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Australia, the UN and terrorism

By David Purnell - posted Friday, 16 March 2007

In the context of the ongoing debate within Australia about how to respond to the threat of terrorism, the Federal Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has been reviewing the power (under the 1995 Criminal Code) to proscribe organisations as terrorist organisations.

The UN Association has made a submission, and this article is based on the points made in the submission.

Greater awareness of the dangers of acts of terrorism has led many countries (including Australia) to seek more effective forms of prevention and security. As a result, the range of laws and regulations has expanded greatly, authorising more invasive action by law enforcement authorities. The human rights implications of these changes have still to be gauged fully, as nations balance the competing needs for security and justice.


The United Nations has been a vehicle for international efforts to meet the challenge of terrorism. It has set up numerous mechanisms, protocols, monitoring groups, and recommendations to assist member states.

On September 8, 2006 the UN General Assembly adopted a global counter-terrorism strategy to enhance consistency among nations, and a Plan of Action that includes the following aspects:

  • measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism;
  • measures to prevent and combat terrorism;
  • measures to build States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the UN system in this regard; and
  • measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the future basis of the fight against terrorism.

Part of the UN response has been to emphasise the importance of broadening dialogue across religious, ethnic, cultural and educational lines in order to resist extremist attitudes and intolerance. In addition, the UN has been clear that states should ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law (UN Security Council resolution 1624 in 2005).

The Australian Government has been an active supporter of moves against terrorism, both internationally and within its jurisdiction domestically, and has sought to engage the states and territories in the broader effort.

Many legislative and regulatory provisions have been made over the last few years. The Criminal Code 1995 has been amended to include detailed offences in relation to terrorist acts and organisations. Severe penalties ranging from ten years up to life imprisonment are mandated for offences such as (a) directing, (b) joining, (c) recruiting, (d) training, and (e) funding. Control orders can be obtained to monitor people suspected of associating with terrorist groups.


Section 102 of the Criminal Code 1995 focuses on terrorist organisations, and allows the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Attorney-General, to make a regulation proscribing an organisation for two years on the basis that it is engaged in planning a terrorist act or advocates a terrorist act. There is provision for a request to be made to the minister to review the decision in any particular case, and for Parliamentary review by the Joint Committee. The Committee has undertaken several such reviews.

There are now about 20 organisations on the proscribed list. They are primarily groups with links to extremist Islamic movements. Some of the listed organisations are also listed by the United Nations as terrorist groups. Others are listed by the decision of the Australian Government, no doubt in consultation with like-minded nations like UK and Canada.

According to paragraph 2.2 in a report by the Joint Committee on April 25, 2006 reviewing a decision about listing the Kurdistan Workers Party, the criteria used by ASIO in selecting groups for listing include (a) engagement in terrorism, (b) ideology and links to other terrorist groups, (c) links to Australia, (d) threat to Australian interests, (e) proscription by the UN or like-minded countries, and (f) engagement in peace/mediation processes.

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About the Author

David Purnell OAM is the National Administrator of United Nations Association of Australia.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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