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 Counter terrorism laws

Terrorist act and terrorism offence

Terrorist organisations

Financial support for terrorism

Police powers and terrorism

Please download the Attorney General's Department's Australia's counter-terrorism laws brochure for more information.


What is a terrorist act?

A terrorist act is an act or a threat to commit an act that is done with the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause, and intimidating the public or coercing or influencing the government by intimidation; and:

  • causes death or serious harm to a person or endangers a person's life
  • causes serious damage to property
  • creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public, or
  • seriously interferes with, seriously disrupts or destroys critical infrastructure such as a telecommunications or electricity network.

What is a terrorism offence?

Australia has developed specific laws to prevent and take action against terrorist attacks. Terrorism offences are contained in the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Commonwealth).

It is a terrorism offence to:

  • commit a terrorist act
  • plan or prepare for a terrorist act
  • finance terrorism or a terrorist
  • provide or receive training connected with terrorist acts
  • possess things connected with terrorist acts, or
  • collect or make documents likely to facilitate terrorist acts.

It is also an offence under Australian law to travel overseas to commit a terrorist act.

What is a terrorist organisation ?

A terrorist organisation is an organisation that:

  • a court finds is directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering a terrorist act, or
  • the Government has listed because that organisation advocates terrorism or directly or indirectly engages in preparing, planning, assisting or fostering a terrorist act.

Terrorist organisations listed in Australia can be found on the Listing of terrorist organisations section of the Australian National Security website.

What offences apply in relation to terrorist organisations?

It is an offence to:

  • be a member of a terrorist organisation
  • direct the activities of a terrorist organisation
  • recruit for a terrorist organisation
  • train or receive training from a terrorist organisation
  • acquire funds for, from or to a terrorist organisation, or
  • provide support to a terrorist organisation.

Providing support means providing any type of support or resources to help a terrorist organisation prepare, plan, assist in or foster a terrorist act.

Is it an offence to associate with a terrorist organisation ?

It is an offence to associate with a listed terrorist organisation.

Associating with a listed terrorist organisation is prohibited where the association occurs two or more times, the association provides support to the organisation and the person intends that the support assist the listed organisation to expand or continue to exist.

It is not an offence if he or she is associating with a close family member for the purposes of a family or domestic matter. There are also exemptions from the association offence if the association occurs during the course of religious worship in a public place, such as a mosque or church.

What is the maximum penalty for terrorist organisation offence ?

If a person is found guilty of associating with a terrorist organisation, the maximum penalty is three years imprisonment.

If a person is found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organisation, the maximum penalty is 10 years imprisonment.

If a person is found guilty of any other terrorist organisation offences listed above, the person may be imprisoned for up to 25 years.

Can a person commit a terrorist organisation offence if the organisation has not been listed by the Government ?

Yes, if that organisation is directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act.

What does it mean to finance terrorism ?

A person has financed terrorism if that person has intentionally provided or collected funds and the person was reckless as to whether the funds would be used to facilitate or engage in a terrorist act.

It does not matter if a terrorist act does not occur, or if the funds will not be used for a specific terrorist act or for more than one terrorist act.

A person has financed a terrorist if the person intentionally makes funds available to another person or collects funds for, or on behalf of another person, and is reckless as to whether that person will use the funds to facilitate or engage in a terrorist act.

For more information on terrorism financing, visit the Australian National Security website.

Can a person be convicted of financing terrorism if the person donates to a charity ?

If the person making the donation is aware there is a substantial risk that the donation will be used for terrorism purposes and it is unjustifiable to take that risk in the circumstances, that person could be convicted of financing terrorism.

When can the police preventatively detain a person ?

Note: If you or someone in your care is detained and/or questioned by the police, you will require professional legal advice.

The police can detain people under preventative detention orders only where there is a threat of an imminent terrorist attack or immediately after a terrorist attack has occurred.

Individuals can be detained if it is necessary to prevent an imminent terrorist act or if it is likely vital evidence in the aftermath of a terrorist act will be lost.

Under Commonwealth law, the maximum amount of time a person can be preventatively detained is 48 hours. Under State and Territory laws, a person can be detained for up to 14 days.

What rights do you have if you are preventatively detained ?

A person who is questioned or detained under a preventative detention order has the right:

  • to be treated humanely and not be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
  • to contact a lawyer
  • to contact family members and employers to let them know they are safe
  • not to be questioned
  • to have a copy of the preventative detention order, which contains a summary of the reasons for making the order
  • to speak with an interpreter if they have difficulty with English.

Children under 16 years of age cannot be detained.

A person who is at least 16 years of age but under 18 can be detained but must be detained separately from adults. They can also have a parent or guardian visit them while they are being detained.

More information

If you would like to know more about counter-terrorism laws in Australia, visit the Attorney-General's Department website.