Thursday, 14 February 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Cash. King & Wood Mallesons are a top-tier multinational legal firm. They are a Chinese owned firm with their headquarters based in Hong Kong, their global chairman based in Beijing and their global chief executive based in Hong Kong, with many partners being Chinese citizens. This firm is a major supplier to the Commonwealth government, and it is concerning that, pursuant to China's national intelligence law, their citizens have an obligation to provide information to their communist government. This firm has access to very sensitive information that is relevant to this country's interests, which the Chinese communist government has access to through its citizens. They in turn have access to this information within the firm, pursuant to their obligations under their laws. My question is: what does this government intend to do about it?
I thank Senator Burston for the question and for giving me some prior notice. Senator Burston, I've managed to obtain the following information from the Attorney-General. The government is well aware of the risk of foreign influence and foreign interference in Australia. Our intelligence and security agencies have advised that it is occurring on an unprecedented scale. Under the Attorney-General's Legal Services Directions, sensitive Australian government legal work, including national security work, must only be undertaken by Australian government lawyers. Foreign ownership of companies operating in Australia, and the nature of any foreign laws or obligations that are applicable to that company, is something that the government takes account of when making relevant decisions. Foreign owned companies operating in Australia are required to abide by Australian law. If there is evidence that Australian laws are being flouted, this is obviously something that should be referred to the appropriate investigatory or regulatory bodies for consideration and appropriate action.
The government, Senator Burston, has taken a number of important steps to address the risk of foreign interference in Australia. In June 2018, you would be aware, Senator Burston, the government passed laws to strengthen Australia's espionage and foreign interference laws and to establish the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme commenced on 10 December 2018. The scheme will provide the public and government decision-makers visibility of the nature, level and extent of foreign influence on Australia's government and political processes.
Have the King & Wood Mallesons lawyers breached the laws and rules for lawyers operating in Australian courts, and, if so, how can Australians be sure their confidential information is not being accessed by Chinese partners of King & Wood Mallesons?
I would refer to the information that I gave to you in answer to your primary question, but I can add: foreign owned companies operating in Australia, again, are required to abide by Australian laws. Legal firms and the legal profession must comply with Commonwealth, state and territory privacy and secrecy laws. State and territory regulatory regimes that govern law firms and legal practitioners include rules regarding use and disclosure of confidential information.
My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs, Senator Cash. I ask, as someone who cares and is concerned for the safety and security of Australian citizens, as I'm sure all members of this place would be for our friends, our family and our communities that we represent: why is it important to have strong laws in place that make it easier for those guilty of terrorism offences to lose their Australian citizenship?
I thank Senator Duniam for what is a very important question. The Liberal-National government's top priority is to keep Australia safe. As part of ensuring our national security, it is essential that we are tough on those terrorists who wish to do our nation and our people harm. Senators would know that the government has introduced legislation to strengthen citizenship loss provisions for dual nationals who have demonstrated repudiation of their allegiance to Australia. This helps to achieve two aims: to keep Australians safe from evolving terrorist threats and to protect the integrity of Australian citizenship and, of course, the privileges that attach to it.
The government's changes remove the requirement for a person to be sentenced to at least six years imprisonment if they've committed a relevant terrorism offence to be eligible to lose their Australian citizenship. Senator Duniam, what we are saying is that a conviction for a terrorism offence is all that will be required, and the laws will apply to any terrorist convicted after 12 December 2005. Our legislation also provides that the minister must be satisfied that the person will not become stateless if their Australian citizenship ceases.
Make no mistake, there are people who have betrayed their allegiance to Australia. These are people who have committed barbaric acts—for example, fighting for ISIS. These are people who have plotted to inflict untold harm on innocent Australian children and families in our cities and in our suburbs. I would hope that all senators would work together to support the important changes that the Australian government has put forward.
I thank the minister for that answer and particularly for highlighting how important it is that we all work together for these important measures, so I ask: is the minister aware of any risks to the government implementing these important measures?
Given the information provided in my answer to the first question, one would believe that this should be a bipartisan issue, but unfortunately the Australian Labor Party, under Mr Bill Shorten, are once again being dragged to the left when it comes to Australia's national security. We have seen the Labor opposition just yesterday betraying our national interest by voting for legislation that our intelligence agencies have said could start the people smugglers' business yet again, and now we have the shadow Attorney-General bizarrely putting forward arguments supporting the legal rights of known terrorists to maintain their Australian citizenship and to be allowed back into the community. We make no excuses for our stance on border protection or our stance on national security. We will protect Australia and Australians.
Yes, unfortunately, I am. Again, national security should be a bipartisan issue, but yesterday we saw the Australian Labor Party and Mr Bill Shorten being willing to listen to the Australian Greens over the advice of our national security agencies. It is important to note that 12 people have lost their Australian citizenship due to terrorist conduct, and we are acting on advice to make amendments to further strengthen these provisions. All of us in this chamber should be supporting those amendments. Again, as we said yesterday, and as we re-state today, the Liberal-National government see national security and the protection of our borders as a fundamental responsibility. We will ensure that we keep Australia and Australians safe.