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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1225

Senator LAMBIE (Tasmania) (15:39): I rise to speak on my private senator's 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 to promote civil harmony and assimilation in a climate of increasing public safety issues. This private senator's bill will make it an offence to wear full-face coverings in a public place under Commonwealth jurisdiction as well as to force another person or a child to wear a full-face covering unless otherwise authorised or excused by the law.

Today an editorial in a local Tasmanian paper has criticised me for introducing this legislation, under the heading of 'Islam fears misguided'. The editorial continues:

Though it is hard to imagine that the burka is a common sight on the streets of her home town of Burnie, it is clear from a series of recent public pronouncements that Senator Jacqui Lambie takes issue with aspects of Islamic culture. From an unfortunately shouty appearance denouncing “sharia law” on the ABC’s Q&A on Monday night, to her private member’s bill calling for a burqa ban, it is a curious preoccupation for a Senator from the nation’s least multicultural state.

The article continues in a highbrow, academic, condescending tone, implying that I do not understand that Australia's greatness has come because successive waves of migrants have made Australia home and some have taken the time to adapt. According to the article:

… our nation is a beacon to the world of a successful and harmonious multicultural society based on the Australian principles of equality, mateship and a fair go. It is a model we should be proud of and we should work hard to defend and to spread. We have enough real problems here without dreaming up more.

I would like to reflect for a moment on that last point—'We have enough real problems here without dreaming up more.' It is obvious that the author of those words has not acknowledged the work that I have carried out in the areas of energy security, health, higher education, the Bass Strait freight cost, unemployment, protecting pensioner payments and pay for our Australian Federal Police and Defence personnel. They do not think that the threat to our national security from organised crime and/or terrorism is a real problem. It is clear the author of this editorial believes I am just dreaming up this almost unprecedented threat which exists to public safety in Australia in 2017.

This news article is a sly personal attack because it deliberately ignores the facts—namely that our defence forces are today fighting in the Middle East because war has been declared on Australia by a brutal group of Middle Eastern men who want to impose their culture on us and our allies. Today the official government warning, set at the third highest level out of five, is that those Middle Eastern men will try to bring their war to Australian soil by any means and will probably attempt to carry out a deadly attack somewhere in our country in the next 24 hours. The author of this editorial, who accuses me of dreaming up this threat to national security, obviously denies the existence of war in the Middle East and our official domestic terror threat level of 'probable'. I doubt they have travelled much out of the politically correct cultural bubble of Hobart. They certainly have not visited this parliament, where we spend nearly half our working lives.

When I first came to this place almost three years ago, there were no police officers with machine guns on guard outside. There were no big security fences scarring the beautiful lawns above us which crown this grand building. No longer will Australian children be able to play on and roll down the lawns above this chamber because of the threat to the physical safety of every person in this building from a group of men from the Middle East who want to forcibly replace our democratic Constitution and system of government with their own law, justice and government taken straight out of the seventh century.

I take the current threat to public safety seriously, which is more than I can say for some members of the media who think it is all a dream. Putting aside the lives lost already during terror related attacks on our soil, how can this threat to public safety be a dream when the head of ASIO admits that Australia's lead spy agency is right now watching 190 people on our soil who are carrying out activities which help terrorists? How can people not be alarmed when the spy agency chief during Senate estimates hearings refused to even disclose the cost of their covert surveillance?

How can people feel confident that our security agencies, under the direction of this government, are doing everything possible to keep the public safe when ASIO refuses to detail the number of terrorist supporters being watched in each state? Are these terrorists being paid welfare? Are they allowed to vote? Are they allowed access to vehicles or firearms? Why are they being only watched? Why have they not been electronically tagged? Why have they not been charged with treason and put in jail if found guilty?

When it comes to national security this government is not being truthful with the Australian people. Yes, Liberal members can point to an official alert system that says that a terrorist attack today is probable. Yet we still have the editor of a Tassie paper who thinks that I am dreaming up a national security problem that really does not exist.

During the Christmas break I was fortunate enough to travel to South-East Asia with my son for a family holiday. I would like to congratulate the Singaporean government on their public education campaign regarding the threat to their national security. They do not hide the truth from their people. The government runs ads on big TV screens in the middle of the city which show shops being blown up, with this blunt but very effective message. It is not a matter of if but when a terrorist attack will happen. The Singaporean government does not mince its words. It is not scared of the politically correct brigade, who bury their heads in the sand. In their ads the Singaporean government also instructs their people how to respond to that terrorist attack, which is going to happen, in order to lessen the loss of life and increase personal security.

