Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014; Second Reading

6:14 pm

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014. I am pleased to serve as a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security which reviewed this bill. This bill is the latest phase in an ongoing process of updating our national security legislation. The threats that Australia faces are constantly evolving, and our security apparatus must also evolve to keep pace with them.

The most notable recent development has been the movement of Australian citizens to other nations to participate in foreign wars. We know that around 160 Australians have already become involved with extremist groups in Iraq and Syria either through travelling to the region or by providing support from within Australia. If they successfully join up with extremist groups, foreign fighters learn the skills, develop the networks and adopt a hardened ideology that makes them a serious threat to Australians if they return home. I support the great work that our security agencies do in identifying individuals who are planning to leave Australia to join organisations such as ISIL. It is vital that parliament provides our national security agencies with the tools that they need to keep Australia safe. That is what this legislation does, and that is why Labor supports it.

The bill contains a broad range of measures designed to address the foreign fighter threat and amends more than 20 Commonwealth acts. The bill also implements recommendations from the 2013 COAG review and a number of reports from the former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. The new measures in this bill include a new power for interim suspension of passports. This will assist agencies in proactively addressing concerns that an individual may be preparing to go overseas to commit an offence. These powers will lower the evidence threshold required for a passport to be suspended temporarily and without notifying the individual whose passport has been cancelled. These new measures will assist security agencies to respond quickly when new concerns are raised. They will also allow agencies to cancel a suspect's passport without potentially threatening an ongoing investigation.

This bill merges the Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act into the Criminal Code and provides harmonisation with the code's anti-terror provisions. These new and updated provisions provide a standardised legislative approach to terrorism related offenses and update the definitions of certain offenses.

The bill creates a new offense for entering, or remaining in, an area declared by the foreign minister. Declared areas are places where listed terrorist organisations are engaged in hostile activities—with parts of Syria and northern Iraq being the most relevant current examples. This will assist our security agencies to identify individuals and ensure that they have or had a legitimate reason for entering a known area of terrorist activity. Individuals will not have committed an offense by entering a declared area if they are providing humanitarian aid, visiting family or working as a journalist or have other wholly legitimate reasons.

There are changes to the law of evidence to facilitate the use of overseas evidence in prosecutions of foreign fighters. This change simply reflects the changing world in which we live. In our interconnected world, Australian courts need greater flexibility when determining whether to use evidence from overseas in terrorism related proceedings. This allows the great work that Australian security agencies do with their international colleagues to be used, where appropriate, to prosecute individuals who have broken Australian laws.

There is a new evidence-tampering offence. This is one activity that I think many Australians would be surprised to know is not already against the law. Currently, if a warrant is issued under section 34L(6) of the ASIO Act, it is not an offence to destroy evidence that is requested. That is, very rightly, being corrected here.

This bill is lowering the legal threshold for arrest without warrant for terrorism offences. This will allow an AFP officer to arrest someone without a warrant where they 'suspect on reasonable grounds' that someone has committed or is committing a terrorism related offense. The new threshold provides the AFP with the ability to move quickly to prevent a terrorist act from occurring or to disrupt the planning of a terrorist act.

There is a new power to seize bogus travel documents. Again, this is probably another area where many Australians would be surprised that a new law is even required. While it is current practice for customs and border protection officials to prevent individuals from using bogus documents to enter or leave Australia or to apply for a visa, it is perhaps surprising that they do not currently have the power to seize those documents. This new power will allow customs and border protection officials to seize bogus documents, thus preventing the individual using them from trying their luck a second time.

This bill will provide for information-sharing between AUSTRAC and the Attorney General's Department to help combat terrorism financing. The impact that the global financing of terrorism has had on the emergence of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL cannot be understated. It is vital that Australia does all that it can to prevent money leaving Australia if it is destined for a terrorist organisation anywhere in the world. AUSTRAC hold a great deal of financial intelligence and they are experts in this field. This change will allow them to work more closely with our security agencies to ensure that any information they gather can be used in the fight against global terrorism.

There is the introduction of delayed notification search warrants for terrorism offences. This new power will allow the AFP to conduct a search of a premises without the occupier of that premises being made aware of that search. Allowing the AFP to gather information through the execution of a search warrant, while allowing the investigation to remain covert, is considered especially valuable. The AFP now have significant operating experience investigating terrorist groups and they believe that this new power will greatly assist their investigations into particularly resilient groups.

The bill also includes measures to extend the sunset clauses for legislation empowering: the AFP control orders; the ASIO questioning and detention powers; and the AFP preventative detention orders. The extension of the sunset clauses on these powers has been done in recognition of the ongoing nature of the terrorist threat to Australia and the importance of these powers in our fight against terrorism. These powers are particularly important as they provide security agencies with proactive measures of dealing with terrorist threats.

There have also been some changes to the control order regime in response to the COAG review, which recommended some additional safeguards. It is important that these safeguards remain in place so that the community can be assured that these powers continue to be used effectively and efficiently to combat terrorism.

The bill creates a new offence for 'advocacy of terrorism', and the introduction of 'advocacy of terrorism' as the grounds for proscription of a terrorist organisation. It will now be an offence to intentionally urge or counsel the commissioning of a terrorist act. This is a sensible new law, as there can be little doubt that the decision to spread a message of hate, division and violence has no place in Australian society. This sends a clear message that we will not sit by while cowards encourage others to murder and maim, thinking themselves safe from our laws.

The bill also provides for the expansion of the power to collect biometric information on Australian citizens at airports. This new technology is the cutting edge of counter-terrorism efforts in Australia and around the world. It is vital that Australia does everything it can to secure its borders, and this cannot be done unless the correct identity of everyone seeking to arrive or leave the country can be assured. I was pleased that the PJCIS was able to ensure that additional information, like iris and fingerprint information, will not be included in the biometric information collected.

As a member of the PJCIS, I am pleased to see that the government has accepted all of the 36 recommendations. Key recommendations from the committee include amending sunset periods for a number of new and existing powers to ensure that these powers are only used for as long as they are necessary. Another recommendation relates to additional reviews of these powers to ensure that they are operating as intended and that they successfully provide security agencies with the tools that they need to keep Australians safe.

I wanted to echo some of Senator Faulkner's comments about the need for greater scrutiny while there are greater powers being endorsed by the parliament. As I have outlined here, there are greater powers—important and necessary powers—but there are also important and necessary safeguards which are needed and they will continue to be needed. There will be debate about those oversight powers, and I welcome that and I think that all in this chamber should welcome that debate.

In summary, this bill will provide Australia's security agencies with the updated toolkit that they need to protect Australians from terrorism. These measures are reasonable and proportionate, given the threats that we now face. I commend the bill to the Senate.


No comments