Thursday, 28 June 2018
Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2018; Third Reading
I will be brief, because I recognise it's reasonably unusual to speak on the third reading.
This is a sad day for Australia. We've taken giant steps today down a dangerous path for our country. It's a pathway towards a police state and authoritarianism, and, ultimately, towards a totalitarian state. This bill will significantly curtail freedom of political expression. It will have a chilling effect on media freedom and democratic action in this country.
It's entirely reasonable for this government and this parliament to want to protect Australia against malicious foreign influence and foreign interference. That is an entirely reasonable aim. But you don't protect democracy by smothering it. And that is what this legislation does. It risks curtailing press freedom by placing journalists and media outlets in a difficult, and, at times, almost impossible position. It will dissuade journalists from publishing stories that are clearly in the public interest because they are too scared that they may be charged and face years, decades or their whole lives in prison.
I will confidently predict now that if this legislation ends up before the High Court it will be found to be unconstitutional. And the minister's assurances that the government is confident that it is a piece of legislation that is in line with the Constitution and that it does not breach the implied freedom of political communication in our Constitution offer no comfort whatsoever. Remember, the Prime Minister decided to give the High Court a lecture one day around a section 44 case when he said, infamously, on the floor of the House of Representatives: 'And the High Court shall so rule.' Well, you know what? The High Court did not rule in that way. Presumably, the Prime Minister was receiving advice from the same place that Minister Seselja received advice or the government received advice on this legislation. The place where that advice came from—overwhelmingly likely to be the office of the Solicitor-General—was wrong on section 44. The High Court did not so rule, and I confidently predict that the High Court will not so rule that this legislation is in accordance with the Constitution.
This is a sad day for our country. It's sad because of the sheer weight of numbers in this place and in the House of Representatives that are supporting this legislation: every single one of the old political parties in this state, the parties of command and control, the parties that don't support transparency, the parties that are made ever more uncomfortable by freedom of speech, the parties that, together in lock step, support the indefinite detention of thousands of innocent people on Manus Island and Nauru. These are sad, sad days for our democracy.
These two bills will collectively chill freedom of public expression and place an unfair regulatory burden on many organisations that work to expose government abuses of human rights and government destruction of our environment and hold government to account. It's a sad day for the NGO sector—organisations that work every day to try to protect our environment and try to stand up for human rights; organisations that work every day to hold governments to account. Environmental NGOs, human rights NGOs and media outlets are the big losers today. The big winners are the people who already have the levers of power in this country—the big corporations, the big religions, big government and big politics. Those are the winners today; and it's the Australian people, the environment, the media and human rights that will pay the price.