Tuesday, 28 November 2023
Matters of Urgency
Senator Paterson has submitted a proposal under standing order 75 today. It is shown at item 13 on today's Order of Business. Is consideration of the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
With the concurrence of the Senate, the clerks will set the clock—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Order! Senators, if you're not involved can you take it outside, please, or lower it to a dull roar? The clerks will set the clock in line with the informal arrangements made by the whips.
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:
The Albanese Government's multiple failures to protect Australia and keep Australians safe, including their abandonment of Operation Sovereign Borders, failure to prevent an unauthorised maritime arrival reaching Australia's coastline, failure to pre-emptively respond to the High Court's decision on indefinite detention, and inability to combat growing antisemitism and violence in our community.
Well, when I submitted this matter of public urgency—
Honourable senators interjecting—
When I submitted this matter of public urgency, I did not realise just how timely it would be, because, a little bit more than two hours ago, the High Court blew a hole in the Albanese government's final excuse for their inaction to protect the Australian community.
Three weeks ago, when the High Court first ordered that the applicant in the case, NZYQ, needed to be released into the community because he was being indefinitely detained, I called on the Albanese government to introduce a preventive or continuing detention order regime. I said they could pick up what was in the high-risk terrorist offenders regime. I said they could adapt it and apply it to the highest-risk offenders in this cohort of, now, 141 people who've been released into the community.
The Albanese Government first said we couldn't act at all—'And, anyway, don't worry; we're only releasing one person.' Well, 140 people later, they have acted, but only partially and only under pressure from the opposition. What they did not do, and what they should have done—and what we now know they could have done from 9 November—was to have introduced a preventive detention regime to protect the community, because the High Court has given a green light to the proposal that the coalition has been talking about now for three weeks.
They said in their judgement, at paragraph 72, in relation to their order to release the plaintiff:
Nor would grant of that relief prevent detention of the plaintiff on some other applicable statutory basis, such as under a law providing for preventive detention of a child sex offender who presents an unacceptable risk of reoffending if released from custody.
This is exactly what we called on the Albanese government to do, and this is exactly what they said they could not do until they had the benefit of the High Court reasons. We now know they could have done that. We now know that these people did not need to be released into the community, that they in fact could have been redetained in custody on the application of the government to a court. The community could have been protected from that danger and fear which have been instilled in them when child sex offenders, rapists, murderers, contract killers and others have been released into the community.
The good news is that it's not too late. The government can now finally act, because it need not wait any longer. I presume that the government already has drafted legislation ready to go. I assume they won't make the same mistake they did three weeks ago in not being ready, and I hope this legislation can be introduced into the House of Representatives tomorrow morning. I am certain that the coalition would provide bipartisan support for the swift passage of a preventive detention regime. I think we could get it done this week; I think it could pass the House, the Senate and receive royal assent before the weekend. The government could begin bringing actions in the court immediately to take at least the highest-risk offenders in this cohort off the streets immediately so that they no longer pose a danger to the community.
This is a very important test for the Albanese government. We know they got it very badly wrong three weeks ago and we know that the home affairs minister and the immigration minister weren't ready. They have been contradicting each other in the media for weeks as to why they weren't ready, but we know they weren't ready. I really hope they don't make that same mistake again—I hope they're ready to act, because the community deserves protection. It is not good enough to simply put an electronic-monitoring bracelet and a curfew on some of these offenders but otherwise allow them out into the community. These are people who were in immigration detention for a good reason and they'd had their visas cancelled for a good reason. They had their visas cancelled because they broke the law or violated the character provisions of the Migration Act, and they had no lawful visa to be in this country. The only reason they weren't deported is because the crimes they committed were so heinous that no country in the world would take them.
That's exactly the definition of someone who shouldn't be free to move about our community, and this is the test for the Albanese government now. I hope, for the sake of the Australian community, that they don't fail this test again. I hope that tomorrow they're ready and able to introduce this legislation to act to protect the community. If they are, I am sure we will be able to facilitate the passage of this legislation on a bipartisan basis. It would be untenable for the parliament to rise before the end of the year and, over summer, expose the community to the risk that one of those serious offenders commits another crime against another Australian and we weren't ready to protect them.
