Terrorism suspects to be held for up to two weeks without charge under new COAG agreement

Terrorism suspects to be held for up to two weeks without charge under new COAG agreement

Terrorism suspects to be held for up to two weeks without charge under new COAG agreement

Updated 5 October 2017, 17:45 AEDT

Terrorism suspects in Australia will be able to be held for up to a fortnight without charge under an agreement with the states and territories, while driver's licence photos will be available to authorities in real time to identify suspects.

Terrorism suspects will be able to be held for up to a fortnight without charge under an agreement with the states and territories.

The states and territories agreed to the extra counter-terrorism measures, which also include making drivers licence photos available in real time to help quickly identify terrorism suspects, after meeting with the Prime Minister this morning.

Malcolm Turnbull said adding driver's licence photos to a national database would help police identify criminals and terrorists much more quickly.

"It's really taking a resource that has been accessed for years and years, and making it available in a 21st century manner," he said.

"I thought that most Australians would assume it would be accessed in this way now but it hasn't been."

He said it will enable police and security services to give an "even better level of protection" by being able to identify persons of concern, people who are suspected of terrorist offences or terrorist plots in real-time.

Decisions taken at today's meeting of state, territory and federal leaders will mean some people's civil liberties will also be curtailed, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

"Notional considerations of civil liberties do not trump the very real threat, the very real threat of terror in our country today," the Labor Premier said.

Political leaders back hard-line approach

His colleagues back the hard-line approach, which includes new nationally consistent counter-terrorism measures, including locking up suspects for 14 days without charge.

"Obviously if you don't have this and if people are released they can go and destroy evidence or even worse they can go and detonate whatever material might have so you have got to have proper precautions," WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan said.

"We are dealing with the civil liberties of terrorists and I don't particularly care about the civil liberties of terrorists or potential terrorists so I think these are appropriate safeguards or precautions."

NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: "We must always, always be conscious of individual rights and civil liberties however public safety and security must come first.

"Unfortunately minors do get manipulated. We need to make sure we take every step we can to prevent any violent acts from occurring."

Today's meeting also decided to extend telephone warnings to people near a terrorism incident, in the same way as they broadcast to people near natural disasters at the moment.

The system has been used since 2009 to warn people about bushfires, floods or cyclones.

It will now be available to send critical information to people near a national security incident.

A plan to ensure the photos from drivers' licences could be shared across jurisdictions quickly was also backed by state and territory leaders.

"I think that is an example of where all of us are prepared to give up a bit of our individual rights to protect the community," Ms Berejiklian said.

Easier access to drivers' licence photos would mean police and security agencies could use facial recognition technology to detect suspects.

Where do we draw the line?

Fergus Hanson, who heads the Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it was hard to judge which crimes or threats warranted the use of facial recognition and he warned of a slippery slope where extra offences were incrementally added.

"It is very difficult to define a line so I think most Australians would agree that using facial recognition to track down terrorists is a good idea," Mr Hanson said.

"People might say using it for tracking down murderers is a good idea, but what about people who haven't paid their parking fine."

Mr Andrews dismissed the concern about protection for personal liberties as something leaders could not afford.

"There is going to be people out there talking about civil liberties today, they are going to be talking about the thin edge of the wedge and all this sort of stuff, well frankly, that talk … is a luxury that might be available to them it is not available to political leaders in this country," Mr Andrews said.

Ms Berejiklian also played down concerns the drivers' licence photo database could be more prone to being hacked.

"I think protecting the public is the more appropriate concern," she said.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk expressed confidence people in her state were prepared to accept the use of the technology, including at next year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

"This is about stopping any prospect of terrorism and it is ensuring thousands of people are safe at the Games," Ms Palaszczuk said.

"I support whatever measures are needed — surveillance, added security."

State and territory leaders also argued they did not want to be exposed for having overlooked or ignored any warnings if terrorists did successfully strike.

"What I would be worried about is if we, heaven forbid, had another terrorist attack in this country and it became clear that we had technology available to us — tools and powers and laws and resources available to us — and we had squibbed it because of notional concerns about civil liberties, overlooking something if terrorists strike," Mr Andrews said.