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Australian police to get greater powers to shoot in militant sieges

NSW says police will be given extra powers to use lethal force in terrorist incidents.

Sydney: The New South Wales government will introduce legislation within the next fortnight to grant police extra powers to use lethal force during terrorist incidents.

The new laws, announced by the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, would give police officers legal protection to take pre-emptive shots to kill if a situation is deemed a terrorist incident by the NSW police commissioner.

Berejiklian announced the proposed laws on Thursday after accepting all 45 recommendations from the state coroner’s inquest into the 2014 Sydney siege.

The government also announced a new roll-out of weapons that would double the number of military-style, semi-automatic rifles available to police officers.

The NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, said police already had the power to shoot-to-kill in situations of imminent threat to the public but there was a “grey area” during terrorist incidents.

In his May report into the siege, NSW coroner Michael Barnes found that, though three groups of snipers were positioned around the Lindt Cafe in December 2014, they believed they “did not have lawful authority to shoot Monis because he did not pose an imminent or immediate danger to the hostages.

“It may be that the special powers available to police responding to terrorist incidents should include a more clearly defined right to use force.”

As part of recommendation 24 of his full report, Barnes asked for the police minister to consider whether the existing Terrorism (Police Powers) Act should be amended to “ensure that police officers have sufficient legal protection to respond to terrorist incidents”.

Speaking on Thursday, Fuller said the new powers would used “sparingly”.

He also announced that police from the public order and riot squad would have access to military-grade rapid-fire weapons by the end of the year. Currently, similar weapons are only available to the police tactical operations units and Fuller said extending it to the riot squad would double the number of long-arms weapons in use by police.

The police minister, Troy Grant, said the public “may be confronted” by the sight of the new weapons but believed they would “understand this is the changed circumstances that we are in”.

Berejiklian said the legislation would be introduced during the next sitting week of NSW parliament, which begins on 20 June. She said the government would also introduce draft laws to tighten parole provisions by taking consideration of offenders’ links to terrorism.

“NSW will continue to have the toughest counter-terror laws in the country and we will now give our police clear protections if they need to use lethal force against terrorists,” she said.

However, Nick O’Brien, a counter-terrorism expert at Charles Sturt University, told the ABC police already had the legal right to kill terrorists under existing laws. Of 105 people shot dead by police between 1989 and 2011, all but one were found by the coroner to be justifiable homicides, resulting in no charges for police officers.

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