Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Statements on Indulgence
Terrorist Attacks around the World
The shocking attacks in Paris on Friday, 13 November 2015, as the member for Aston said, asked hard questions of the world. They were the latest example of perverse brutality, extreme violence and pure evil applied against innocent citizens going about their everyday business. Yet more lives were lost to the actions of terrorists who act in ways that show they hate freedom and want to impose a different world view by force. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quite rightly expressed the nation's anger at these callous attacks, joined in that sentiment by the opposition leader and members on both sides of this House. He expressed our resolve—the resolve that this parliament must have if we are to respond to resurgent terrorism effectively—to contain it and, over time, squeeze the life out of it, to ease the threat confronting our citizens now and in the future. Entirely eliminating the sophisticated terrorist threat amongst us and around the world may never be possible, but containing it and minimising potential attacks remains an urgent aim. It requires unflinching resolve in this parliament and within the agencies involved in national security matters, whose duty it is to keep us safe.
To adapt our own responses to the global war on terror will require sustained vigilance, agility, and freedom of action for the police and our security and intelligence agencies. I know that Australian police and security agencies will continue to assess the events in Paris and the other terrorist attacks around the world and elsewhere for any Australian security implications. The Commonwealth and state governments are already considering lessons learned from the horrific Martin Place siege, the murder of Curtis Cheng and the emerging conclusions from over 400 high priority counter-terrorism investigations to inform the need for further changes at the state and federal levels. We must ensure our police and security agencies have the powers they need to respond effectively to those who hate us and our way of life. As a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I am proud that our committee has assisted the passage of four tranches of national security legislation that have already passed through the parliament. Another is on its way. Over 136 recommendations made by our committee have been accepted by the government, and I congratulate the members for Wannon and Holt for their chairmanship and deputy chairmanship of our committee.
That work must go on, that bipartisanship must continue, because, as recent events have shown, Australia can no longer rely on its unique geopolitical circumstances to protect it from the contagion of resurgent terrorism. Terrorism's touch is bad enough, but it is never more shocking than when our own people, our own citizens, are involved. Our sense of collective betrayal is felt most keenly when both dual citizens and those born here put barbarous transnational ideologies ahead of their duty to Australia and its people. Their hatred of who we are and how we live is nurtured by a potent elixir of extremist vitriol, ignorance and religious distortion. Terrorist groups have learned—and continue to learn—how to undertake their tradecraft with guile and cunning. There is no doubt they are now more agile, adaptive and deceptive than they were just 12 months ago. They often remain dormant before striking ruthlessly—seemingly out of nowhere. The attacks in Paris suggest they have also learnt to control their blind rage, carefully selecting targets that maximise loss of life and leave as little detection footprint as possible, either through sophisticated encryption or a return to the closed-cell tradecraft of a bygone era, when face-to-face contact and veiled communication were de rigueur.
We must continue to devastate the terrorist leadership overseas at every opportunity. I am talking about not letting their leaders have the freedom of action they need to plan, to communicate, to resupply, to be able to fund the activities they undertake, and, perhaps most importantly, to keep the flow of recruits flowing through the terrorist training camps and into western cities. At home, we must listen most to those at the coalface of our counter-terrorism responses. Australian authorities are immersed in massive-scale information and data filtering, trying to uncover figurative terrorist needles in voluminous investigative haystacks. We must support their efforts by giving them the powers they need to hold suspects and control their activities until information can be thoroughly assessed. That includes the power to deal with very young suspects whose involvement in terrorist activity is, shockingly, becoming even more prevalent. Terror victim Curtis Cheng was shot by a 15-year-old. Of the many hundreds of high-profile counter-terrorism investigations currently underway, it is clear that other teenagers and pre-teenagers are being drawn into terror networks.
Our police and security agencies have discovered concerning links across Australia and international borders, putting a premium on our counter-terrorism cooperation with allies, partners and friends. We must ensure that information shared with these partners is adequately protected during court processes, including enabling only appropriately cleared judges to consider this evidence, instead of a wider legal fraternity. Additionally, we need to consider if the time that control orders can be put in place is appropriate. Inevitably, complex investigations are long and painstaking, as terrorists strive to continually adapt to agency tactics and powers. They often use our own laws, which put a premium on civil liberties, against us. The threat of resurgent terrorism means that we have to err on the side of the victims and potential victims in our society. When there are multiple suspects arrested, and terabytes of information to assess, let's give our agencies the time they need to unpick, decipher and build briefs of evidence. We must give our agencies the reasonable time they need to accomplish this.
As I said in my first speech in this parliament, nurturing a stronger sense of community and citizenship is at the forefront of my priorities as a politician. So I believe more must be done to address terrorism from within. The Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill, currently being debated in the federal parliament, addresses the conduct of dual citizens. It allows us to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who by their demonstrated unlawful conduct breach their allegiance to Australia, its laws, its democratic beliefs and its collective values. They have failed to abide by their most important obligation as a citizen—to live a life that is at the very least lawful and ideally one of constructive contribution to our society. Doing so demonstrates a tangible allegiance to our nation and, as I have previously said, is a moral and ethical compact. It is collective opportunity built on the recognition of individual responsibility.
