Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Prime Minister Orders Review That Could Include ID Card

Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard
Intelligence services have begun a review of Australia's terrorism laws that could include consideration of a national identity card. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie yesterday called for a national identification scheme in the wake of the wrongful detention of Cornelia Rau. He said it could also protect Australians against terrorism. Prime Minister John Howard said the Government would not needlessly change the laws, but he had asked for broad advice from the intelligence agencies. "We haven't put any limits on what might come forward," Mr Howard said. But it could include advice on identification. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has flagged laws to make it easier for authorities to deport people who incite hatred and make it harder for them to enter Britain. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Australia had "benchmarked" its anti-terror laws to those of Britain and the US and would continue to do so after the London bombings. But he warned that "superficially appealing" ideas, such as deportation, were complex, particularly with Australian citizens, who could wind up stateless. "You could remove somebody's citizenship and find you have nowhere to remove them to," he said. Mr Howard played down the prospect of identity cards, but refused to rule them out. Australia has significantly strengthened terror laws since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Mr Howard said suicide bombers could strike in Australia, but he said he had no intelligence information pointing to an attack. "Anyone who thinks we can never have suicide bombers in Australia is being complacent," he said. Mr Ruddock also said suicide bombings in Australia could not be ruled out. "A week ago, people would have ruled it out in the UK," he said. Mr Howard said the risk here was lower than in Britain, partly because Australia had a smaller Muslim population. "Without in any way smearing the general population … there is no doubt that there has been a perverted attempt by fanatics to distort the meaning of Islam," he said. He also condemned the views of Melbourne bookshop owner Sheikh Mohammed Omran, who recently said Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks in the United States.

'Be alert, not alarmed' campaign revived

A new $2.2 million advertising blitz urging Australians to report possible terrorist activity has been launched. Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Australians needed a reminder to be vigilant and to use the anti-terror phone line, which costs $6.1 million a year to run. "I don't believe we can allow our guard to fall," he said. The three-week campaign started with television advertisements last night. Newspaper, public transport and railway station advertisements will follow. The Federal Government's first campaign, including fridge magnets and the slogan "Be alert, not alarmed", began in 2002. The magnets could be reissued. Mr Ruddock said the phone line had received 50,000 calls, providing "very useful" information. The number of calls to the line has risen since the London bomb attacks, with 500 since Thursday last week. It has also been subject to a large number of hoax calls. David Wright-Neville, from Monash University's terrorism research unit, dismissed the new campaign as political spin that would not help deter or detect terrorism.