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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 9


Mr WILKIE (Denison) (12:51): It goes without saying that maintaining the security of our nation is clearly one of the most important roles for government, and doing so as a general principle has my full support. But, when it comes to the achievement of our national security, no government whatsoever has any right to ever be misleading or hypocritical. No government has any right to misuse national security in the lead-up to by-elections or an election. No government has the right to take us down the road to being a police state. I regret to say that there's more than a whiff of all of those concerns in the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017, which we are debating here in this place today and which we will shortly vote on.

Yes, we do need legislative reform to counter foreign interference and foreign espionage in our country, but the way we do it has to be ever so carefully crafted and crafted in a way that safeguards the liberties that we hold so dear. These bills today do not achieve that standard, and I won't support them. I think the way they are currently presented to the parliament is disappointing. They are bad bills. I think the fundamental deficiency in both of the bills today is in the broad definition of 'national security' and 'foreign influence'. Clearly, they are way too broad definitions, and they should have been remedied before the bills came before the House.

For example, with the way the bills are crafted presently, the act of simply protesting could be deemed sabotage if that protest in some way could be seen to disadvantage or impede our economic security. What about the people who might protest against the Adani coalmine in Queensland—a project that, if it were stopped, would be, on the face of it, a downside to our economy? It could be said that those protesters are engaging in sabotage of Australia's economic security and could be prosecuted under these bills. Also, what about the need we have sometimes to report matters to international organisations like the United Nations? It is something which I've done myself. I have made complaints to the court in The Hague about our response to asylum seekers. Under these bills, people who do that in the future would be liable to be prosecuted because they could be deemed to be engaging in some sort of foreign interference. What about international organisations like Amnesty, the PEW environmental foundation or Save The Children? Are they foreign agents?

Regrettably, with the way the bills are currently crafted, they could be held to be foreign agents and fall within this framework. Even possessing information sensitive not to Defence but to Australia's economic security could be deemed a breach of security.

With the way the bills are currently crafted it is left to the relevant government minister, the Attorney-General, to determine against whom action should or shouldn't be taken. We should never rely on legislation which, at the end of the day, is at the whim of a minister. We have a good minister in the current Attorney-General, and he has my confidence, but what about a future Attorney-General in this government or a future government? Can we have the same confidence? What if we have a downright bad and mischievous Attorney-General or Prime Minister in a future government who would misuse these laws? These laws have the scope within them such that they could be misused. I say to honourable members that we should never sign off on any legislation where there is that freedom to manoeuvre for a government and the relevant minister. We should always craft our laws so tightly that they can never be misused by anyone in the future.

Many years ago now I was involved in a whistleblowing episode, and I have a particular interest in maintaining or creating rights for whistleblowers, because I think they are a very important check on the power of governments. There's nothing in these bills today to give any protection to whistleblowers that might need to speak up about any of the matters to which these bills relate. Not irrelevant is the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which was passed by this place some years ago now. I remind members that there is a specific carve-out in the Public Interest Disclosure Act for national security material and national security officials. Any hope we might have that someone genuinely speaking up because of government misconduct or a security concern relevant to these bills would have any protection is dashed. They don't have protection before these bills; they don't have protection in these bills; and they don't have protection after these bills. I say to the Attorney-General that I would dearly love the government to revisit the carve-out for national security and national security officials in our whistleblower legislation in this country.

I wrap some context around these bills today, because I think that's important. Far too often we look at legislative reforms in isolation and don't take a step back to look at the overall situation. When we do that, I think we should be concerned about the direction this country has gone in since the 9/11 attacks in late 2001. Since 9/11 more than 60 security reforms have come through this place. Some have been necessary and had my support; many have not been necessary, did not have my support and will not have my support. At the end of the day so much of what we're talking about in this place, in the past and today, are ultimately just criminal offences which the laws already on the books have been adequate to deal with. Far too often in this place we're quick to pass a new law using the excuses of border security, national security or foreign espionage—scary words that make people think, 'We need more laws.' Often we don't need more or better laws; often we simply need to better apply the laws we have. Sure, make information-sharing between intelligence agencies and the justice system more effective and efficient, but we don't always need to race to pass another law when it comes to national security.

