Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers


3:35 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator McKim today relating to proposed amendments to citizenship laws.

I note that Senator Brandis is now fleeing the chamber because he knows he does not have a leg to stand on when it comes to the extreme sophistry in the answers that he gave to the Senate. The question he was very clearly asked by the Greens was: on what basis does he believe it is acceptable to strip citizenship from Australian nationals without providing for that decision to be made by the courts or tested in the courts before it is made? In his answer, Senator Brandis attempted to convince the Senate that the premise on which that question was based is incorrect. In fact, it is anything but incorrect. In fact, it is absolutely accurate to suggest that, without a court finding, the government can, effectively, strip citizenship from an Australian national, as long as the actions of that national meet the criteria set out in the act as proposed to be amended. If the Greens are wrong about this, Professor George Williams is wrong about it too. An article published by the ABC today reports Professor Williams as saying:

It's still possible under this legislation for the government to unilaterally find that someone should have their citizenship stripped.

Professor Williams went on to say:

That can happen without a court finding …

That was the premise of the question that Senator Brandis was asked today. Of course, Senator Brandis tried to tried to rely on sophistry, as I said, when he argued in his answer that, in fact, it is the citizens themselves who are renouncing their own citizenship by virtue of the action they are taking. But the step Senator Brandis is missing is that someone has to make a determination about whether the actions, or the alleged actions, of the Australian national involved meet the criteria set out in the act. And who is going to make that decision? The minister is going to make that decision, unless the minister wants to wash his hands of that responsibility, like Pontius Pilate did, and delegate it down to his or her department or to his or her intelligence agency.

What we have here is a situation where this government—as, I might add, have previous governments—continually erodes the fundamental civil and human rights of ordinary Australian people; the civil and human rights that many of our fathers, our grandfathers, our mothers and our grandmothers have fought and died for for so long to protect and enhance. This government, in the name of political expediency—driven by political expediency in the name of counterterrorism—is continuing to erode those fundamental rights. That is why this country needs a more strategic and holistic assessment of the long-term impact on civil and human rights from this 10-year-long—actually, it has been a 15-year-long—tranche of legislation that has come before this parliament since the September 11 attacks.

We have seen multiple occasions where police powers have been broadened. We have seen multiple occasions where the powers of intelligence agencies have been broadened. We have seen it time and time again, and yet the last time a strategic look was taken at this was with the Counter-terrorism White Paper in 2010, when no-one had ever heard of ISIS. It is fair to say that violent extremism has changed a fair bit in the last five years, since the Counter-terrorism White Paper was produced. It is fair to say that things have moved on a bit, and it is fair to say that Australians deserve to have a government that takes this issue seriously. Yes, we do need to look carefully at how we protect our people—but, my goodness me, we also need to make sure that we are not unnecessarily eroding the kinds of civil and human rights that people like my grandfathers went to war and died to protect and enhance.

Question agreed to.