Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021


Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:18 am

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021 and to give support to the bill. I will be brief in my remarks. It is clearly important for Australia to maintain its biosecurity. We have a fantastic agricultural industry, which would be put in jeopardy if we don't have strong protections in relation to biosecurity. However, I will just foreshadow that I'm moving an amendment in the committee stage, and I'll talk to that amendment now. The amendment I'm moving seeks to deal with a situation we had a few weeks ago where the government sought to use biosecurity measures to prevent Australians from returning home—in fact, to make it a criminal offence for Australians who may be overseas during a biosecurity emergency to return back to their home country. That is inconsistent with the idea of the rights of citizenship; it's inconsistent with the moral obligation the government has to assist Australians when they are overseas and find themselves in difficulty. My amendment will make it very clear that the power that was exercised by the health minister to prevent Australians who were in India from returning home can never be exercised again in that manner.

It's an example of what can happen when a power is granted for good measure—I went back and I read through the explanatory memorandum for when the power was initially granted by the parliament. There's not a mention of that sort of use of the power that was requested of the parliament, so it was an abuse. I think the government knows that they made a big mistake in the exercise of it. But with the coalition government you just never know what they're going to do next. They are secretive in the way they do business. They don't respect the Senate—we saw that yesterday when we were talking about the provision of information to the Senate. They are quite disrespectful in terms of openness and transparency.

Last night when we were dealing with an ARENA regulation, we saw the government table an amendment that was 180 degrees from the intent of the objects of the act. It was unlawful. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee had made it very plain and clear that that was unlawful amendment. It would have been struck out if someone decided to take that measure to court. But the Senate should never have allowed that regulation. Thankfully, we found ourselves in a situation where, at the recommital of the vote thanks to an injury with Senator Whish-Wilson, the Senate did its job really well last night. But it just shows you what happens when governments stray off the pathway. They stray away from the proper use of power granted by the parliament when they, in legal terms, act ultra vires, beyond power. That's what we saw in relation to the use of the biosecurity laws in the pandemic.

Just so everyone's clear: my amendment makes it very clear that you cannot prevent an Australian citizen returning from overseas during a biosecurity measure on the basis of a biosecurity concern. It doesn't affect other measures that we have in law related to terrorists and other people that we know we wish to keep from this country. Any Australian who's overseas and in trouble and wants to return home can. Of course, the minister or the government can apply other measures, such as the requirement to quarantine, and issue other directions to make sure that the community is safe. We bring our people home, we put them in a place that doesn't endanger the community and we make sure they have the best medical attention that they possibly can. That's what my amendment seeks to do, to clarify that that power which was exercised is not to be exercised in the future. That would be unquestionably beyond power. I will be asking that the Senate accept and support my amendment.


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