CANBERRA, Australia – Australian authorities have received specific intelligence that terrorists are planning an attack on the country, Prime Minister John Howard (search) said Wednesday.
Speaking in a nationally televised press conference in Canberra, Howard refused to give any details of the threat, which he said authorities received this week.
But he said he would introduce a minor amendment to counterterrorism laws in the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon and the Senate would be recalled Thursday to pass it into law.
"The reason for this amendment is that the government has received specific intelligence and police information this week which gives cause for serious concern about a potential terrorist threat," Howard said. "We have been given advice that if this amendment is enacted as soon as possible, the capacity of the authorities to respond will be strengthened."
Australia (search) is a staunch U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism and has sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. The government has denied its support of U.S. foreign policy has increased the risk of attacks, although the terrorist network Al Qaeda (search) has repeatedly named Australia as a target.
The amendment would substitute the word "the" with "a" before the phrase "terrorist act" and is part of a larger package of reforms under negotiation with the state governments.
Howard later released a statement explaining that the amendment meant prosecutors would not have to identify a specific terrorist act when prosecuting someone for planning an attack.
"It will be sufficient for the prosecution to prove that the particular conduct was related to 'a' terrorist act," Howard said.
His announcement came a day after the nation's top spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, warned in its annual general report to Parliament of a threat of homegrown terrorists.
Howard said the law was being changed against the backdrop of the spy agency's assessment that attacks without warning in Australia were feasible.
There has never been a major terror attack on Australian soil, but bombings have repeatedly hit the country's diplomatic outposts and its citizens abroad — most notably in Indonesia, where Canberra's embassy in Jakarta was hit by a 2004 homicide minivan bomb and homicide bombings in the tourist island of Bali killed dozens of Australians in 2002 and October of this year.
Howard's government is trying to push new anti-terror laws through Parliament before Christmas.
The controversial legislation would enable authorities to hold terror suspects without charge for two weeks and monitor them with electronic tracking devices for up to a year.