Wednesday, 27 June 2018
National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017; First Reading
What's happening here needs a bit of context so that the Senate and the Australian people can understand what's being done here this morning. These bills went to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is a closed shop—no member of the Senate crossbench, including the Australian Greens, is represented on that committee. Out of that committee process came a total of 280 amendments to these pieces of legislation that we only saw for the first time yesterday afternoon. Those amendments came out of the absolutely normal process that occurs behind the closed doors of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, and that is that the Labor Party and the coalition parties got together and hammered out a dirty deal, and the parliament, and now the Senate, are being presented with a fait accompli and being treated as a rubber-stamp by the Labor Party and the coalition parties.
The government has said reasonably consistently, if not entirely consistently, that it wishes to have both of these bills passed through both houses of this parliament this week. What it has abjectly failed to do is mount any kind of rational argument as to why these bills should be subject to such an unholy rush. These two bills we have before us do many things, but in overview they are a draconian and deliberate attempt to stifle political debate in this country. They are a draconian and deliberate attempt to muzzle non-government organisations who are fighting to look after our environment or defend human rights or hold the government to account. They are a draconian and deliberate stitch-up between the Australian Labor Party and the coalition parties as so often happens in this space.
The Australian Greens do not accept the argument that these bills need to be put through the Senate this week. In fact, yesterday we moved to refer the provisions of this legislation, including the 280 amendments, which we only saw for the first time yesterday afternoon, off to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for an inquiry so the Australian people could have a say, which they’ve been denied to date because the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security only dealt with the bills as originally drafted. There are now 280 amendments to these two pieces of legislation that will be subjected to no other scrutiny than what the Labor and Liberal parties in collusion will grant in the Senate over the next two days. That is 280 amendments to legislation that will criminalise peaceful non-violent protest in some circumstances. It is 280 amendments, which we only saw yesterday afternoon for the first time, to legislation that will criminalise public interest journalism in some cases.
Let's put a couple of examples before the Senate so that no-one can say they didn't know what they're about to ram through in such an unholy rush. Firstly, let's say someone decides they want to make a political point by disrupting the loading of a boat that is being loaded with live sheep for export to the Middle East—they want to blockade the road leading to that port. Suddenly, they find themselves in breach of this draconian legislation and, if charged and convicted, find themselves facing a term of imprisonment of up to 15 years. Let's take another example. A journalist decides they want to report on an egregious breach of human rights carried out by Australia. They report that egregious breach. That report comes to the attention of a foreign government and provides an advantage to the foreign government or damages Australia's relationship with that foreign government, and the journalist and the publisher, if arrested, charged and convicted, face a term of imprisonment of 25 years.
It's highly likely that this legislation, if passed as it is proposed to be today, would get laughed out of the High Court in damned quick time because it breaches the implied right to freedom of political communication in our country; that is the view of legal and constitutional experts who have offered their opinion publicly on this matter in recent days. I'll be putting their views more robustly on the record as we move through the remaining process to examine this legislation.
Make no mistake: this Senate has the right, and in fact deserves the opportunity, to apply significant scrutiny to this legislation. The Senate has been denied by the Australian Labor Party and the coalition a chance to have this legislation interrogated at an inquiry of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, and now we have the government proposing to take these two highly complex, highly dangerous pieces of legislation through this Senate in one go. Again, it is a move designed to avoid the necessary scrutiny of this legislation.
The Australian Greens are going to stand up in this place and defend our democracy. We are going to defend public interest journalism. We are going to defend civil society. We are going to defend people's rights to peaceful and non-violent protest in this country. One of the ways we are going to do these things is by holding this government to account. In order to do that in an optimal way, we need these bills separated so that we can interrogate them one after the other, not have them rammed through in an unholy rush by the Australian Labor Party, who are in zombie lock step with the coalition, as they so often are.
It's worth making the point that one of the biggest fears of the Australian Labor Party is that there is thin air between Labor and the coalition on issues that they regard as national security or counterterrorism issues. Of course, the reason for that is purely political. Labor don't want to open up a crack that people like Minister Dutton and Minister Cormann can drive the wedge into. The government are champing at the bit to drive the wedge into Labor, and Labor is engaged in gutless, cowardly politics by remaining in lock step with the government on these issues. So there are political reasons behind us facing this unholy rush today, but ultimately it is the country and the Australian people who are going to be the losers, because Labor has decided to sacrifice them on the altar of political expediency. It is gutless and cowardly politics.
We need the opportunity to make sure these bills are comprehensively scrutinised. They are horrendously complicated, they are entirely draconian and they are incredibly dangerous not only in their intent but in their effect. Ultimately, we are again seeing rights, freedoms and liberties in this country—which we used to send Australians overseas to defend, with the sacrifice of Australian lives—eroded before our very eyes because the Labor Party is too gutless to stand up to the coalition on issues around national security and counterterrorism.
There have been over 200 pieces of legislation passed through the Commonwealth and state and territory parliaments in Australia in the last 20 years that erode fundamental rights and freedoms in this country. We remain the only liberal democracy in the world that does not have a charter of rights, which would allow us to enshrine and protect basic rights and freedoms in such a way that this legislation either could not pass or, if it did pass, would be found to be unlawful or unconstitutional, or, at the very least, greater opportunities would be provided to scrutinise the draconian provisions of this legislation.
What the Australian people are going to witness in this Senate today is the zombie lock step of the old parties to support legislation and some procedural motions that will have a chilling effect on the capacity of non-government organisations to defend our environment, on the capacity of journalists in this country to hold the government to account and report in the public interest in some circumstances, and on the capacity of civil society's essential job in any democracy—to scrutinise and hold those with the ultimate power to account. If these bills pass unamended this week, it'll be a sad, sad day for Australia.
I say to the minister: the Australian Greens will avail ourselves of every opportunity here to make sure that these bills can be scrutinised and that the collusion between the ALP and the coalition is laid bare and to make sure that the impact of these laws is at least placed on the record so that nobody can say they didn't know what they were voting for at the end of this debate. Part of the way that we want to do that is to ensure that these bills can be considered separately. I say, again, there are 280 amendments, which speaks volumes about the quality and the overreach of the original legislation. We saw them yesterday afternoon for the first time. Here we are, less than 24 hours after we first saw those 280 amendments, and the government and the Labor Party are going to vote together, I suspect and I fear, to deny this Senate the opportunity to do its job, which is to scrutinise these two pieces of terrible legislation in the most effective way that is open for this chamber. So I do urge senators here to support the Greens motion, because this will allow for the bills to be considered and debated separately rather than considered and debated together, which is part of the strategy of the government—and, I believe, likely the ALP—to deny this Senate the capacity to properly do its job.