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Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Page: 112


Senator TROETH (6:42 PM) —I rise to speak in favour of the National Security Legislation Monitor Bill 2009 [2010], a form of which was originally introduced by the member for Kooyong in the other place. I thank him, as other senators have done, for his unceasing vigilance in these matters. I am very glad that this matter has come to a degree of conclusion. That private member’s bill was subsequently reintroduced in the Senate by me and Senator Humphries as a private senator’s bill in June 2008, after the government had gagged debate in the House. That bill passed the Senate but went no further. I am nevertheless very pleased that part of the foundation of that bill has been incorporated into this bill.

This bill seeks to appoint a national security legislation monitor, who will assist ministers in ensuring that Australia’s counterterrorism legislation and national security legislation is, firstly, effective in deterring and preventing terrorism and terrorism related activities which threaten Australia’s security. As well, the monitor will ensure that legislation is effective in responding to terrorism and terrorism related activity, that it is consistent with Australia’s international obligations, including human rights obligations, and also that it contains appropriate safeguards for protecting the rights of individuals. After the events of 2001, a range of antiterrorism laws were introduced to combat the threat that terrorists posed. The need for such legislation was further strengthened by the subsequent terrorist acts in Bali and Madrid and the ongoing threat of al-Qaeda.

During that time there has been much public discussion of the impact of such legislation on the civil liberties of Australian citizens. Concern was focused on the invasion of privacy of innocent people and the diversion of government resources away from more realistic threats. This argument was given force by the cases of David Hicks, Jack Thomas and, particularly, Dr Mohamed Haneef. There were also a range of reviews, including the 2005 Sheller review and those by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, in 2006, and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, in 2008, all of which looked at the application of these laws, and all reported back with conclusions consistent with the aims of this bill. Additionally, the UNHCR also commented that some of Australia’s counterterrorism legislation appeared to be incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The concerns of this group focused around the vagueness of definitions of a ‘terrorist act’ and the ‘exception circumstances’ in the Crimes Act, as well as the reversal of the burden of proof and the expanded powers of ASIO.

The simple fact is that the government must balance the needs of a free, democratic society with the necessary actions to ensure its security. It is appropriate to have a mechanism that determines the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures and, more importantly, whether such measures impinge on human rights—that is, how to ensure the legislation fulfils the needs of our democratic society and our national security.

The opposition, under the very diligent guidance of Senator Brandis, had a number of concerns relating to how this bill would work in practice, as well as who could refer matters to the monitor and the vagueness of the definitions of the powers of the monitor. I understand that the government and the coalition have come to an agreement on these amendments and they have been incorporated in the legislation. Some of those concerns have been addressed, some of them have not, and those developments have been outlined in a very erudite manner by my colleague Senator Trood.

Nevertheless, I would like to thank Senator Ludlum for his cooperation on earlier versions of this bill. I think it is an important piece of legislation that will improve the effectiveness of our counterterrorism measures, will protect human rights and will instil a sense of confidence amongst the public in parliament’s counterterrorism efforts. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Chris Evans) adjourned.