Senate debates

Wednesday, 27 June 2018


National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017; First Reading

9:57 am

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Obviously, the numbers are here for this to go through anyway so I don't wish to speak purely to try and make debating points, but I do want to put things on the record. For those who are following this issue, as hopefully the Australian public or those that follow the issues that come before the parliament are aware, the legislation that is being put forward already this morning is of enormous significance to the rights of every person who resides in Australia, not just citizens but everybody else.

The matter immediately before us is the government seeking leave to move to exempt these bills from the cut-off order. It is worth emphasising why the cut-off order is in place. The cut-off order is something that goes back—if my memory serves me correctly—to the 1980s. It was originally proposed by former Queensland colleague—a predecessor of mine—Senator Michael Macklin, because of the problematic practice, which frequently occurred, of legislation being tabled and immediately debated before the chamber had a chance to properly scrutinise it.

As we have already heard, this issue has been scrutinised by a committee that excludes most of the parties in this Senate, except for the two largest ones. So the principle that has been in place since the 1980s—it has been reformed a bit over time, including by, I think, WA Greens senators—is that it should only be by explicit and informed decision of the Senate that we agree to exempt legislation from what is a standing order. It is a standing order that legislation should not be introduced and considered within the same week. That is for the very simple reason that it is our job to make sure that we are properly informed when we make decisions about whether or not the legislation we pass is adequate and does not have unintended consequences.

Forget about the ideological differences here and the philosophical differences about what's right and what's wrong, what needs to happen and what doesn't need to happen. We need to make sure that we don't include things in the legislation that are done by mistake. That has happened time and time again. The vast majority of times that it has happened have been in precisely this situation, when, for political reasons—and let's not kid ourselves; this rush is totally for political reasons—things are put in legislation when even the people who want them in there have not had the chance to properly scrutinise what the actual consequences of those words will be. That's bad with regard to any piece of legislation—it's the law of the land; it affects the entire community—but, when we're talking about legislation that affects people's basic liberties on such a fundamental level, then it is incumbent upon us to make sure that we properly scrutinise what it is we are doing.

Let's not forget, when we are talking about legislation, that it is not blind. There are sections of the community—Indigenous Australians, Muslim Australians and others—who are far more likely to fall foul of legislation that is bent and interpreted to meet the preconceptions, structural prejudices and racism of our legal system. We see that time and time again. The reasons for urgency that the minister tabled are only just now being distributed around the chamber. Had it not been for the decision to not just wave this through, if the Senate had done what has, unfortunately, become common practice and just waved it through and said, 'Yes, sure, exempt this legislation from the cut-off,' had it not been for the action of the Greens in denying leave and wanting this to actually be debated, we wouldn't have even known what the reasons were. Maybe Labor has already seen these reasons. I don't know. I suspect not. But the Senate itself wouldn't have even known what the reasons were for urgency. If we look at the reasons for urgency, the document is only that long. It's one paragraph plus an extra sentence. This legislation is required urgently in response to the 'unprecedented threat of espionage and foreign interference'. Gee whiz, that's really detailed reasoning! This has happened time and time again in this area, in particular. Can we finally learn from our mistakes? (Time expired)


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