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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 30


Senator HUMPHRIES (12:27 PM) —I want to endorse today the comments of Senator Troeth in introducing the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws Bill 2008 [No. 2]. Those of us who serve in this place well understand that the Senate, as a house of review, is a role that is valued by many people in this community. At this particular point in the sitting year the mesh we use to consider legislation becomes a little more coarse, perhaps, than it normally is but, nonetheless, we continue to scrutinise the bills the other place has sent us for inconsistencies, unworkable provisions, unjust terms and generally matters that are at odds with Australian values. In particular, we have a tradition of searching out provisions that diminish or degrade the rights of our fellow citizens. We have done this for a very long time.

Terrorism, of course, has been a fact of life in the world for some time. In Australia, arguably, it arrived in 1978 with the bombing of the Hilton Hotel. Following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001 a number of laws were enacted by the federal parliament to deal with what was seen as an emerging, more serious, terrorist situation. Over 30 pieces of legislation were passed to extend the criminal law and expand the power of intelligence and law enforcement agencies. It has to be acknowledged that appropriate, effective legislation should continue to be a part of any counterterrorism strategy aimed at protecting our citizens and our country. I believe, however, that sometimes during those debates about the armoury against terrorism the mesh in our sieve was too wide. Sometimes, in response to a clear and present danger, we embraced policies more suited to wartime than peacetime.

Australians cherish the fair go. In the case of the criminal law, what that translates to is very clear. It means that there is a rule that you have to be proved guilty, not presumed guilty. It means that you have the right to know what you are accused of and by whom. It means that you have the ability to know where the law stands and how you can use its terms to protect yourself. It requires calling on those who prosecute to account for themselves. In summary, it means the laws protecting all of us are as much shields as they are swords. Some of those 30-odd counterterrorist laws of the last decade may not have met these tests of a fair go. The impulse on which parliaments legislate to head off dangers to its citizens, whatever their source, is an honourable one. But the realisation that parliaments need, from time to time, to erect checks and balances to constrain, however slightly, the enthusiastic exercise of the power to pass laws is also an honourable one.

This bill does not confer the power on anyone to stop parliament from legislating as it sees fit, but it does allow someone, in this case the independent reviewer, to hold up a mirror to parliament so that we can see with greater sharpness than our usual sifting allows just what we have done and whether we might, with the passage of time, reflect that we have done some harm amongst the good. Senator Troeth has outlined the relevant terms of this legislation, and I commend this bill as providing the appropriate mechanism to ensure the necessary level of oversight and review of this important but sensitive tranche of legislation. It will complement the work of parliament, not derogate from it. The appointment of an independent reviewer should provide the community with a high level of confidence that the delicate balance between responding to terrorism and retaining the liberties of which we are proud can and will be maintained.