“IT’S hard to know whether to be alert or alarmed – or just cynical.
Prime Minister John Howard says he’s received credible intelligence about a potential terrorist attack in Australia.
He can’t say where, or when, or what’s being planned.
Giving out too much information could tip off the suspects, endanger the informant, or scuttle the police operation.
The information isn’t enough to warrant raising Australia’s security alert level.
But it is enough to need an urgent amendment to anti-terror laws, which is rushed into Parliament four hours later.
And the Senate will be recalled tomorrow, at a cost of about $50,000, so the amendment can become law before Friday.
The amendment will change one word in a series of clauses – replacing ‘the’ with ‘a’ when referring to terrorist attacks.
It’s hard to see how such a small change could make such a difference to protecting Australians.
But it will allow police or other law enforcement agencies to make a case against people who may be in the very early stages of planning a terrorist attack, whose plans are not advanced enough to fit the definition of ‘the’ terrorist attack.
For example, they may be considering bombing a government building, but have not decided which building to attack.
Or they may be contemplating detonating a bomb, but have yet to decide when or what sort of bomb to make.
All this comes on the same day that 1200 pages of draft industrial relations laws were introduced to Parliament – changes Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says pose a greater danger to Australians’ civil rights than new counter-terror laws.
Labor is united behind fighting the industrial relations changes.
But it is in disarray over radical changes to terror laws which are still being ironed out between Mr Howard and the state and territory leaders.
The premiers, who were briefed on the intelligence last night and today, have fallen in behind the Government’s plans.
So has Mr Beazley.
But caucus is divided on whether to support his stand or fight the laws on civil libertarian grounds.
So on a day when Mr Beazley might have reasonably expected to dominate news coverage with a strong attack on industrial relations, he found himself answering questions about a potential terrorist attack instead.
It’s certainly made independent MP Peter Andren suspicious.
Mr Andren says his legal advice is that there is no difference between ‘the’ and ‘a’ in the legislation.
And he says if there’s an urgent need to address a potential terrorist attack, the general terror threat level should be raised.
Opinion polls have shown Australians swinging behind Labor on industrial relations, but still trusting the Government more on national security.
Fears that terrorists may be preparing to strike on Australian soil will only strengthen Government support.”