State scrambles to update expired terrorism law
The state government on Tuesday scrambled to update its terrorism laws after realising it had let a key offence expire.
For the past 11 days, no one could have been charged with being a member of a terrorist organisation under state law after legal eagles forgot that section of the law had a sunset clause of September 13.
It had automatically been repealed without anyone noticing. However, Attorney-General Mark Speakman moved on Tuesday to close the loophole with an amendment to the law.
It came as the boss of the government's new showpiece super-ministry of Communities and Justice, Michael Coutts-Trotter, was given a slap on the wrist over the embarrassing mistake.
Opposition justice spokesman Paul Lynch accused the government of "utter incompetence".
"The Government keeps telling us they'll keep us safe from terrorism but they can't even keep the offence on the books," he said on Tuesday. "The Government is now scrambling to reinsert the offence of being a member of a terrorist organisation retrospectively rather than extending it before it expired.
The offence under Part B of the NSW Crimes Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail with the sunset clause continued the last time the law was reviewed in 2016.
It is not clear why the sunset clause was added but it will not be included in the amendment which was introduced into parliament on Tuesday.
There is no such clause in the amendment which calls for the law to be backdated to September 13.
The job of keeping the laws up to date falls to the massive new Department of Communities and Justice which brought together the old Family and Community Services and Department of Justice.
Mr Speakman said he and Counter-Terrorism Minister Anthony Roberts had spoken with Mr Coutts-Trotter.
"(We) have directed Mr Michael Coutts-Trotter to ensure that, in future, the same robust procedures in place for reviewing forthcoming timed repeal of regulations apply to timed repeal of statutes," Mr Speakman said.
Mr Speakman said there was never a risk to public safety because there is an identical Commonwealth offence.
Terrorists charged with being a member of Islamic State or other terror groups have so far all been charged under Commonwealth law.
He said the state had parallel laws as an "abundance of caution".
"With the National Terror Threat Level set at Probable, strong counter-terrorism laws are imperative to maintaining community safety," Mr Speakman said. "NSW's laws remain the strongest of any state or territory.
"Given the identical Commonwealth offence … this automatic repeal has had no operational impact and posed no risk to community safety."