Police powers under terrorism laws

Police powers under terrorism laws

There are terrorism laws that give the police powers of arrest and detention.

These laws are different depending on whether you are arrested under Commonwealth or state law.

Depending on the situation, the police can also apply for a court order that can limit your movements and who you can contact. Police can apply for a:

  • control order (under Commonwealth law)
  • a preventative detention order
  • a prohibited contact order.

Stop, search and seizure powers

In Victoria, the police can ask a court to let them do things to stop a terrorist act. The police can:

  • demand your identification
  • stop and search you, your car or house
  • direct you to leave somewhere or stay somewhere
  • take anything connected with a terrorist act.

The police can search your home without your knowledge if they reasonably suspect that a terrorist act will be or has been committed. The police must apply to the Supreme Court for a warrant to carry out the search. The court has to be convinced that terrorism is involved and that the activity is not simply a protest or industrial action. The police must report back to the court within seven days of the search.

Control orders

The police can ask a Commonwealth court for a control order if they think:

  • you are training with a listed terrorist organisation
  • the order will stop a terrorist act from happening.

Control orders can stop you from seeing certain people and doing certain things, like leaving Australia or going to a political meeting.

The order can say you have to wear a tracking device and are not allowed to use the internet or a mobile phone.

You may have to:

  • regularly report to someone, such as the police
  • be photographed and fingerprinted
  • have counselling.

The order can last for up to 12 months.

You can contact a lawyer to get a copy of the order. You can apply to the court to stop the order. Get legal advice.

Control orders against young people

A control order cannot be made if you are aged under 16. If you are aged 16 to 18 a control order can only apply for up to three months.

Preventative detention order

The police can ask for this order if they think you are involved in a terrorist act. They can also ask for this order if they think you have something connected with a terrorist act. In both cases, they must believe that the order will stop the terrorist act from happening or will help the police get evidence of the terrorist act.

The terrorist threat must be about to happen (within the next 14 days) or have happened in the last 28 days.

There are two types of preventative detention orders:

  • interim preventative detention order – this means that you can be held by the police for 48 hours
  • continued preventative detention order – this means you can be held for up to 14 days.

A preventative detention order means the police can:

  • take you into custody
  • search you if they reasonably suspect you are carrying a ‘seizable’ item or evidence of a terrorist act – for example, a gun. The police can take anything they find
  • ask for the name and address of any person who can give them information that will allow them to detain you
  • search any place at any time if they reasonably believe you are there
  • use reasonable force to take you into custody.

The police have limited powers to question youtake your fingerprints, video-tape or tape-record you, take a sample of your handwriting or take a photo of you. This law is complicated. If the police want to do one or more of these things, get legal advice.

Right to tell someone what is happening to you

You can contact someone at least once. This could be a person in your family or someone you live with, or your employer, employee or business partner. You can tell them that you are under a detention order and cannot be contacted.

You can also contact a lawyer (unless the lawyer is named in a prohibited contact order). Your meeting with the lawyer will be monitored. You have to speak in English or use an interpreter.

Preventative orders against young people

A preventative detention order cannot be made if you are under 16. If you are aged 16 to 18 special rules apply. Get legal advice.

Prohibited contact order

This order only applies if you are under a preventative detention order. It lists people whom you cannot contact.


You can make a complaint about a control order or a preventative detention order. Get legal advice first.

Get help

Find out how you can get help dealing with police.

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