot dead NSW police employee Curtis Cheng in Sydney just over one week ago. Asked if he was personally “comfortable” with the new tranche of national security legislation, Senator Brandis told ABC radio: “I am. “What we saw with the event that occurred in Parramatta the Friday before last with a 15-year-old boy who had been inspired to perform a horrendous terrorist act, an act of murder, demonstrates that unfortunately the reach of ISIL and ISIL surrogates and agents in Australia is extending to younger and younger people. “This is a very, very serious problem of course but I think the age of the person concerned last Friday week demonstrates that 14 is not too young an age for an order of this kind to be made.” Senator Brandis said the new bill, which will be introduced to parliament in November, will include particular safeguards for minors under the age of 18. “At the moment … there are no particular protections for minors in the 16 and 17-year-old age category but under the (new) legislation there’ll be particular protections and safeguards for minors in the 14 to 17 age category,” he said. “They will be various measures that will limit the capacity of police to question or deal with minors in a way that is regarded, given the age of the person, to be unreasonable.” The announcement was made after NSW Premier Mike Baird yesterday wrote a letter to Malcolm Turnbull advocating the lowering of the control order age in the wake of the Sydney shooting. Mr Baird has also pushed for an extension of the time allowed to detain terrorism suspects without charge for up to 28 days. Senator Brandis said there was no “legal impediment” for the NSW government to legislate the change but the Commonwealth was unable to do so because detention without charge for an “unreasonably long period” could be seen as a form of “executive detention” and in breach of the constitution. “From the Commonwealth’s point of view we have to establish the right period so that there is sufficient flexibility and a capacity for the police to meet their operational needs while at the same time avoiding what could be regarded as punitive executive detention,” Senator Brandis said. “Punitive detention under Commonwealth law can only be ordered by a court.” Senator Brandis said he’d foreshadowed the 5th tranche of national security legislation in June and a final draft of the bill had been shared with state and territory governments in September. Recommendations from a Council of Australian Governments counter-terrorism working group will also be incorporated in the legislation. Former independent national security legislation monitor Bret Walker SC said control orders could be “counter-productive” because they were a “very bad climate” in which to investigate people, who were often “hyper-sensitive” towards authorities. “We do have to be careful about just adding laying layer after layer of law in relation to dealing with people who probably require to be surveilled, investigated and in appropriate cases charged,” he said on ABC radio. However Mr Walker said there was “justification” in lowering the age that a control order can be applied. “But let me point this out, there’ll be justification for lowering it even further whenever something is perpetrated by someone even younger,” he said. “We need to brace ourselves for what happens when a 12-year-old is discovered doing something that ought to be the subject of questioning. Sixteen wasn’t bad with its arbitrariness; I would’ve been hard put to say that 14, which has a relation to criminal responsibility, would’ve been bad so long as we understand that the tendency of trial and error to change these laws will be biased in one direction only — to reduce them. “We aren’t going to hear a version of terror laws to increase that age to 18.” The Australian Lawyers Alliance feared putting in place control orders to people as young as 14 could backfire. “If you want to further radicalise people, if you want them feeling they are completely alienated from society and you do that to a 14-year-old kid then you’re going the right way about it,” spokesman Greg Barns said. Terrorism expert Greg Barton said extending control orders to keep suspects away from harmful elements and protect them could be useful as part of a larger package of measures. “By itself though, it’s not going to be a panacea,” he said. Security chiefs and government agencies are meeting in Canberra on Thursday to discuss ways to combat violent extremism. ADDITIONAL REPORTING: AAP