Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I rise today in support of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014. This bill introduces measures to support Australia's security agencies to ensure that Australians are as safe and secure as we can make them, without stripping away the freedoms we value and, in fact, are fighting to protect.
National security must always be a primary priority of our national government, but so too must the preservation of our democratic freedoms. These are two seemingly incompatible policy objectives; to balance them is never easy and is always rightly contested in this place. There is no doubt, however, in my mind that the Islamic State is a threat to our democratic values, our people, our institutions and our Australian way of life. Their attempt to gain resources, ground and manpower, both in Australia and abroad, must be resisted.
In 1986, Margaret Thatcher noted in a speech to the British parliament:
… terrorism thrives on a free society. The terrorist uses the feelings in a free society to sap the will of civilisation to resist. If the terrorist succeeds, he has won and the whole of free society has lost.
She also noted:
Terrorism has to be defeated; it cannot be tolerated or side-stepped. When other ways and other methods have failed—I am the first to wish that they had succeeded—it is right that the terrorist should know that firm steps will be taken to deter him from attacking either other peoples or his own people who have taken refuge in countries that are free.
My own experiences in government, dealing with the threats of al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah, taught me that terrorists do not respect compassion; they see it as a weakness for them to exploit.
This threat is real, and we have seen it before. Between 1990 and 2010, 30 Australians are known to have fought or trained with extremist groups in conflict zones at the time, including Pakistan and Afghanistan. Of these, 25 returned to Australia, 19 became involved in activities in Australia prejudicial to our national security and eight were convicted of terrorism related offences. Since that time, the evolution of technology and social media in an increasingly globalised world presents new opportunities for those who would seek to do us harm and new national security challenges for us all to address. The phenomenon of foreign fighters who are recruited by these new means underscores the connection between events overseas and the security of our own communities—as the recent events in Canada remind us. Today, at least 185 Australians have become involved with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq by travelling to the region, attempting to travel to the region or supporting groups operating there from Australia.
Senator Leyonhjelm might be right that a 17-year-old from Bankstown is, to paraphrase him, 'an idiot'. But what Senator Leyonhjelm did not tell you is that, while he is 17 and he may be an idiot, he is now a radicalised and trained terrorist. His age is immaterial to his intent and his ability to do us harm should he return to Australia. History has shown us time and time again that child soldiers, once radicalised, are often the most brutal.
This bill introduces a range of measures to strengthen Australia's counter-terrorism legislative framework, and ensure that our domestic security agencies are empowered to do their jobs on our behalf. A new offence will make it illegal to intentionally counsel, promote, encourage or urge the doing of a terrorist act. There have been suggestions that this law will impact on free speech; however, as with everything, there must be a balance between protecting the rights of free speech and protecting the rights of individuals to go about their lives without the threat of terrorism.
Further, what has not yet been acknowledged by some opposite is that this bill does contain safeguards within the provision designed to protect free speech. The offences makes reference to the existing defence of 'acts done good faith' to protect the implied freedom of political communication. It will also exclude acts like publishing a report or commentary about a matter of public interest in good faith. The bill also seeks to extend sunset clauses for a number of measures, including control orders, preventative detention orders, ASIO questioning, and questioning and detention orders.
I welcome the fact that as a result of the PJCIS report the sunset clauses will be reduced significantly from what they were originally proposed to be. I believe these powers are essential components of Australia's anti-terrorism legislative framework. They play a crucial role in mitigating, deterring and responding to terrorist threat Australia and extending these sunset provisions will allow future governments to reassess the security environment and determine whether these powers are still required. The bill provides more powers to our security agencies to deal with what I believe is a clear and current threat of terrorism within Australia posed by foreign fighters seeking to return to our country. It will also improve Australian border security measures and introduce measures to cancel welfare payments for persons involved in terrorism.
This bill is an essential component of the government's reform to national security legislation. The threat posed by foreign fighters returning to Australia is real. It is not overstated nor is it something that can be ignored. Australians who travel to fight with the Islamic State should not be allowed to bring their abhorrent brand of extremism back to Australia. As technology and threats change, so must legislation. These changes must be responsive and timely to ensure that our security organisations are able to effectively respond to these emerging threats, as they clearly have today.
The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill is both necessary and appropriate legislation at this time. I congratulate the Labor Party for their bipartisan approach and constructive amendments to this bill. I believe this bill strikes a clear balance between security and individual freedom, and I commend it to the Senate.