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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31690

Mr KING (3:25 PM) —The Anti-terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2004 contains one law and three law-enforcement measures. I am pleased that the honourable member for Barton, who has just spoken in some detail about the matter, lends his support. The bill arises out of an increased understanding and heightened awareness in our community of the need for new measures to deal, on a national security basis, with the war against terrorism and issues relating to the war against terrorism. I have had some familiarity with that heightened awareness even in my own electorate. Two weeks ago we held a community crime forum. As a result of that crime forum, I have developed in consultation with elements of the community a security plan to deal with a possible terrorist attack in my area, the eastern suburbs of Sydney, in the event that that should occur. That plan involves linkages between the emergency wards of the two large hospitals in the area and police and emergency units in the event of a catastrophe occurring in our part of Sydney. Some might say that is alarmist, but it is not. I think we all need to be prepared in the event of such a horrific attack occurring in any part of the country, particularly where a risk has been identified, as it has in my electorate.

I would like to deal firstly with the law measure, the proposed new provision at division 102.8 of the Criminal Code. It provides for an offence where on two or more occasions the person intentionally associates with another person who is a member, or a person who promotes or directs the activities, of an organisation; and the person knows that the organisation is a terrorist organisation; and the association provides support to the organisation; and the person intends that the support assists the organisation to expand or to continue to exist; and the person knows that the other person is a member, or a person who promotes or directs the activities, of the organisation; and the organisation is a terrorist organisation as defined. The penalty is imprisonment for three years.

The offence is rather turgidly expressed but, at the end of the day, when one examines the wording of the offence it becomes reasonably clear that the purpose is to enact an offence where a person intentionally associates with a person who is a member, or who promotes or directs the activities, of a listed terrorist organisation, where that association provides support that would help the terrorist organisation to continue to exist or expand. It is in short a form of `consorting' offence. In the nature of those offences, it is important that the offence be clearly and tightly defined, because vagueness around the edges generally leads to acquittal where often the accused has been involved in activities very closely associated with the charge, and also because it can sometimes work against the interests of people who in truth are innocent.

I want to draw attention to a couple of matters. The first is the requirement in clause (1)(a)(i) that:

... the person intentionally associates with another person who is a member of, or a person who promotes or directs the activities of, an organisation.

This element of the offence does, it is true, require that there be an intentional association, an act which is coupled with an intent. But that only goes so far, because the other person has to be a member of, or a person who promotes or directs, the organisation but it does not necessarily follow from that that the offence is committed if the person who commits the offence did not know the other person was a member of the organisation. However, clause(1)(a)(ii) does require knowledge to that effect and clause (1)(a)(iv) requires that the person who is charged with the offence intends that the support assist the organisation. (Quorum formed)

Consorting with a terrorist organisation has four exceptions: families, clergymen, lawyers and charities. The whole question of feelings of prejudice and alienation, which has arisen in relation to recent protests from members of the Muslim faith in our community, is addressed by this aspect of the bill. But our concern ought not be simply to list in a bill such as this those very specific exceptions. We must do more than simply by the legislation accept those people, especially where there may be a connection with people of the Muslim faith, who have expressed in my office recently their concern as to what they see as targeting of their community. I would not for one moment want to suggest that, but the unfortunate events at the Muslim prayer hall at Annangrove recently give some substance to their concern.

I would suggest that the Attorney and his department, in administering this proposed act, should ensure that there be a process of public education and, indeed, assistance to the communities who might otherwise feel targeted by such a bill as this. I am sure that the Attorney, whom I am very pleased to see is in the House today, will work closely with some of those communities, as he did when he was the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, and ensure that they do not feel in any way targeted, victimised or as though they are being addressed by a measure such as this. At the end of the day, what we really want to do is ensure that terrorism and acts associated with terrorism are the real target of this proposed legislation. That is why I support it. It is a necessary measure and, because it is a necessary measure, it deserves the support of the House.

The three law enforcement measures that I mentioned deal, firstly, with transfer of prisoners. That is a matter of some moment, but it is not critical for present purposes. They deal, secondly, with the issue about passports and, thirdly, with an issue regarding forensic procedures. Cooperation between all jurisdictions in Australia is of course important, particularly in the use of the national DNA database system which this bill provides for.

The measure relating to law enforcement that I want to address in a little more detail is the passports question. When we talk about passports, we think of the small booklet that we use to go in and out of the country. But, for many people who perhaps have become citizens for the first time or who are new migrants obtaining their first passport, that document is a matter of great moment. I think it is very important that the passport laws—which have not had a revision for many years; this is the first revision of its kind for many years—be administered in a way that is not going to, as it were, take hold of people or entrap them where they made an innocent mistake in the completion of the documents leading to the issue of a passport to them.

Let me give an example. Clause 15, relating to potential for harmful conduct, provides:

If a competent authority suspects on reasonable grounds that:

(a) unless a person's foreign travel documents are surrendered, the person would be likely to engage in conduct that:

(i) might prejudice the security of Australia or a foreign country—

et cetera. That provision, which is the enabling provision conferring power upon the minister to actually withdraw the passport, is hedged around with the test `suspects on reasonable grounds' and refers to a person who `would be likely to engage in conduct that might prejudice the security of Australia' et cetera. It certainly confers a very wide discretion upon the minister—one which I am sure he would only exercise upon sound advice and after making sure that the matter was intently looked at before any such drastic measure was taken.

Regarding the measures I am particularly concerned with—clauses 13 and 14, relating to the precise terms of the passport to be forfeited—it should be noted that, if there is any mistake whatsoever in connection with or in relation to an application for a foreign travel document, it can lead to imprisonment for 10 years, or 1,000 penalty units, where that statement is false or misleading. It does not appear that there is any exception if that error is unintentional. However, there is a qualification in clause 18(2) requiring the statement to be not false or misleading in a material particular. I would say this about the administration of this part of the proposed statute: it needs to be carefully monitored. Such a drastic measure as this, brought in at a time of heightened awareness of acts of terrorism, both in this country and overseas, may well be necessary, although in my view it is not as necessary as the consorting offence about which I have already spoken. I urge those who will be administering this aspect of the legislation to do so with some care, especially in the initial stages, so that processes are put in place and protocols are established which will ensure that this legislation protects the Australian community and does not act as a tyranny in relation to its administration.