Australia is heading down the well-trodden path US-allied governments have walked since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington more than four years ago by drafting tough laws to strengthen anti-terror measures. While concern about a terrorism attack is understandable, its leaders must also do their utmost to try to strike the right balance by paying attention to worries that civil liberties are being infringed. Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday the laws were necessary because of an increased threat of a terrorist attack, particularly from home-grown, Muslim extremists. Revealing an unspecified new threat, he said the steps must be put in place quickly to ensure public safety. The package of legislation includes detention without charge for up to two weeks, house arrest and fitting suspects with tracking devices. Similar legislation has already been adopted by the United States, while British parliamentarians are assessing even tougher proposals, one of which aims to extend the period a suspect can be held without charge from two weeks to three months. Britons, like Americans after September 11, 2001, are justified in being worried about the threat of terrorism - in July, 52 people were killed when bombs exploded on London's transport system. Australia has not been directly targeted, although dozens of its citizens have died in bombings in Bali and its embassy in Indonesia was the intended focus of another attack. Critics of the new Australian laws were quick to point out that the country had never suffered a major peace-time attack on home soil and that the medium-security alert imposed after September 11 has remained unchanged. They have surmised that authorities have another agenda, perhaps directed at asylum seekers or radical opponents. The government and its security agencies have consistently spoken of the threat, though, most recently claiming up to 800 Muslim residents were known to have supported anti-government violence and that 80 had trained with militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Four Australians accused of training with extremist groups are awaiting trial in the country. America's reaction to fighting the attacks it suffered has exacerbated the global threat. Mr Blair's efforts have similarly done nothing to lessen the possibility of more terrorism in Britain. Mr Howard has made terrorism a central political issue, consistently speaking of the threat and of Australia's vulnerability. There has not, however, been any evidence yet produced to prove such claims. Such an approach could, over time, be self-fulfilling, much like the boy of folklore who cried wolf to get attention. If the Australian leader is trying to keep a strong media profile or push a particular agenda, he is playing a dangerous game and, ultimately, Australians could suffer.