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|August 28, 2000||
Aus military to get sweeping powersAndrea Hopkins in Canberra
Measures to give Australia's military greater powers to act against terrorist threats and civil unrest were debated in parliament on Monday and are expected to be in place in time for the Sydney Olympics.
The military can currently be called out only in extreme cases, such as a threat to the national government, but the proposed legislation identifies other cases, such as major events like the Olympics, where national security is not necessarily involved.
The legislation would allow the military to quell domestic unrest and give the army powers to search and detain people, seize property and, in extreme cases, shoot to kill.
It was expected to pass the upper house Senate this week, in time for the Olympics which start on September 15, and ahead of a World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne from September 11-13, at which protests are expected.
The conservative coalition government and opposition Labor party have joined forces on the legislation, which has been approved in the lower house of parliament, and are countering claims they are over-reacting to a possible Olympic threat.
Civil libertarians and legal experts complained the legislation -- which does not require the military to gain state permission before intervening -- is open to abuse.
"It is a very grim day, it is a bad day, for democracy, for civil rights, for the checks and balances that we've long honoured in this country," Greens Senator Bob Brown said.
Attorney-General Daryl Williams said the bill clarified existing arrangements between the national government and Australia's six states and established a framework for military intervention if state police were unable to meet a threat.
"The bill is not expanding the circumstances under which the defence force can be called out in aid of civil authorities, it's remaining exactly as it has been," Williams told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
The legislation aims to counter attacks like that which left 11 Israeli athletes dead at the 1972 Munich Olympics, but some opponents claim the legislation could be used against planned protests by Australia's disadvantaged Aborigines.
John Dowd, a Supreme Court judge and head of the Australian branch of the International Commission of Jurists, said pre-Olympic nerves were pushing politicians to approve legislation they might otherwise reject.
"You're getting through legislation that hasn't been needed in the last 100 years, using the Olympics as an excuse to give the (national government) power which is just not necessary," Dowd said.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley acknowledged the Games were a catalyst for the changes.
"I think there is a good case for modernising the practices, particularly in the context of the Olympics coming through," Beazley told reporters.
The small opposition Greens party said the legislation was an affront to civil rights. The Greens failed to win changes to the legislation on Monday to require state approval before troops could intervene.
"There are still no provisions in the legislation to protect the civil rights of Australians once the military is called out," Brown said.
Brown's request for a "sunset clause" to ensure the legislation would expire after the Sydney Olympics and the Paralympics was also defeated.
Mail Sports Editor
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