But it is well beyond time that we also had a discussion about suspending the citizenship of Australian-born people—not just dual citizens—who are convicted of serious terrorist offences. I am not talking about making them stateless—I would never suggest that we breach the statelessness convention—but suspending their citizenship. That puts the onus on them, after they have served their time for a serious terrorist offence, to appear before , for example, an immigration court to justify the restoration of the rights that they receive as citizens of this great country. By pledging allegiance to transnational terrorism and acting out their perverse tactics on our streets, these people forfeit their right to be considered Australian. Until citizenship is restored, they can forget about holding a passport, accessing family reunion provisions or the many other benefits bestowed by the gift of citizenship.
I accept that this is a difficult conversation. But in light of the events in Paris, Sydney, Canada, London, Bangkok and other areas of terrorist carnage it is a conversation we must have. I know that some of the changes being proposed to respond to resurgent terrorism are still offensive to some. But that is because the circumstances that led to the need for these measures are themselves unique and offend our collective values. The nature of the new security order today is so critical as to make redundant the all too familiar and orthodox war of words between dissenting factions of our, thankfully, open society. This usually comes down to those who say they are merely defending human rights in objecting to counter-terrorism measures. But in doing so they are making life even more difficult for those charged with the responsibility of actually protecting these same rights for all Australians while at the same time keeping us safe.
Many of the objections I have heard are impractical nonsense. Security agencies are damned if they do and damned if they don't! This verbal and literal stand-off can sometimes assume the dimensions of undergraduate debate—relevant to a point but with a tendency to stray quickly to the emotive, fatuous and impractical. This, of course, reflects the luxury and pleasant good fortune of undergraduates—defending, for example, the right of hate preachers to hate, to incite and to recruit. To them—or to those who never grew up—is extended the gift of the privileged exploration of ideas without concomitant responsibility for the associated outcomes and certainly not for national security or the preservation of human life.
But the security stakes in Australia are now infinitely too high for such luxury. Australian lives are at risk and our way of life is under threat. Rather, above all else, it is a time for constructive practical action and informed dialogue of the very kind most likely to help, not hinder, our dedicated security agencies. That we have now entered the 15th year of global terrorism since 9/11 only adds to the need to do more and differently than has already been done. Terrorism is a vile organism which mutates continually. Our security forces are changing too and will further adapt, as required, to counter the former's increasingly amorphous threat profile.
But, unless we make further important legislative changes to internal security powers now, we will in effect compel our security agencies to fight terrorism on our behalf with one arm tied behind their backs. To date, Australia has been at pains to err in favour of the individual. It is now time to err consciously in favour of the vast majority of peace-loving Australians. The four pieces of counter-terrorism legislation passed to date are not the end of the government's resolve and anti-terror measures. But the Australian government intends, one way or another, to win this fight.
Now is the time to lend our full support to policing and security agencies and not burden them further with nonsensical public commentary or 'half-facts'. Suggestions by misguided commentators such as the Australian Lawyers Alliance that the extended questioning of terror suspects is torture or evidence of a totalitarian state are irresponsible nonsense. Australian police investigators are not members of a military junta or a totalitarian state. References to torture in regard to the extended questioning of terrorist suspects and claims that this is evidence of a totalitarian state are offensive nonsense. These police actions have nothing whatsoever to do with torture. Rather, they are consistent with a desire to methodically unravel the often labyrinthine nature of the radicalisation jigsaw.
Above all, our police and security agencies are trying to gather facts—legally and humanely. In the Curtis Cheng case for example, Australian police investigators are trying to achieve two clear objectives. The first is to get to the bottom of a murder and the second is to seek to avert similar violence in the future. The only torture involved is that which will now be visited upon the families directly affected by this appalling crime—that of both the victim and of the perpetrator, who are each now consigned to a never-ending purgatory of whys and what-ifs.
Despite the eloquent grandstanding by the left-wing commentariat and serial individual rights spruikers Australian government agencies, not least the police, will continue to strive to keep our society safe. To date, their collective dedication and vigilance has unearthed and foiled multiple domestic terror threats and continues to closely track the activities of hundreds of wayward Australians who have succumbed to the siren song of transnational terrorism.
This immense interagency effort has been carried out with forensic patience and balanced public comment. The sustained professionalism of those involved reflects very great credit upon them. It also serves as a constructive model for would-be public commentators to consider emulating. I have strong faith that my fellow Australians will not be taken in by the ideological claptrap of those whose misguided and ideological offerings are part of the problem and will lend their support to the efforts of our police and security agencies. I thank the House.