We need that level of honesty here in Australia. In future, when the next attack occurs in Australia, we will pay with the unnecessary loss of innocent lives because of our government's, opposition's and, sad to say, mainstream media's current complacency in regard to the terrorist threat. It is no exaggeration or dream to say that in Australia the threat from organised crime and terrorism is real. Members of our military are overseas helping to 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, when we knew and trusted our neighbours and left our back doors unlocked. Those days are over. In this time of heightened security concerns, the safety and feelings of safety of 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. 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 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 among the general public. Therefore security and safety will be enhanced with the introduction of this bill. I remind people who argue that this bill impacts on the religious freedoms of some groups of people living in Australia that linking 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 general public's right to feel safe in public places in a secular, democratic society in a time of extreme threat from terrorism must always outweigh the right to expression of religious freedom.

Australians are not the only people who have expressed concerns and feel unsafe when citizens wear full-face coverings in public without good reason. 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 streets, 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. I do not think that those countries are being called anti-Islamic.

My private senator's 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 purposes, the right of the Australian public to be safer and feel safer, when the official terrorism threat is at the third highest level or 'probable', must be the primary consideration of the government.

One Nation members have indicated they want to amend my legislation so that it is not linked to the national terrorism threat level. I think that would be a mistake. As the bill stands now, a reasonable Australian could not find any reason to oppose it. Liberal, National, Labor and even the Greens senators will find it very hard to vote against this legislation because it reflects the human rights balancing act that must always occur in a democracy between public security and personal freedoms. The One Nation amendment does not recognise that politics is the art of the possible and that, as it is written, it stands a good chance of passing this place if members are allowed to vote according to their conscience. The parliamentary record shows that I am one of the few independent crossbench senators to have their private member's bills passed in this Senate. And it is only because the previous Liberal government chose to deny the will of the Senate that our Australian Defence Force pays are not linked to politician pay rises or to CPI—whichever is higher.

So I ask for One Nation's support of my bill in the second reading should the government, the opposition or the Greens decide to put this legislation to a vote. This is a point that I would like to make for the average Australian who may not be au fait with Senate proceedings: the government ultimately has control over the timing of a Senate vote on this legislation. If government members choose, they can delay any vote on this legislation almost indefinitely. This would save themselves the potential embarrassment of many National Party and Liberal Party members voting for my legislation and against orders that they have received from the PM's office. I understand it is their right to put their amendments in the committee stages, but I genuinely believe they will not receive the broad cross-party support that is required to make this legislation law.

Returning to the issue of One Nation's proposed amendments, the bottom line is: chances of a successful passage of this bill is greater in this Senate without One Nation's amendment.

Following my appearance on ABC's Q&A many people have contacted me and shared their concerns about sharia law, full-face coverings and the level of threat to our national security. I had one particularly moving encounter with a person in this parliament who I will not identify. It will be up to them to go public or not about their fears and concerns. They described the plight of hundreds and perhaps thousands of Muslim women living in this country who are oppressed and fearful. In lives full of abuse and control by men, they are told what to wear and how to dress in public. They cannot speak out. They are voiceless. However, I have been told by this person who came to visit me—a person who I trust and respect very much—that these Muslim women have been emboldened and given hope by my public comments and the provisions within this bill.

Before I close, I will briefly return to the editorial which condescendingly suggested that I focus my energies on some of the real problems that my constituents face. Public safety and security is a real problem for the people of Tasmania. Residents of Burnie, Devonport and Launceston, et cetera, are smart enough to know that passing this legislation is not a cure in itself for the ills that face us. It is a small part of a larger solution. However, they know that the successful passage of this bill will send a powerful message to our enemies and other extreme radicals who thrive on public anarchy and fear. Remember, this legislation targets right-wing thugs. We all know that, apart from the Islamic radicals, there is a growing group of people who conceal their identities with handkerchiefs and dark glasses and who, during wild and violent public rallies, openly profess their hate for black and Jewish people. Those cowards will also face fines of $36,000. This legislation gives our police another valuable legislative tool to keep the law and order on our streets in Australia.

I seek the support of all members for the successful passage of this bill through the Australian Senate.