Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee; Reference
I indicate that I will support this motion to refer these two bills to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. They are very important bills. They have significant implications for our civil society and for our law—the way that we deal with spying and foreign interference. And they create new offences. Anything that creates new offences has to be taken exceptionally seriously.
Unlike Senator McKim, I have my reasons for this, which may be a little different, but there is a very legitimate complaint in relation to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. That committee does not allow other participating members—there is nobody from the Greens and nobody from the crossbench involved in it. Yes, we can read all the submissions—at least, the ones that are published; they're not all published—but we don't hear the evidence of the security agencies and we don't really know how it's all going to end up.
We've had this process reach its next stage this week, in which the report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has introduced its recommendations and the government already has the amendments which are based on that report. We got exposed to them today, or yesterday, and we are being asked to vote on them this week. We are told that we've had ample opportunity to consider both the bills and the potential amendments. It's not true, and we haven't.
I have had the opportunity to consider these perhaps a little more than Senator McKim has because I've had briefings from the Attorney-General's Department and ASIO. I'm very grateful for those. I have to say that some of my concerns about the original bills, which I regarded as quite alarming in their content, have been allayed by the amendments based on the PJCIS recommendations. That's a good thing. But I've had, essentially, 24 hours to get my head around them.
Now, we've had this situation before—many times, as a matter of fact. I've been here for four years now, and we've had quite a raft of national security legislation and antiterrorism legislation. It's embraced or introduced things like control orders and preventive detention orders. Invariably, there has been some pretext that it be hurried up, that it was urgent. And then we would end up with control orders and preventive detention orders not being used. Nobody uses them. They're urgent, urgent, urgent—we have to get them into the books because there's some sort of national security crisis and then they don't get used.
What we do get, though, are free-speech restrictions. We saw, in the case of section 35P of the ASIO Act, unreasonable restraint on free speech. I railed against it at the time it went through. I knew it wasn't a good thing; I knew it was totally unnecessary, as a matter of fact. Nobody took any notice, of course, of just a crossbench senator. But then it went to Roger Giles QC, who said the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security legislation was inappropriate and had gone too far. So guess what? The government changed it. Then I drew attention to the fact that there was a similar provision in another act affecting the Australian Federal Police, and the former Attorney-General, George Brandis, to his credit, agreed to amend that without having a fight over it.
So fixing up the legislation later is one option. But another way to deal with it is to have a look at it in committee—where we can all participate, where we can all canvass our concerns—and deal with it in the normal process that we should be applying in this Senate. There is no case for urgency. We can conduct by-elections without this legislation. We have previously conducted many by-elections without this legislation and no-one can point to any adverse consequences of having done so. It is not necessary to rush it. We should take our time.