I also rise to speak on this motion. What is becoming increasingly clear in this chamber, and in the other place, is that there is no issue too big or too small for Mr Dutton and his opposition to politicise. If you read out the words of this motion before us, it reads like a shopping list of things the opposition has sought to politicise: conflict in the Middle East and border security. These are pretty transparent attempts to seek political advantage using the same old playbook of Liberal parties past.
We can all remember the impact of the politicisation of these issues by previous governments. Indeed, I reckon some people in this place were probably motivated to run for parliament because of the impact of the politicisation of some of these issues under previous governments—and under the Howard government. We can all remember the impact of those on our national cohesion and the impact of those decisions on the sense of safety and security that members of our community felt. Just as it was true then, it is true now: talking tough on national security doesn't actually make our nation more secure. Stoking fear and division does not make us stronger—in fact, it can make us weaker. Hacking at the seams of social cohesion is a dangerous business because the way we talk about national security matters and the way we talk about national security can determine our nation's security. That's a sentiment that not just I hold. I am sure that is a sentiment that would be backed in by national security experts and backed in by those working in this space every day.
We have a choice in how we talk about these matters. We have a clear choice about where we draw the line between policy debate and politicisation. The first should absolutely be rigorous, but there needs to be caution in the use of the other. Of course it is not just how we talk about things; it's what we say—it's adherence to facts. Facts matter too. I implore all in this place and the other place if they're not going to strip the fearmongering from their rhetoric to at least make sure that their rhetoric is based and underlined in truth, because we have seen examples of jumping the gun in the press and elsewhere and weighing in on events without having the facts.
The opposition leader is attempting to steer our country down a path using a playbook that we have seen before. He's doing so without any degree of self-reflection on his own legacy: a legacy characterised by a broken migration system—they're not my words; they're the words of the independent comprehensive review—a legacy that talked tough on borders whilst cutting compliance officers at the same time and, indeed, what we're dealing with now in this chamber and the other chamber.
The opposition leader isn't prepared to engage in this legacy. Indeed, all he wants to do is play politics on the issues he can grab. If he's not saying no to everything and not opposing everything we as a government put up, he's seeking a political advantage, no matter the cost. There's division, fear and inflaming tensions when what our country needs is clear and calm leadership. These are political plays we have seen before. It is the playbook from the Liberal Party's past.
Our government is working hard every day to make Australians more secure. We welcome a rigorous policy debate on these issues. They're important and they matter to the security of Australians, but the rigour in that policy debate must actually be accompanied by caution in the political discourse that surrounds it because how we talk about these issues matters and how we talk about our national security has the potential to impact and determine our national security. It does so through its impact on social cohesion and it does so through its impact on communities within Australia, especially communities at the moment who are feeling a lot of hurt and a lot of pain. I am sure some are feeling that the political discourse is not doing anything to improve our social cohesion. If we don't have social cohesion, we don't have a secure nation. How we talk about it matters.
It's very timely that the High Court has this afternoon released its reasons for its recent judgement that rendered indefinite immigration detention unlawful in Australia. It is a very timely release of reasons. It is critical that the entirety of this parliament and the entirety of the Australian media use the opportunity presented to them by the High Court today to take a deep breath, to calm down, to take a beat and to soberly reflect on what the High Court has published. The parliament as a whole needs to stop panicking, it needs to reflect on these High Court reasons in detail and it needs to reject the base politics of fear and division. Opposition leader Peter Dutton needs to stop confecting an emergency and a crisis, and the Labor Party needs to end its panicked and xenophobic response to Mr Dutton's confected emergency. Labor needs to stop letting Mr Dutton back-seat drive its legislative agenda.
