Agencies get more terrorism powers

Intelligence and police agencies will get extraordinary powers to detain, question and prosecute suspected terrorists under Federal Government changes to terror laws that specially target Australians fighting in foreign conflicts.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott used the proposed terror law changes to announce an abandonment of proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, saying it had become a "complication" in the Government's relationship with the Australian Muslim community.

He said the backdown on Section 18C - a humiliation for Attorney-General George Brandis, who was only told of the decision yesterday morning - was a leadership call. "In the end, leadership is about preserving national unity on the essentials and that is why I have taken this decision," Mr Abbott said.

"When it comes to counterterrorism, everyone needs to be part of Team Australia."

_The West Australian _ believes Mr Abbott decided it was untenably inconsistent to clamp down on radical Islamists in Australia while allowing racists and bigots greater freedom of speech.

Under the measures, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be given the power to designate certain world trouble spots as prohibited areas.

Those who go to these areas will have to prove that their motives for travel are innocent.

Ms Bishop will also be given the power to suspend passports on top of her existing power to cancel passports. Ms Bishop believes the change will allow authorities to act more quickly.

Agencies involved in counterterrorism, including Australian Federal Police, Customs and Border Protection, ASIO, Australian Secret Intelligence Service and Office of National Assessments will get an extra $630 million in funding over the next four years. Legislative changes to be brought to Parliament in the next sitting fortnight will broaden the definition of terrorist acts to make it an offence to promote or encourage terrorism.

Senator Brandis confirmed yesterday that it could make it an offence to use social media such as Twitter to disseminate photographs of atrocities in foreign conflicts. If authorities "suspect on reasonable grounds" that there is an imminent threat of a terrorist threat, they can issue a preventive detention order.

The Government said the changes aimed to make it easier for authorities to arrest, monitor, investigate and prosecute returning foreign fighters and stop extremists leaving Australia.

It also means that Australian-based preachers face a greater prospect of prosecution if they are seen to advocate or promote terrorism. A third tranche of reforms will come later in the year to update Australia's telecommunication interception laws that predate the internet.

The Government plans to order phone and internet companies to keep customer data for two years to help with investigations.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten welcomed the 18C backdown.

The West Australian

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