Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee; Reference
I rise to contribute to this debate in relation to the referral moved by my colleague Senator McKim. I would like to highlight the recklessness of the opposition and the government in refusing to allow this reference to go ahead. Only this afternoon we have had a package of bills presented to this place with 270 amendments that we are expected to vote upon as early as tomorrow. No-one in their right mind would think that 270 amendments whacked on the table only a couple of hours before we finish tonight, with the expectation that this bill will be brought on by the government tomorrow, would in any way be the appropriate avenue for debating something as important as foreign interference.
We know the reason why the government is rushing this piece of legislation. It is because, according to the Minister, Christian Porter, and members of Malcolm Turnbull's government, this all needs to be done and dusted prior to 28 July and the by-elections. But, of course, not everybody in the government thinks this. We know that Minister Pyne was dubious about whether it was urgent. Remember that? He either read the speaking notes and didn't agree with them or didn't read them at all. Either way, there is clear division, even within the senior cabinet, about whether the bills in this package of legislation are important and urgent enough to be rushed through and are up to scratch. And it clearly isn't up to scratch. Otherwise, we wouldn't have 270 amendments whacked on the table at a minute to midnight. So it is not as urgent, I would argue, as the government is proposing.
For the Labor Party to line up with the government to rush through such an extraordinary package of bills that cover such a breadth of Australian community, business and civil society groups is astounding. We know that there have been concerns from journalists, we know that there have been concerns from the media sector and we know that there have been concerns from academic institutions. There have been concerns from the artistic community in relation to the impact that these laws would have on their operations. They are worried that they are being caught up in this big broad net whether it was intended or not. So now we have 270 amendments to try and get through when we don't know what the implications will be. They require, in and of themselves, appropriate scrutiny and review. This is the job of the Senate. The job of the Senate is to review pieces of legislation put forward from the government, through the House and to this place. Our job is not to rubberstamp—no, no, no—our job is to review, to scrutinise, to approve, to change, to amend or, ultimately, to reject. That is our job.
Being told to do this now, at a minute to midnight, is just extraordinary. There are 270 amendments to this package of bills. It is not just one piece of legislation here; there are three bills. It undermines the role of the Senate. It undermines the role of the Senate to do its job and the responsibility that we all have as senators to ensure that pieces of legislation don't just pass this place, because the government wants a rubberstamp, because they're worried that they don't have anything else to campaign on in the lead-up to the 28 July by-elections.
Is it any surprise that the government's in trouble in Mayo, and so what do they do? They pull out the national security card. That's what's going on here. When this government thought that they may have been ahead in the Mayo by-election with their dud of a candidate, Georgina Downer, they thought, 'Let's lock it in with some antiforeigner legislation'. Wrong move, you're going to lose it anyway.