Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018


Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee; Reference

6:19 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the provisions of the following bills be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 14 August 2018:

(a) National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017; and

(b) Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017.

This motion seeks to refer two pieces of legislation, or provisions of two pieces of legislation—the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 and the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017—to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 14 August this year. The reason we're doing this is that this chamber, the Senate, is being asked to consider these pieces of legislation in an unholy rush. I'm relying on statements made by government ministers to back that up, those statements being that government intends to have these bills passed through the parliament this week but without offering any reasonable or rational justification for that unholy rush.

What's happened here, as often happens with bills that relate to national security, is that the closed shop of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security has got together and closed the doors on every single crossbencher in this Senate—none of us have a place on that committee—and, behind those closed doors, a cosy deal has been stitched up between the Labor Party and the coalition that, once again, will erode fundamental rights and liberties in this country. It's worth the Australian people knowing that in the past two decades there have been more than 200 pieces of legislation passed through the Commonwealth or through state and territory parliaments in this country that erode fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties that we actually used to send Australians overseas and sacrifice their lives to defend. These rights, freedoms and liberties are now being eroded, and they're being eroded by the Labor Party and coalition parties in zombie lock step. I'm very disappointed—very disappointed—in Labor senators because of the way this debate looks like going, and I warn Labor senators in particular that the chilling consequences of these two bills will be on their heads.

I only have a few minutes, so I'm going to run quickly through some of the issues. Not-for-profits that are not charities will have to register arrangements with sister organisations, apparently even if they're not associated with a foreign government. This is not only a significant regulatory burden but also non-compliance will potentially attract sentences of imprisonment. The espionage and foreign influence bill directly impacts on matters of concern: for example, criminalising protests in this country. So someone who protests against a new coalmine, for example, runs the risk of having that behaviour criminalised, even if it's done in a peaceful and non-violent way. They risk up to 20 years imprisonment for taking that protest action, even if that action is about sending a message to the world that we should not be opening new coalmines in Australia. This, again, will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech in our country and potentially is in breach of the implied right of political constitution in the Australian Constitution. The espionage and foreign influence bill also could impact on reporting by journalists on misconduct of the Australian government.

Let's be clear about this: these pieces of legislation are a continuance of a sustained attack on civil society in Australia. They are a continuance of the ongoing erosion of fundamental rights, liberties and freedoms in this country, and it is a matter of deep shame that Australia remains the only liberal democracy in the world that does not have some form of bill or charter of rights to protect those fundamental rights and freedoms.

And of course corporations are exempt from these bills. According to the coalition and Labor it's okay to attack non-government organisations whose mandates are defending the environment, whose mandates are defending human rights, whose mandates are holding the government to account. Apparently it's okay to attack those groups, but hands off the big corporates. Again, we can see what big political donations buy in this place. Hands off the corporates because, of course, they are exempt from these bills, as are religious institutions, as are, shamefully, politicians. To suggest that for-profit businesses—be they involved in telecommunications, mining or pokies—let alone churches or the Vatican, have less influence on Australian politics than non-government organisations is either naive or woefully negligent. I urge the Senate to do its job and refer these bills for an inquiry. (Time expired)


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