Keeping Australians safe from convicted high-risk terrorist offenders

November 22, 2021

I rise to speak on Counter-Terrorism Amendment (High-Risk Terrorist Offenders Bill, and welcome the opportunity to do so as the Chair ofthe Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security who finalised a report into the proposed bill in September.

At the outset can I thank all members of the committee,particularly the former Deputy Chair Anthony Byrne MP and the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, who worked in a bipartisan way to reach unanimous recommendations with me and my Liberal colleagues on the committee.

In 2014 Australia’s National Terrorism Threat Level was raised to where it remains today: PROBABLE, which indicates that there is credible intelligence to suggest groups and individuals have the capability and intent to conduct a terrorist attack here in Australia.

We cannot fully eliminate the threat of terrorism here in our own country, nor has anyone else succeeded in doing so around the world. Recent attacks allegedly carried out in the name of violent ideologies in the United Kingdom and New Zealand serve to remind us of that fact.

But what we can do is provide our intelligence, security, and law enforcement agencies with the best tools - both operational and legislative- to manage the risk and reduce the threat posed to Australians.

We know that there are convicted terrorist offenders in prison right now whose sentences are soon to expire.

There are currently two options for managing such offenders:

·      The first is a continuing detention order – under which a Court may order that the person remain detained where they pose an unacceptable risk to the community, and where that risk cannot be addressed through less restrictive means.

·      The second option is a control order – which allows conditions to be placed on a person in the community.

While these tools have proven at times to be effective, there has remained a glaring hole in the suite of powers that our agencies have to manage this risk. The Continuing Detention Order scheme requires, quite rightly given the significant deprivation of liberty involved, a very high legal threshold to be met for a Court to agree to the ongoing detention of an offender who continues to pose an unacceptable risk.

The Control Order scheme, currently issued by Federal Courts, only permits a defined set of conditions to be imposed upon a terrorist offender and creates an interoperability issue whereby the Court considering an application for a continuing detention order is not able to impose conditions on the offender,where it is not satisfied that a threshold for the continuing detention of the offender is met. This discrepancy continues to run the risk that some offenders may walk free with no ongoing supervision.

This Bill addresses these issues by introducing an Extended Supervision Order Scheme, which would allow a State or Territory Supreme Court to make an extended supervision order in relation to a convicted high risk terrorist offender if satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the offender poses an unacceptable risk of committing a serious terrorism offence if released into the community at the end of their sentence. The ESO scheme provides the Court with a wider range of measures that can be used to better tailor the response to a particular offender and their individual circumstances.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security reviewed the proposed legislation, as well as further government amendments, and is strongly supportive of the introduction of an Extended Supervision Order Scheme to manage the ongoing threat of terrorist offenders.

The Committee received submissions from agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, as well as public interest groups such as the Law Council of Australia to assist in its consideration of the bill.

The AFP advised the Committee that the terrorism environment in Australia continues to grown in its complexity:

“While the National Threat Level has remained at PROBABLE, ongoing challenges to law enforcement include the demise of the IS territorial caliphate and the need to investigate and prepare for the possible return of foreign fighters; continued investigations into domestic attack planning; the aftermath of the March 2019 Christchurch attack - the first mass-casualty terrorist attack by an Australian right-wing terrorist; the increased threat of right-wing terrorism; the role of technology in propagating violent extremist ideologies; and the heightened need to address there integration and continuing risks associated with the release of convicted high risk terrorist offenders completing their head sentence.”

The Committee noted the evolving nature of the terrorism threat and the increasing complexity associated with people being radicalised online and at a younger age, which has unfortunately continued and likely accelerated during the COVID pandemic.

In considering the evidence provided, we recommended practical and sensible amendments to the bill, including ensuring issuing authorities consider whether an individual is subject to a post-sentence order under similar state or territory legislation and ensuring the individual and combined effect of all conditions remain proportionate and necessary. The Government has accepted in full, in part or in principle 10 of the 11 recommendations made by the Committee. I want to thank the AFP, Attorney General’s Department and the Department of Home Affairs as well as other submitters for their engagement with and contributions to the Committee.

The PJCIS continues to strongly support the AFP having the necessary tools to disrupt the activities of those who would seek to harm the Australian community and our way of life, while ensuring the appropriate safeguards and oversight mechanisms are in place.

The Bill, including the Government amendments has now been approved by a majority of States and Territories, in accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement on Counter-Terrorism Laws.

This Bill ensures our agencies continue to have the appropriate and necessary powers they need to combat complex terrorist offenders, and Australians can continue to have confidence in the ability of our law enforcement officers to keep them safe.

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