New SA laws to jail people for possessing, distributing “extremist material”

The State Government will introduce legislation that would impose long jail sentences for possession of broadly defined “extremist material”, and for detonating homemade bombs.

Sep 26, 2017, updated Sep 26, 2017
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The Law Society of South Australia has expressed concern the new laws could impose a “censorship regime” that is “at odds with a free society”.

But the Government argues the laws are needed so that police can intervene before “radicalisation” has occurred.

Newly appointed Minister for Police Chris Picton said “targeting the possession, production and distribution of extremist material means police can act on terrorist activity earlier”.

“This will assist police in preventing acts of terrorism, rather than responding to them as they occur.”

Attorney-General John Rau said it was not “good enough to wait for people to become radicalised before taking action”.

“These changes are an important step towards further protecting South Australians against the threat of terrorism.”

Under the proposed legislation, it will be an offence to “possess, produce or distribute extremist material”, which is defined in three ways.

It can be material that a reasonable person would understand to be:

  • Directly or indirectly encouraging, glorifying, promoting or condoning terrorist acts. OR
  • Seeking support for, or justifying, the carrying out of terrorist acts. OR
  • Material that a reasonable person would suspect has been produced or distributed by a terrorist organisation.

The laws contain special protection for academics studying terrorism and journalists reporting on it.

But Law Society SA President Tony Rossi told InDaily: “How can the Government ban controversial texts without imposing a censorship regime that is at odds with a free society?”

“The Law Society has previously warned against laws that criminalise behaviour that may or may not at some stage in the future lead to a harmful act.

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“How will proscribing written material protect us from terrorism?

“Will the law compromise artistic expression?”

Rossi said he would rigorously analyse the bill once it is released, but he further questioned how authorities would be able to establish links between “extremist material” and “intent to carry out a terrorist attack”, whether a piece of fiction could be classified as extremist material, and whether it would be unlawful to possess terrorist propaganda “even if it is for the purpose of critiquing it”.

“It is a worthy objective to intervene earlier in the radicalisation process, but the criminal law should not be used to punish people for behaviours that may speculatively lead to an act with intent to cause injury.”

The Government will also introduce new laws that increase penalties related to homemade bombs.

People who detonate homemade explosives “without lawful excuse” would face up to 20 years in jail under the proposal.

And possessing an explosive device without lawful excuse would attract a maximum 10 years in prison, while those who possess, supply or manufacture bombs would risk a seven-year sentence.

Police would be granted more powers to “seize and destroy devices in certain circumstances, and break, enter and search premises, vehicles or vessels without warrant for the purposes of ascertaining whether an explosives offence is being or has been committed.

The Government argues current penalties under the Explosives Act are “not sufficient” and that that law limits police use of “various investigatory surveillance options”.

Currently, someone involved in manufacturing an explosive device outside of factories licensed to do so faces a maximum of 12 months in prison and a $5000 fine.

The same penalties are in place for carrying explosives in a vehicle or a train.

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