Australian Civil Liberties Union

19,400 are alert, not alarmed
Cynthia Banham, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 June 2003


People are calling the Federal Government's terrorism hotline in droves, resulting in more than 10,000 referrals to ASIO and the Australian Federal Police.

Documents obtained by the Herald under Freedom of Information laws revealed of the nearly 19,400 calls received by the hotline since it was set up in December, 17 were of "an emergency nature".

More than half of the calls provided information about terrorist activities, and were assigned to the "AFP and/or ASIO".

The new figures come as ASIO has been granted extreme new counter-terrorist powers, to detain and question people believed to have information about terrorist activities for a week.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission criticised the new laws, passed by Parliament on Thursday, saying

it was concerned about ASIO's new powers to detain minors aged 16 and older, which possibly contravened Australia's obligations as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

That convention says the detention of children "should be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time".

The new laws allow ASIO to apply for multiple seven-day warrants to detain people, who can be questioned for a total of 24 hours over a week.

The terrorist hotline is staffed by about 43 mostly former police or military employees.

The Attorney-General's Department told a Senate estimates committee last month that the staff had been given about three days training from the Protective Security Co-ordination Centre.

"Quite a number of the people we recruited had either police or military backgrounds, so they had a basis of information," said Ian Carnell, the general manager of the department's criminal justice and security division. "They were not just raw recruits who were relying entirely on three days training."

More than 7000 of the calls received so far have been about the Government's counter-terrorist campaign, and more than 1800 were people seeking assurance.



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