The Guardian 15 June, 2005

Secret searches in NSW terror bill

NSW Attorney-General (AG) Bob Debus has introduced a new bill into the parliament that would give police the power to conduct secret searches of individuals’ homes without telling them anything about it for up to two years. The warrants will be granted for intelligence gathering in cases where a terrorist act has been committed or, it is believed, is being planned. The intelligence gathered may be shared with foreign law enforcement agencies.

The AG is taking great pains to sooth public disquiet about this latest attack on privacy and civil liberties. "These powers are extraordinary and they have only been permitted with the strictest of safeguards", he said.

The warrants will only be available on application to the courts from officers of the counter-terrorism unit or the NSW Crime Commission. Police officers will have to report progress in their investigations to the minister. Mr Debus said the Ombudsman will also oversee the use of the warrants.

The NSW government first flagged the introduction of the legislation last October when it claimed that police needed more powers to effectively combat terrorism. "The Government ... sees this legislation not only as an investigative tool but also as a preventative tool", Mr Debus told the media.

"Where preliminary or support activity is suspected, there’s a strong need to act to gather further information to prevent any further acts of terrorism that may cost innocent lives."

However, the NSW government has yet to make a persuasive case to civil liberties watchdogs to justify the most recent spy bill. Neither NSW nor the rest of Australia has experienced any extraordinary circumstances of the sort that could justify what Mr Debus describes as extraordinary powers. The raft of new ASIO powers and the various pieces of state legislation have not resulted in the discovery of any terrorist threat to the community. There is a serious danger that these laws could be used against other groups such as trade unionists, communists, and other political activists at a later date.

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