Attorney-General Senator George Brandis says Australia would never support torture of terrorism suspects.
Attorney-General Senator George Brandis says Australia would never support torture of terrorism suspects. AAP Image - Tracey Nearmy

Government rules out torture of terror suspects

THE Abbott government has explicitly ruled out allowing "torture" of terrorism suspects in new national security laws, after a crossbench senator raised fears the laws could justify such acts.

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis on Monday fronted reporters in Canberra as he prepares to pass reforms to national security laws this sitting fortnight.

The reforms will extend existing laws by 10 years, overcoming a "sunset clause" due to take effect next year, and provide further powers for intelligence agencies combating terrorism.

But after crossbench Senator David Leyonhjelm raised concerns last week, that the new laws could allow intelligence officers to torture suspects, Senator Brandis changed the laws to explicitly rule out such practices.

The government hopes to pass the two initial reforms to security laws this week, one to create a new offence to travel to overseas areas deemed locations of high terrorist activity.

The second will also give intelligence authorities more powers to execute "special intelligence operations", as long as it does not cause death, serious injury or sexual offences.

But after Sen Leyonhjelm raised his concerns, Sen Brandis has now included in a specific reference to "torture" in the reforms to ensure it is understood that torture is not condoned in any Australian intelligence operations.

Officers working under such operations, Sen Brandis said, also needed legal immunity to prevent them being charged with "conspiracy" when working undercover inside terrorist networks.

Senator Brandis said the changes over travel to designated areas, which came after consultation with Australia's Muslim community, will now include a new sunsetting provision on measures to combat foreign fighters returning to Australia.

That clause will mean the laws, as proposed, will end 10 years after being enacted, in what Senator Brandis said was "yet another element to review mechanisms" providing extra oversight of the reforms.

But after Senator Leyonhjelm raised concerns the other powers could allow torture, Senator Brandis said such arguments were just a "red herring", as intelligence officers were "not authorised to torture".

He said Australia had not, and never would support torture of suspects, in line with its international obligations, and had inserted an extra clause in the latest reforms to ensure it was "explicit", despite not needing to.

The first two pieces of legislation as part of the government's national security reforms are expected to come before parliament this week, with further reforms in sittings in late October.