New counterterror laws enter Australian parliament

CANBERRA, Australia - Police would be allowed to enter a building without a warrant to prevent a terrorist attack under new laws introduced into parliament on Thursday.

The change is part of a package of bills that would extend authorities' counterterror powers in some areas and limit them in others. No timetable has been set for parliament to pass the laws.

Police would be able to enter premises without a warrant "in emergency circumstances relating to a terrorism offense where there is material that may pose a risk to the health or safety of the public," Attorney General Robert McClelland told parliament.

But police would still need a search warrant issued by a court if they intended to use material found in the premises as evidence in a prosecution.

The laws would also limit the time a terror suspect can be held without charge to seven days.

Currently, police are limited to interviewing a terror suspect for 24 hours. But that interview can be stretched indefinitely with breaks for sleep, meals and further investigation.

An Indian doctor wrongly linked to attack plots in Britain, Mohamad Haneef, was held for 12 days without charge in 2007 while being questioned for 24 hours.

Australian Council for Civil Liberties spokesman David Bernie questioned whether the new police power to act without a warrant was necessary since police already had common law powers to enter buildings in emergencies.

He welcomed a cap on terrorist suspects' detention, but said it should be 48 hours.

"It's a mixed bag, but what it does overall do is make the law clearer in a lot of areas," Bernie said of the legislative package.