Soldiers with “shoot to kill” powers could be lawfully deployed on Australian streets during terror attacks – or perhaps even riots – under new laws.
The military call-out measures, recommended last year in a Defence counter-terrorism review prompted by the Lindt cafe siege, were introduced by the federal government in draft legislation on Thursday.
The new laws would also allow the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to search, seize and control movement at the scene of a terrorist incident.
But the powers would extend beyond terrorist attacks to such events as what Attorney-General Christian Porter called “widespread rioting”.
This power was needed, Mr Porter said, for scenarios where a terrorist attack initially resembled a riot. He said it would be “almost inconceivable” and “pretty fanciful” for soldiers to be called to an actual riot.
Under the new laws, soldiers on domestic soil would be allowed to “shoot to kill” when “reasonable and necessary” to protect life.
Defence Minister Marise Payne would not say Thursday whether the new military call-out powers would have made a difference to the outcome of the deadly Lindt Cafe siege in 2014.
Two people died when gunman Man Haron Monis took 18 people hostage for 16 hours during a stand-off with NSW Police in Sydney’s Martin Place.
The police were criticised over their handling of the siege, including an apparent reluctance to take the then-necessary steps to call in the army’s special forces.
“I don’t think it helps to second guess, in the case of the events in Sydney on that tragic night, whether it would have made a difference or not,” Ms Payne told ABC radio.
“I don’t think that adds to the discussion.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter said recent attacks in London and Paris prompted a reassessment of the ability to pre-authorise call-outs.
“These types of attacks require immediate response to save lives and to neutralise the threat,” he said.
He earlier suggested the powers could apply to long siege situations or where attacks occur across multiple locations.
The legal changes are the most significant since call-out powers were first introduced in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics.
The terrorism threat Australia faces today was greater and more complex than ever, Mr Porter said.
Under existing arrangements, states have to declare a situation out of control and beyond their resources before the military can be called in to assist local authorities.