Thursday, 25 September 2014
National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014; Third Reading
That this bill be now read a third time.
Might I take the opportunity of making some brief third reading remarks to thank those who have contributed to the outcome that the Senate has accomplished this evening. This is the most important reform of the powers of our national security agency since the 1979 ASIO Act based on the report of Justice Hope was enacted by this parliament. As I said in my second reading remarks, what we have achieved tonight is to ensure that those who protect us, particularly in a newly dangerous age, have the strong powers and capabilities they need but we have also achieved the outcome that those strong powers are protected and balanced by strong safeguards.
This has been a work of admirable bipartisanship, and I want to pay particular tribute to Mr Anthony Byrne, who chaired the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security throughout the 43rd Parliament and who crafted the report on which this legislation at least in part was based. I should also acknowledge Mr Dan Tehan who chairs the committee today who made a number of other recommendations which, as I have said, the government has adopted.
I want to thank those officers of the Attorney-General's Department and of ASIO who have worked so hard on this legislation, in particular Annette Willing, Christina Raymond and Jamie Lowe from the Attorney-General's Department; along with the officers of ASIO, DFAT, Defence and the Office of National Assessments for their contribution; and my own adviser Justin Bassi, who has engaged with so many senators in answering or seeking to address their concerns.
It was on the Sunday before last that David Irvine retired as the 12th Director-General of Security. This legislation was largely inspired and driven by him. David Irvine was a great Director-General of Security. I feel a little sorry for him, because the two great legacies that he left the organisation—the new building which he never had the opportunity to occupy as Director-General and this legislation which did not quite pass on his watch—will nevertheless stand as testaments to him. This legislation and the greater safety to our people, which it will enable, are very much David Irvine's legacy.
I recognise that the hour is late so I will not seek to detain the chamber for long but I want to put some final comments on the record. What we have seen tonight, I think, is an exercise in politics that in some form is actually hundreds of years old. I will explain what I mean by that, but I want to thank my crossbench colleagues from across the political spectrum for providing the only opposition that Australia has tonight. What Senator Brandis proudly summed up as bipartisanship, I would characterise as an absence of critique and opposition at a time when this country desperately needs it.
The Australian Greens will not be voting for this bill, recognising that this is the first in a series of expansions of powers of our covert intelligence agencies, expansion of policing powers. I simply do not believe in and cannot in good conscience vote, particularly in the climate that we are in, for continued relentless expansions of powers for these agencies at a time when the only person who the Australian government had established—the office, obviously, now having lapsed—to investigate whether the laws that we already have are necessary and proportionate has said in many cases that in fact they are not. Instead of taking that advice in a calm and measured way, the government is in fact doubling down and digging us in deeper. As I say, this is politics hundreds of years old. What I mean by that is a quote that resonates for me, from Ben Franklin, who said, 'Those who surrender freedom for security will not have nor do they deserve either one.' I think that is the process that we are engaged in tonight.
Very briefly, I indicate that, whilst there are many aspects of this bill that I think are worthy, the fact that every major media organisation in this country has serious concerns about proposed section 35P in terms of the potential curtailment of the freedom of the press in this country means that, with a heavy heart, I cannot support the third reading.
The former Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, once said that it is the role of the legislature to question the executive, particularly in times of crisis. What we have seen is the development of an atmosphere of crisis such as would warrant extreme measures that in other circumstances would never be countenanced. That is exactly what has happened here with this legislation. It is a case of doing in haste what we will repent at leisure.
The fact of the matter is that we are doing away with freedoms of the press that have been fought for over a long period of time and have now been given away. The Greens have severe criticisms of this legislation. It has been rushed through this parliament without any scrutiny from the Labor opposition. The reason why is their case to answer; but we have put a very strong case here, and I congratulate my colleague Senator Ludlam for the way that he has handled this. But in years to come people will look back and ask why we never learnt the lessons of history and we repeated them.
I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the Labor opposition to thank the crossbenchers for their contribution to the committee stage consideration today. However, contrary to Senator Milne's statements, I would like to stress the history that we covered in the discussion in relation to this legislation. These were matters that were first addressed quite some time back when first put forward by the Attorney at the time, Nicola Roxon. These are matters that have been dealt with by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, amendments that have been drafted in response to that committee and then returned to that committee. These are matters that have been considered by the members of that committee in quite some detail, particularly the media measures that have been referred to.
These are not extreme measures in response to an immediate crisis. The Senate will indeed be dealing with other legislation—in fact, there is legislation now before us with respect to foreign fighters—that is more immediate and pertinent to current circumstances. But to characterise these first tranche measures as extreme and in response to more immediate national security issues is simply inaccurate.
I have indicated on behalf of the Labor Party that some of the issues that have been raised by crossbenchers may indeed warrant further consideration by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security. That is where I have indicated that such matters should be further investigated. This is not us absenting ourselves from scrutiny. Indeed, it was the Labor Party in the committee stage consideration that ensured that we had sufficient time to deal with the response from the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. It was indeed the Labor Party that would have ensured—absent the vote that actually occurred—with the support of some crossbenchers, that the gag motion ultimately succeeded, but not with the support of the Labor Party.
So, Senator Milne, I take offence at your characterisation of the Labor Party's participation in this debate. I was not intending to make a third reading contribution, but I think your comments are inaccurate and unfair.