Queensland Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Part 2: Committee Reports
On Tuesday (12 July 2016), the report of the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee (the Committee) (Report No. 31, of the 55th Parliament) (the Report) on the Counter-Terrorism and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (the Bill) was tabled in the Queensland parliament with the Committee's recommendation, pursuant to Standing Order 132(1)(a) which requires the committee to ". . .determine whether or not to recommend that a Bill be passed". The Committee recommended that:
"After examination of the bill, including the policy objectives it seeks to achieve and consideration of the information provided by government agencies and stakeholders, the committee recommends that the bill be passed." see [1.5]
The report was looking into the proposed piece of legislation described, after its introduction into the Queensland parliament on 19 April 2016, by The Courier Mail as making "sweeping changes" and being "authoritarian" in its approach to civil liberties:
"Sweeping changes to counter-terror laws that hand unbridled powers to police and politicians were introduced with barely a whisper. . . . Joh [Joh Bjelke-Petersen], the second-most authoritarian premier in Queensland history, would have approved."
The Bill follows on from a prior similarly titled Bill introduced into the Queensland parliament in September 2015: see our article on thewhich, when enacted, extended the extraterritorial application of the Terrorism (Preventative Detention) Act 2005 (Qld) to the same area covered by the combined effect of the Queensland Act and the Federal Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 (Cth) and applied the substantive criminal law of Queensland to that area.
What the Current Bill Proposes
Some of the key changes made by the Bill (according to the second reading speech) are:
Penalties and Offences: The Bill ". . . creates offences with penalties comparable with the level of risk to the community". An example is that it will be an offence to contravene an "information requirement", by providing false and misleading information or disclosing to any person that an information requirement has been made and/or the nature of the information sought as part of that information requirement (this is proposed to attract a maximum penalty of 40 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment - the proposed provisions also deal with aggravation and protection of those who comply and also included safeguards as to when information can be required).
Public Safety: This Bill amends the Public Safety Preservation Act 1986 (Qld) Part 2A which deals with a "terrorist emergency" to provide for the appointment of a terrorist emergency reception centre (TERC) commander if it is necessary to establish a terrorist emergency reception centre outside of the declared area for a terrorist emergency, and enables the TERC commander to do the following if they are ". . . satisfied on reasonable grounds that terrorist emergency powers are necessary":
- manage and control the evacuation of persons from a declared area; or
- be responsible for the reception, identification and assessment of persons at a terrorist emergency reception centre; or
- declare as a "declared evacuation area" a stated area in which the TERC is to be established; or
- declare the route or vehicle used for the evacuation of persons and a stated area to where persons have self-evacuated from the "declared area".
The Bill also provides that a terrorist emergency officer has the power to give directions to control the movement of persons, including a direction to go to the TERC and includes powers to withdraw such directions. The Bill also enables the Premier and the minister to extend a terrorist emergency under the Public Safety Preservation Act 1986 (Qld) beyond the initial seven days, up to a maximum of 28 days and by up to seven day increments, in circumstances where it is necessary to protect life or health or protect critical infrastructure. Further, the Bill also allows a "terrorist emergency" to be extended beyond 28 days by regulation up to a maximum of 14 days.
Search Powers: The Bill gives a terrorist emergency officer the power to stop and search a vehicle without a warrant and this includes a vessel, aircraft or railway rolling stock that is ". . . in, about to enter or is reasonably suspected of having recently left a declared area or a declared evacuation area for a terrorist emergency". It also includes the power to seize anything that may provide ". . . evidence of the commission of an offence or that may be used to cause harm to any person".
The Bill also amends the search powers for terrorist emergencies declared under the Public Safety Preservation Act 1986 (Qld) by replacing the words ". . . the person intends to use the thing to cause harm" with ". . . the person may use the thing to cause harm". This amendment is is said is to ensure ". . . that police who are responding to an imminent terrorist act or a terrorist attack which has just occurred are able to seize anything that they reasonably suspect may be used to cause harm to any person". It is said the amendment recognises that ". . . police may be acting on very limited information when a terrorist attack is imminent or has just occurred" and sees the current threshold which requires a police officer to ". . . reasonably suspect that a particular person intends to use the thing to cause harm,.." as "far too high".
Detention and Imprisonment: The Bill amends the Terrorism (Preventative Detention) Act 2005 (Qld) Section 69 by inserting a note into section 69(1) which makes clear:
". . . that the restrictions on taking identifying particulars, other than under this section, do not apply when a person has been released from detention under the preventative detention order, even though that order may still be in force . . . "
The Bill includes similar amendments to the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld) as well other extensive amendments, not all able to be detailed here, to the Corrective Services Act 2006 (Qld).
Effect on Civil Liberties - Main Criticism
The main criticism of the Bill, the passage of which as noted above the Committee has approved, raised so far has been its effect on civil liberties. The Courier Mail in its April 2016 editorial states:
"Civil liberties go out the window. There will be detention orders and extra powers to enable police to rapidly gather information, obtain authorisations and exercise powers in an endeavour to mitigate or minimise the impacts of emergency situations; including natural disasters, accidents and criminal actions, terrorist emergencies or chemical, biological and radiological emergencies”.
When the measures proposed by the Bill are considered in the context of similar measures being passed, not only in Queensland but throughout the country, it is not difficult to see the conflict of principle that arises, a conflict between the ability to protect the community from terrorist emergency and the abuse/potential for use of such powers beyond the threat of terrorism. As The Courier Mail editorial further points out, Queensland has seen much lessor but similar powers misused in the past:
“'Jackboots Joh', the so-called Hillbilly Dictator, was condemned for declaring a state of emergency in Brisbane in 1972 during the anti-Springboks rugby riots. Joh would have welcomed Labor’s extension to the powers to stop and search, without a warrant, “a motor vehicle, other vehicle, ship, vessel, aircraft or railway rolling stock that is about to enter or is reasonably suspected of having just exited a declared area for a terrorist emergency.”
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Counter-Terrorism and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, and second reading speech and explanatory material as reported in the TimeBase LawOne Service
Counter-Terrorism and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (Report No. 31, 55th Parliament Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee - July 2016)