I make the point again: since 9/11 more than 60 security reforms have passed this place. I would remind honourable members and anyone in the gallery of some alarming security changes passed in the 44th Parliament. For example, there were the amendments made to the Commonwealth Crimes Act in 2014 which allow ASIO officers to conduct controlled operations and, in those controlled operations, to actually commit very serious criminal offences such as burglaries, assaults, kidnapping and fraud knowing they will not be prosecuted and knowing that those controlled operations must be kept secret and that there is scant opportunity for journalists to publicise such controlled operations. Also in the previous parliament there was the Australian Border Force Act, which makes it an offence for people to reveal what goes on in our offshore processing centres overseas. Also, of course, in the previous parliament, who can forget mandatory metadata retention? I would remind the public, because far too often we forget these things, that today there is in place an arrangement where all of our metadata from our phones, our tablets and our computers at home is being recorded and held for two years. It can be accessed by the authorities without warrant.

Even in this parliament, we have the three bills, two of which we're dealing with today. What of the reports just some weeks ago that police are going to be allowed to pull you up in the airport and demand to see your identity papers, even if you're not suspected of anything? Just on a whim, a police officer can pull you up and say 'Show me your papers!' and you have to hand them over. That's not good enough. That's not what should be allowed in a country like Australia.

Deputy Speaker, when you look at the context, when you look at the bills we are dealing with today and the deficiencies of them, I will go so far as to say that Australia is a pre police state. We have passed far too many security laws, and far too many of them have been unnecessary. Our independent media is slowly being diminished with reductions in their funding. Papers are being checked at airports with no good cause. The right to protest, in these bills, is effectively diminished. As I said earlier, if the government wants to say any protest, such as a protest against the Adani Mine, is a threat to our economic national security, then you can be accused of committing an act of espionage and be charged under these bills that we're dealing with today.

Also diminished is access to foreign bodies. What happens the next time someone wants to make a complaint to the United Nations? Are they going to be accused of fostering foreign interference and be charged under these bills? Presumably not, because the Attorney-General has got more sense than that, but what about the next Attorney-General, if he doesn't like the cut of your suit and the fact that you're making a complaint to the International Criminal Court, for example? Will he have you charged for foreign interference and hauled before a court? We can't be sure that he or she won't do that.

I made a reference at the start of my speech to hypocrisy. Governments—and the opposition, I would add—far too often are fired up to beat the national security drum and talk about the grave threats this country faces, but at the same time they took the AFP away from Hobart Airport. At the same time that governments are saying that our greatest security threat is home-grown terrorism—we know there are smart terrorists and would-be terrorists who would target high-profile, iconic soft targets—they take the police away from the airport and refuse to put them back.

What about the hypocrisy that we learnt of today that 12 members of this parliament have been flown to China as guests of Huawei, a company with known links to the Chinese government? That's okay. It's okay for people from this place to jump on a plane—in business class or maybe first class; I don't know how deep Huawei's pockets are—and fly off to China for one or two weeks, go in the tent, drink the Kool-Aid, look at a couple of telephone manufacturing plants and come back, no doubt, great friends of Huawei and great friends of the People's Republic. Then those same MPs will walk in here and vote for these bills today, saying, 'We're gravely concerned about foreign influence and our democratic process.' Just don't mention the business class flight to China in recent times as a guest, effectively, of the Chinese government through their middleman Huawei. What hypocrisy, and what a rush!

The PJCIS has only just finished looking at these matters. We're only just getting our minds around all of the amendments, and we rush it in here. I'll finish in a bit over a minute, the member for Melbourne might speak for 15 minutes, and then I reckon they're going to try to ram this through before 90-second statements, because there's such urgency to energise this issue before the five by-elections. What absolute rot! Since when should this country's national security be pegged onto the political self-interest of the government and the opposition before five by-elections? We should look at these things carefully and slowly and make sure that ultimately what this place deals with and passes is in our national security best interests and not in the political self-interest of a government or an opposition.

I would have liked to support both of these bills, because I'm the first to say we should maintain our national security. After all, I'm the fellow who did 20 years in the Army and a number of years in the intelligence services. I'm the first to fight for our national security, but I will not be party to reckless, poorly crafted legislation that unnecessarily diminishes even further our civil rights.