Since the original High Court judgement, we have had two attempts at legislating by the Labor Party, one that was heavily amended before it shamefully passed through this parliament a week and a half ago. Another one is caught in limbo between the House and the Senate because the government is completely paralysed in fear of Mr Dutton. We have had about half a dozen different positions from the Liberals. This is no way to legislate. It is no way to run a parliament, and it is refugees who are paying the price.
Parliament needs to calmly consider the ramifications of this decision. Parliament needs to stop trying to undermine the High Court, stop trying to work its way around the High Court decision and this parliament needs to start respecting the rule of law. To Senator Paterson—the mover of this motion, the self-styled classical liberal—I must have missed the bit in John Stuart Mills's body of work that calls for arbitrary indefinite detention. I wonder if the words 'on liberty' mean anything to Senator Paterson and his colleagues—that, of course, being the title of one of Mills's best known— (Time expired)
I am pleased to speak on this incredibly important urgency motion moved by my friend and colleague Senator Paterson. The government's first role and core duty is to keep Australians safe, yet this Albanese government has been timid, reactive and wrongheaded on almost every national security and public safety issue that has emerged in recent months. We have seen the failure to properly enforce Operation Sovereign Borders. We have seen the failure to prevent unauthorised maritime arrivals. Australians don't need any reminder about how dangerous those arrivals are, especially those people who are fooled by people smugglers into getting into those vessels. The government is still yet to explain how that recent arrival went undetected before reaching the Australian coastline.
We have seen the horrendous failures of the government enabling dangerous criminals to be released into the community without adequate safeguards. First, they said all possible measures had been taken. Then it quickly turned out that wasn't true. They then said it was impossible to bring in legislation to fix the issue, but that wasn't true either. Perhaps the most dangerous and damaging failure was the Prime Minister and this government failing to recognise the urgency of responding emphatically and unequivocally to the clear evidence of antisemitism that is sadly festering in the hearts of our community in recent weeks. Just one day after the horrific 7 October terrorist attacks we saw the disgraceful scenes of a mob chanting 'death to the Jews' outside the Sydney Opera House. The Albanese government should have realised we had a dangerous situation on our hands and there should have been a national security committee of cabinet called for the next day. The Prime Minister should have made clear to his Labor colleagues that there was not to be any 'both sides' rhetoric or equivocation but, instead, we have seen them try and play internal politics by appealing to their radical left base. We have seen that for a long time now with the Labor Party's changing policy on Israel, changes welcomed by none other than Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
We know for a fact that, alongside Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of the major purveyors of antisemitism in the world is the Islamic Republic of Iran, yet this government refused to accept and implement nine of the 12 recommendations made by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee to hold that regime to account. It has refused to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation, even though they have been urged to do so not only by the Senate committee but also by the Biden administration and the Australian Iranian community, who know how dangerous the IRGC is not just in Iran but here in Australia as well. This is one of the world's most dangerous terrorist organisations. It is also proficient in cyberattacks, assassinations, hostage-taking and foreign interference, yet the government refuses to take action to list it as a terrorist organisation. Meanwhile, we have the Islamic republic embassy here in Australia spreading antisemitic propaganda and meeting with Australian universities.
This Prime Minister and this Labor government are failing over and over again to show leadership and take decisive action to protect Australians. They always have an excuse for failing to act. When we point out these failures they say that we're just politicising issues, but they are failures to act. They invent an excuse, as the Prime Minister did when he claimed that he doesn't talk about topics he raises with the Chinese President; when he claimed that he doesn't talk about when National Security Committee meetings are held, even though he often does; when the government say they can't legislate to protect public safety, even when it turns out they can; or when the government said they were advised they were going to win a court case it turns out they expected to lose. The Albanese government is failing to do what is necessary to keep Australians safe, and every day, more evidence of that is emerging. No more excuses, it is time for action.
