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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 327

Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (15:52): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator LAMBIE: I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard and to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I rise to present to the Australian Senate a Private Senators' Bill - the Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Full Face Coverings in Public Places) Bill 2017.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to increase security in all public places covered under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth, and promote civil harmony and assimilation in a climate of increasing public safety issues.

This Private Senators' Bill will make it an offence to wear full face coverings in a public place under Commonwealth jurisdiction, as well as forcing another person or child to wear a full face covering - unless otherwise authorised or excused by law.

In Australia, the threat from organised crime and terrorism is real. Members of our military are overseas helping fight a war that has been declared on Australia and our democratic allies by organised extremists because of who we are and our love for democracy. Gone are the easy days of the past where we knew and trusted our neighbours and left our backdoors unlocked.

In this time of heightened security the safety and feelings of safety for members of the Australian public and a guarantee of open communication between citizens must be paramount.

There is a clear national security need to bring in a nationwide ban on all identity concealing garments, unless the wearer has a reasonable and lawful excuse to wear those garments.

And while some small groups of people may make an argument that their right to express their religious feelings or views by wearing identity concealing garments is being limited, the security and the safety of the community must always come first.

Moreover, the community must feel safe. Full face coverings such as helmets, masks, balaclavas and other facial coverings worn in public without good reason, often cause unnecessary fear with the Australian general public. Therefore, the security and safety will be enhanced with the introduction of this Bill.

I remind the people who argue that this Bill impacts on the religious freedoms of some groups of people living in Australia that linking the restrictions on facial coverings to the National Terrorism Threat Level is a reasonable and balanced approach to maintaining and enhancing public security. Especially at a time when our security agencies are certain that further deadly public attacks by extremists and enemies of Australia will happen.

Therefore the right to feel safe in public places for the general public in a secular, democratic society, in a time of extreme threat from terrorism - must always outweigh the right for expression of religious freedom.

Australians are not the only people who have expressed concerns and feel unsafe when citizens wear full face coverings without good reason in public.

As a secular State, France has already banned face coverings in public spaces, including masks, helmets, balaclavas, burqas and niqabs. In France, the law defines public space to include the street, museums, shops, public transportation, parks, banks and even during the course of employment within the public sector. According to Parliamentary Library research, Belgium and Turkey have also successfully implemented similar laws.

Even a number of Muslim countries have 'banned the burqa' as it were, recognising the security risk it poses.

Egypt, Chad, Tunisia, Morocco, Cameroon, and Niger have bans on burqas and Senegal is currently considering whether to impose one.

My Private Senators' Bill links the prohibition of full face coverings to the National Terrorism Threat Level, to be activated when the terrorism threat level reaches 'Probable'.

By doing this, the public can feel at ease knowing the Government is doing everything it can to protect its citizens in the face of the growing threat of terrorism.

Full face coverings conceal the identity of the wearer, disrupting the authorities' ability to track down a perpetrator in the event of a crime.

Prohibiting the use of full face coverings also acts as a deterrent to those who contemplate committing a crime. This prohibition promotes public safety by making it easier to identify everyone.

This legislation will enable all Australians who want to go peacefully about their business, to feel safe in public spaces. It does so by enacting commonsense security provisions.

I emphasise that the primary purpose of this Bill is public safety. When people have the intention of committing a crime, in many cases, they attempt to conceal their identity so they have the best chance of evading the law.

While this Bill takes into account exceptions for full face coverings in the genuine pursuit of entertainment, work, and artistic purpose; the right of the Australian public to be and feel safer when the official terrorism threat is at the third highest level or probable, must be the primary consideration of the Government.

Debate adjourned.