Senate debates

Thursday, 9 August 2007


Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee; Reference

12:02 pm

Photo of Natasha Stott DespojaNatasha Stott Despoja (SA, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

It is 32 according to Senator Ray. I have included in my tally just about every piece of legislation, but we can agree that there have been between 30 and 40 pieces of legislation that have had some impact on, if not had the primary role in determining, Australia’s antiterrorism legislation. It is time. Why not look at how they interact? Why not look at some of the issues that we are suggesting? Do the pieces of legislation adequately safeguard citizens from the threat of terrorism? Do they adequately provide a balance between the need to curtail individual freedoms in situations involving a terrorist threat and the fundamental civil liberties and human rights of citizens? Have they affected fundamental principles of justice, such as habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence? We might all have differing views on this, but I am not sure that we do. This is with all due respect to Senator Ludwig’s comment about the constant review. I do not believe we have investigated the myriad laws and, importantly, how they interact with each other, let alone what actually happens in practice when these laws are being used or tested.

We believe it is appropriate to thoroughly test and investigate our antiterrorism laws. The time line for that may not have been the preferred one for the opposition or indeed the government—although I am more than happy to hear the government’s rationale for voting down the select committee. Without wanting to reflect on a vote of the Senate this morning—obviously the select committee proposal did not provide us with an opportunity for debate in the same way that this committee reference has—it would be good to have on record why the government opposed this reference. I do not think it would necessarily not be in the government’s favour. You never know, it might serve a government purpose to put forward a defence of the antiterrorism legislation. It may even set the ground for them to launch further legislative proposals. I would like to know the government’s views.

To get back to the issue of the time line, I do not underestimate the difficulties in an election year. I know that most of my colleagues are going to be on the campaign trail. It is going to be difficult once parliament is prorogued; although that would not necessarily affect the operation of a Senate select committee. I know that sometimes it is difficult to chew gum and walk at the same time. As senators, many of us are privileged to have long terms. Some of you in this place are only halfway through those terms. I am sure that a few weeks on a Senate committee would be a possibility. Bearing in mind that a reporting date of 1 December may be too difficult for the parliament, let us move to extend it and come up with a different date. The government can initiate their own. I just genuinely believe that a cross-party comprehensive investigation of our laws is not a bad thing. It does not necessarily have to serve anyone’s political purpose. It is not about playing politics with national security; it is just about doing our job as legislators.

I will continue to pursue this. You never know, I might be here on 30 June next year still saying, ‘Please support my Senate select committee proposal’ and failing miserably. Nonetheless, I have got that point—


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