The federal government has agreed to change new anti-terror laws, ruling out the use of torture of suspects and imposing sunset clauses for police powers.
Torture by spies will be explicitly banned and an end-date put into new police anti-terrorism powers under changes negotiated after talks with Labor and Muslim leaders.
Attorney-General George Brandis on Monday said the government had agreed to make changes to two packages of laws to tackle the threat posed especially by Islamic State extremists.
Labor and a number of Senate crossbenchers have been critical that one part of a bill to give ASIO extra powers could allow the use of torture under some circumstances.
Senator Brandis said that while he did not agree with that view, he had agreed to explicitly rule out the use of torture.
“I want to stress that there is absolutely no necessary legal reason to do this,” he told reporters in Canberra.
But he wanted to avoid the debate being diverted by an issue that “is nothing but a red herring”.
New ASIO chief Duncan Lewis told reporters he agreed with the change, even though ASIO agents had “never practiced torture, don’t practice torture and never will”.
The attorney-general and other ministers have been consulting with Islamic leaders on other parts of the legislation.
Senator Brandis said he had agreed to put in place sunset clauses, kicking in from 2025, for a range of police anti-terrorism powers including control and preventative detention orders.
A second tranche of laws to be introduced to parliament on Wednesday would allow the foreign minister to declare certain overseas terrorist hotspots are “no-go” zones.
Anyone travelling to the hotspots could face jail unless they have a valid reason for visiting the areas.
The individual zone declarations will be presented to parliament not as legislation but as regulations known as legislative instruments.
The foreign fighters legislation will also have a sunset clause of 2025, after which time it will be reviewed.
The bill to give ASIO extra powers was slated to be debated in the Senate on Monday but has been put off until Tuesday to allow the Labor shadow cabinet and caucus to consider it in detail.
Meanwhile the attorney-general defended the raids in Sydney and Brisbane last week, involving more than 800 police officers, which resulted in one man being arrested and charged with a terrorism-related offence.
Senator Brandis said it would be a mistake to say the operation was not justified.
It had been necessary to act to prevent the public from imminent harm, he said.
Crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm thanked Senator Brandis for the change that ruled out torture.
“It’s what I wanted. I accept that he disagrees with me and I’m grateful that he’s conceded the point,” Senator Leyonhjelm told reporters.
“It did the government no harm to rule out torture finally and conclusively. I think it was necessary.”
But that would likely not be enough to encourage him to vote for it.
Other aspects of the bill still troubled him, including significant impositions on freedom of the press, he said.