I am genuinely appalled by this motion about national security that Senator Paterson has brought to the chamber, particularly by the last line of the motion, which accuses the government of not acting in some way on antisemitism. That is an absolute disgrace, Senator Paterson. We are all better than that in here. This motion links every issue on which the opposition thinks it can promote fear and division and combines it in one hot mess of emotion. That is what is in front of the chamber right now.
We came together as a chamber to move a bipartisan motion unequivocally condemning the events of 7 October. We condemned antisemitism together. We did that together. We came together in this place as we should, as leaders, because we all have the responsibility to lead here. This motion and its accusation are a disgrace. The Prime Minister could not have been clearer in his comments rejecting and condemning antisemitism. He said in this parliament that antisemitism is beyond offensive. He said it is a betrayal of our Australian values. This is a time to be bringing people together, not playing the politics of fear and division. We know that words matter, Senator Paterson. That is the view, advice and warning of the Director-General of Security. He said after the terrible events of 7 October:
… it is important that all parties consider the implications for social cohesion when making public statements
He said words matter. It is the responsibility of all of us here to lead in these challenging times. It is the responsibility of all of us to check our words. It is the responsibility of all of us to check our facts, too, because facts matter right now, more than ever.
Senator Paterson might wish to be reminded of that, given some of his recent commentary. Last week Senator Paterson rushed to call an incident on the US-Canadian border a terrorist attack. Only two hours later, the New York Governor confirmed there was no indication of terrorist involvement. Facts, not fear, are what we need in this place. They are what we need when we're talking about the Israel-Gaza conflict. They are what we need when we're talking about national security. They are what we need when we're talking about border security. A fact about the opposition's approach to border security is that Mr Dutton as the Minister for Home Affairs talked tough on borders and then slashed funding for compliance staff. He cut compliance officers by 50 per cent—that is a fact.
Then Senator Paterson comes to this chamber with an assertion that we have abandoned Operation Sovereign Borders. That is an outrageous attempt at fear over fact. We have, in fact, just yesterday, announced an increase in funding for the Australian Border Force—funding that will increase compliance staff and give additional funding to the AFP. Facts matter—they matter—and the opposition has a responsibility here. But, in this motion, in linking every issue that you think will instil fear into Australians into one hot mess of emotion, you are seeking to promote division. You are seeking to instil fear in the way you are talking to the Australian community. You are fanning the flames of division in this country.
Let's talk about how we protect Australians and keep Australians safe. Let's talk about facts, not fear. To keep our country safe, we need to be respected. Our leaders need to be respected. And the opposition is not demonstrating that kind of respect, as the alternative government of this country. So, while you get angry, we will get things done. While you focus on fear, we will focus on the facts. And, while you stoke division, we'll do the harder work of keeping Australians together. (Time expired)
I rise to speak on Senator Paterson's matter of urgency. This government is dropping the ball on national security, and the government's most important job is to keep us Australians safe, but, because the High Court deemed indefinite detention to be illegal, we now have criminals out in the Australian community. Worse, we have been hearing reports today that the government doesn't know where all of them are.
Now, to be clear, I'm not talking about innocent asylum seekers; I'm talking about detainees who are convicted criminals. In 2019, I agreed to vote with the Morrison government to repeal the medevac bill. At the time, I was accused by refugee advocates and the media of doing a dirty deal. But I didn't get anything for Tasmania for my vote. The deal was simply this: that the Morrison government would get all of the remaining asylum seekers off Manus and Nauru in two years.
At the time, I was told that there were about 80 people who couldn't be returned to their own countries because they were deemed a safety risk. At estimates, I asked the department what had happened to those 80 people deemed a safety risk. I was told they didn't know, but I had heard from a very good source that these people had been quietly taken from Nauru to Australia in the last six months.
So, when the news broke two weeks ago that the High Court had ruled that indefinite detention was illegal, my first thought was: 'What about the last detainees that no other country would take?' In the last sitting, I asked the minister if the government knew where these people were, and again I didn't get an answer.
