Australia plans tougher counter-terrorism controls on terror suspects as young as 14

An anti-Muslim protester shouting slogans outside the Parramatta Mosque in Sydney on Oct 9.
An anti-Muslim protester shouting slogans outside the Parramatta Mosque in Sydney on Oct 9.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Tuesday (Oct 13) outlined plans to tighten counter-terrorism laws further, including restricting the movements of suspects as young as 14 in the wake of a deadly attack by a teenager this month.

Attorney-General George Brandis said a fifth instalment of the legislation had been drawn up and would be introduced to Parliament in coming weeks.

It follows Farhad Jabar, a radicalised 15-year-old, shooting police employee Curtis Cheng in the back of the head in Sydney while reportedly shouting religious slogans before being gunned down by the police.

"The new laws will, among other things, lower the age at which a control order can be applied from 16 to 14 years of age," Mr Brandis said in a statement.

A control order allows the movements and activities of a suspect to be restricted, with terror groups targeting ever-younger individuals.

"Fourteen is not too young an age for an order of this kind to be made," Mr Brandis added on national radio.

"Unfortunately the reach of ISIL and ISIL surrogates and agents in Australia is extending to younger and younger people."

ISIL is another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.

He said that under the new legislation, there would be protection and safeguards for minors in the 14 to 17 age category.

"There will be various measures that will limit the capacity of police to question or deal with minors in a way which is regarded - given the age of the person - to be unreasonable."

Canberra is concerned about the prospect of lone-wolf attacks by individuals inspired by groups such as ISIS, and has already cracked down on Australians attempting to travel to conflict zones, including Syria and Iraq.

New South Wales state Premier Mike Baird, who wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urging a tightening of the laws after the Cheng killing, also wants an extension to the time terrorism suspects can be kept in custody for questioning.

Currently, they can be held for four hours before a court application must be made to extend the period to eight days.

Mr Baird wants this changed to an initial four days, extendable to 28 days.

Mr Brandis is yet to agree on this point with the government meeting counter-terrorism agencies on Thursday to fine-tune strategies to deal with extremism and radicalisation.

The Labor opposition has not seen full details of the changes but shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said: "Labor supports our police and security agencies having the powers they need to keep Australians safe."

The authorities lifted Australia's terror threat alert to high a year ago, introduced new national security laws and have since conducted several counter-terrorism raids.