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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1671


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (18:06): Like Senator Ludwig, I rise to speak on the Australian Law Reform Commission report Traditional rights and freedoms—encroachments by Commonwealth laws—its final report on this matter. I start by congratulating the commission president, Professor Rosalind Croucher; the other commissioners; and the staff at the commission on the extensive body of work they have undertaken and the rigorous way that they have approached what I have no doubt was a report that required significant time, effort and commitment.

The commission finds, in this report, that 30 laws in Australia require either further consideration or review by bodies such as the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, the Law Reform Commission, the parliament or the government. It will come as no surprise to many Australians that the vast majority of these laws are concerned with national security, counter-terrorism and the Migration Act.

The report notes that parliamentary scrutiny is not as effective as it could be, pointing out that, since the inception of this parliament's human rights committee, over 50 bills have been passed by this parliament before the committee has completed its review of the specific legislation. In addition, and importantly, it notes that Independent National Security Legislation Monitor recommendations do not receive a government response—which frankly is not good enough. It also notes that the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Act needs to be strengthened. The Greens could not agree more with that observation.

Since 2002, Australians have faced a massive volume of legislative change made in the name of counter-terrorism and national security. These have often been reflexive and populist changes driven by a desire of governments of both stripes to be seen to be doing something and to be bidding ever higher in the never-ending 'law and order auction' in this country, rather than being driven, as they should be, by a genuine desire to make Australia and Australians safer. Since 2002, we have created 12 new crimes, we have extended legal powers seven times, we have extended police powers or granted police new powers 16 times and we have increased powers to our intelligence agencies 12 times.

Let's face it, in this country we have been trading away the fundamental civil and human rights that tens of thousands of Australians have fought for and, in some cases, died for to protect and enhance. Throughout that period, no evidence has been offered that we are making Australia or our people any safer by trading away those rights. Unfortunately, given the political rhetoric we have seen in the last couple months, it seems that more changes are looming. With an election this year, it is almost inevitable that the coalition and Labor, who for a long time have been in zombie lockstep on this issue, will both put out policy positions that keep the bids coming in the law and order auction.

What we need to do is think about this more strategically, more carefully and more holistically. In the same way that we have a white paper process for defence issues, it is time to revisit a white paper on counter-terrorism as we did in 2010 when the last one was published. It needs to be updated, reviewed, reconsidered and republished. During that process, evidence needs to be offered, if there is any, that trading away these civil and human rights that are so fundamental to the Australian value of a fair go for all our citizens is making us safer. If there is any evidence that it is making us safer, that would be the time to present that evidence.

What we see in this sector from both the coalition and Labor is knee-jerk 'law-mongering'. We need to better assess the difficult but critical balance between safety for our people and our country and freedom in our country and for our people. We have seen some terrible laws passed that limit rights. Unfortunately, Labor has rolled over time after time—on metadata, on new powers to security agencies, on locking up women and children on Manus and Nauru. It is time that we had a serious consideration of these matters. (Time expired) I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.