The government claimed to be shocked by the High Court's decision to overturn indefinite detention, but legal observers have since told the media that they did expect the High Court to rule the way they did. The minister's next move was to throw her department under the bus, telling the media that it was public servants who told her that the Commonwealth would be successful.
On 13 November, immigration minister Giles insisted that the government had oversight of the detainees because they were on strict visas. Then the ABC revealed that some of the detainees had been released without a visa. And now there is one on the run, and we have no idea where they are—let alone the other 80. I'm still waiting for an answer from the government as to where those 80 most-at-risk people are that were left on Nauru, that you've flown in, under the cover of darkness, at night, in the last six months. Where are they? (Time expired)
I, too, rise to speak on this matter of public importance. I notice that Senator Paterson referred to 'the Albanese government's multiple failures to protect Australia and keep Australians safe, including their abandonment of Operation Sovereign Borders,' et cetera. He has discussed Sovereign Borders. I want to come to the core element of keeping Australians safe, which is defence.
Those opposite have talked a lot about facts and have cast aspersions that the coalition is merely playing politics and seeking to raise fear, but I have quoted, previously, independent commentators who are expert in their field, and I've referred before to Mr Greg Sheridan, who is undoubtedly one of Australia's pre-eminent foreign affairs and defence journalists, who is also critical of the Albanese government in terms of national security. Now, to be fair, he's also been critical of my side of politics in the past, and I've acknowledged that before. But, as to the point that Senator Paterson raises, it's worth looking at and quoting from a recent article by Mr Sheridan, where he says:
The Albanese government is coming apart in foreign policy, national security and defence. It has become incoherent and indecipherable. It consistently tries to hide basic information, can't maintain cabinet unity or policy consistency, its ministers frequently contradict each other and often seem to have no idea what they're talking about.
What that says is that in this most fundamental thing, national security, all the promises that were made before the last election are not actually being carried through by action. In fact, Mr Sheridantalks about that, saying:
The government started off well on … security issues generally and defence. Albanese made strong, substantial speeches in opposition.
But now it looks as though those were purely designed to neutralise national security as an election issue.
The government speaks a big game, and the Defence Strategic Review is one of those. It was all about meeting the urgent requirements, and yet what's happened? Twelve months before the Defence Strategic Review was released, there has been a range of cost shifting within Defence, and the budget that has followed has seen a $1.5 billion decrease in Defence funding. And this is not just criticism coming from the opposition. People like Mr Brent Clark, who heads up the Australian Industry & Defence Network, has said that the DSR has come out, which was the review, and 'now there is also to be a further review' with 'wasted time'. The government have taken a year to tell us that they are going to do another review, and this has significant implications for defence industry. As Mr Clark said:
In other words, industry sat idle for 12 months.
The government speaks a big game but then doesn't follow through with meaningful actions that would actually deliver outcomes on the ground.
Even this week we tabled a report in this place about an inquiry that the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee had done into the proposal for a defence capability assurance bill, which I have lodged in the Senate. All of the evidence provided by experts—some of whom work within Defence, many of whom work within defence industry, some of whom work in academia across large industry, small and medium sized companies; they have deep expertise and draw on ANAO reports and others, so they're completely independent of the coalition—were critical of the approach to assessing risk, yet what have the government done? They've said: 'We're not going to actually accept the change that's required. We'll stick with the internal reform that Defence is promising they can achieve, even though the evidence highlighted that Defence has failed to make that reform and consistently drive better outcomes over the last 20 years, even after three quite significant reports.'
To the concern around antisemitism within the community, yes, the coalition has been critical of some of the actions of the government, but that's not us purely seeking to politicise the event. It's not us. Independent commentators—and again I go back to Mr Sheridan. In the same article, he said:
The government's biggest moral failing has been its response to the Israel-Hamas war.
And we do see deep fear amongst many in Australia's Jewish community because of the rise of antisemitic behaviour and the threat of violence. All Australians deserve to feel safe, not just our Jewish community. All Australians deserve to know they have a government that will put Australia's security first. (Time expired)