Wednesday, 26 November 2014
Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014; In Committee
Before responding to the particular comments that the Attorney-General has made both in relation to the amendments that are being moved but also what he asserts occurred last night, I would like to make a few comments. I would like to recap where we are up to on this bill and touch on the bizarre scenes that played out in this place last night as we debated this significant piece of national security legislation. In what was really an abuse of the committee stage of the debate in this Senate—and the Hansard record will speak for itself—the Attorney-General refused to answer what were fair and reasonable questions which I was putting to him as part of the committee of the whole stage of the bill.
For more than half an hour, before finally deigning to answer my questions, he refused to answer legitimate questions, sitting in the Senate studiously ignoring me and not paying me the courtesy of even explaining what was going on, indicating at that point that he would deign to answer those questions later as a whole or would give the basis upon which the answers were being refused. I was asking those questions on behalf of all those who do not have an opportunity to stand in this chamber and ask those questions but have a legitimate interest: legal experts, human rights organisations, civil liberties groups and members of the Australian public who have concerns about this legislation.
Let me be very clear: the Attorney-General has asserted that I asked three questions. That is not the case and the record will stand on the number of questions I asked. I did ask the questions that he has referred to today, but I asked further questions about contextualisation of the phrases that have caused concern because of their breadth and vagueness. I also asked questions arising from the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. I was on my feet asking questions and certainly asked more than three questions.
Let me be very clear: the Australian Greens do not support this bill. It seeks to expand the flawed control order regime, which many experts have criticised and said should be repealed. We do support the recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which the government has accepted, and we support the government's amendments, which will give effect to the PJCIS's recommendations in one form or another. They are a welcome improvement to some of the worst parts of this bill, but they certainly do not allay all of our concerns.
Last night, the Attorney-General evinced an unwillingness to engage in the proper dialogue that one could legitimately expect during the committee of the whole in this parliament, so we still remain in the dark about what this bill will mean for Australians if it becomes law. It seemed that the Attorney-General had not properly considered the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights into this bill before the committee stage started and before he entered that stage. We maintain that debate should not have even commenced until that report has been considered by senators given the huge human rights implications this bill has for Australians. That is a committee doing the work of this parliament and it should be respected. In all, with his procedural games and by refusing to answer questions as they were put to him, the Attorney-General was attempting to dictate to me which questions I could ask and which I could not ask and screened those which were apparently, in his view anyway, not worthy of a response. One actually suspects that in some cases he did not have a response available.
I refuse to be directed by the Attorney-General as to what questions I can and cannot ask and when. This was the committee stage when senators are able to directly question the minister who is responsible for a bill. It is a fundamental part of our democratic system. This is a significant bill and I will continue to ask questions about the bill on behalf of the Australian public.