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Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Page: 6348

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (13:06): The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 criminalises dissent. This bill makes it a much more dangerous proposition to stand up to this government or any future government. It makes it a much more dangerous proposition to stand up on human rights and point out our government's record or other governments' records internationally on human rights. It makes it much more dangerous to protest against things that have an economic impact, like the Adani coalmine, because, if these bills pass, there will be sweepingly broad new definitions of what counts as national security, what counts as Australia's economic interests and what counts as our international reputation, and, if you fall foul of those very broad definitions, you could find yourself in jail, because you will have breached espionage laws in this country, which are usually considered some of the most serious offences that there can be.

Many, many people have spoken up about these bills and said not only that these bills are unnecessary but that they take us a step further down the road of becoming the kind of society that these bills are meant to protect us from. As Amnesty International said today, notwithstanding the cosy deal that's been done to rush these bills through the parliament—and I'll talk a bit about that in a moment—these bills still, despite all of that, make it a crime to hold the Australian government to account on human rights, and as such they help shield government from accountability. In their words:

These draconian laws proposed will make Australia more like the authoritarian countries this bill is supposed to protect us from.

When it comes to putting people in jail because they dared to speak up to a government, we should tread very, very carefully in this place. A very strong case needs to be made before we criminalise what most people would think is an everyday right of free speech. To go to a protest against a company doing something that you don't like, even if it potentially embarrasses Australia, to stand up to something that Australia is doing either by itself or with another country, even if it might embarrass Australia, or to say that a government needs to be held to account, even if it might be seen to be harming our international interests, is something that most people in this country would think is a fundamental right. It's what marks out democracies from other forms of society.

But now doing things like protesting against international trade agreements like the TPP, saying governments and people internationally aren't pulling their weight in global climate change negotiations or saying you don't want a new coalmine that might have international consequences are potentially captured by this law, because the government has drawn very, very broad definitions. This has been pointed out by many organisations who've looked at this in the limited time that they've had available and have said, 'There are some big red flags here.' When you look at the way this government treats refugees, who are human beings, and when you look at the way this government takes away the basic rights of other people who've not even committed a crime, that is a precursor, I think, of what they'd be prepared to do to other people in our society, and that is why it is essential, any time a government wants to take away some of the basic precepts of the rule of law or of individual freedoms, that they be held to account and scrutinised very, very carefully.

But what have we got here? We've got a couple of bills, one of which criminalises dissent and the other of which casts a broad net over other people around the world, meaning you'll potentially fall foul of law if you deal with them. The government puts out this bill and says, 'Oh, we need to rush it through very, very quickly.' Then it goes into a committee where there are secret discussions that take place between the government and the opposition, and about 10 minutes ago we just got 50 pages of amendments and were told: 'Trust us. It's okay. Pass this bill with these amendments. We've fixed it all up.' Well, maybe the opposition has secured some good amendments from the government and made this bad bill less bad—and good on them, if they have—but parliament is meant to be the place where you scrutinise what the government is doing. When the government wants to criminalise dissent, when the government wants to say, 'You could face jail time tomorrow for doing something that was perfectly lawful yesterday,' I'm sorry, but we don't take them at face value.

We have seen what you, the government, do to other people when you've got the legal power of the state behind you. We've seen what you do to refugees. We've seen that you take away people's incomes if you don't think they're spending their money properly. We've seen people's lives broken because of the way this government has treated them. And so I am sorry, but we are not prepared to take it on trust that somehow everything is going to be okay and that dissent will not be criminalised in this country.

It is against everything this parliament stands for to lob almost 50 pages of amendments at the parliament and say, 'Right, we're going to pass it today.' We just started debating this bill today. We're going to wind up very soon because a secret deal's been done behind closed doors, and we're told, 'It's okay; just push this through.' Well, I've got news for you, Labor and the Liberals: a growing number of people are not buying what you're selling. A growing number of people are not prepared to take it on trust anymore that you've got the Australian population's best interests at heart, because for too long we have seen people in this place feather their own nests and protect themselves at the expense of everyone else.

It is not good enough, when it comes to potential jail time, to say, 'We've got to rush through some legislation,' because there are some by-elections or whatever other reason people happen to pull out of a hat at that particular time. Once we start using national security as the basis for taking away people's rights, and once we start being told, 'You can no longer question governments publicly or else you'll face jail time,' we start going to a very bad place. But we go there even quicker when the parliament, which is meant to scrutinise government, is told, 'Here's 50 pages of amendments; just vote it through and we'll rush it through very, very quickly because of some spurious reason that we invented last night.'

I've seen the recommendations that have come out of the review into this bill. Many of them are good and will make a bad bill better. But we as parliamentarians are entitled to look through the amendments that we've been given and work out whether they live up to those recommendations. We've seen things rushed through this place before that have had very, very significant consequences. When things are done quickly, when they're done on the basis of a backroom deal, they get denied the scrutiny that we are entitled to and that this parliament is meant to be here to do.

So I ask Labor and the government to give this bill the time to go through a proper and open inquiry, to now allow these amendments that they've cooked up in a back room together to be looked at by all of the organisations who have very legitimate concerns about this bill. The Greens have legitimate concerns about this bill, including what it does to freedom of speech in this country and what it does to the right to dissent. Amnesty has concerns about this bill. GetUp! has concerns about this bill. Lawyers have concerns about this bill. People say, 'Yes, we understand that we need to take steps to protect our national security,' but they also say, 'It should never come at the expense of trading away the basic principles of individual rights and the rules of law that define us as a society.'

If these new amendments to a very bad bill are as good as you, the government, say then give us the time to go over them and to let everyone comment on them and inquire into them, because these almost 50 pages of amendments are an admission that the bill was bad to begin with and had to be amended to within an inch of its life. Now that we've seen those amendments, give us a chance to scrutinise them, because, if they don't do what you say then you've sold us all out and taken everyone for a ride. So, at the very least, I say to these people who have cooked up these amendments: put them out to public scrutiny so we can work out whether they do what you say and so that we can then work out how to vote on the bills and whether the bills should be voted on differently and separately after you've amended them back and forth.

But if what we're being asked to do is just take it at face value that Labor and the Liberals—the parties that lock up refugees offshore and keep them out of sight and out of mind—have now come up with a wonderful scheme to protect our rights, well, sorry, I don't believe you. I don't believe you, and I bet a bunch of other people don't either. When the starting point is that doing something that affects Australia's national interests and its economic interests can potentially land you in jail, I think most people in this country would want to know that every last 'I' has been dotted and every last 'T' has been crossed before we sign off on a bill like that. Many of them, myself included, probably wouldn't support the bill being passed, but, at the very least, everyone would agree that something that so fundamentally affects people's rights in this country ought to be subject to proper scrutiny.

If you want to know why this place and politicians have an increasingly bad reputation and why people don't trust us, you need look no further than this bill. We are being asked, yet again, to just accept a backroom deal that has been done, to take it at face value and to whack it through the whole parliament in a day or so. That is not good enough. The Attorney-General should explain why such a significant piece of legislation can't go through the usual process of scrutiny by the usual Senate committees and allow other people to come in and have a look at it. He may well have struck a deal with the opposition—he may well have done all of that—but the public haven't yet had a chance to look over this and, worse, parliamentarians haven't either. I think it is outrageous that we are being asked to debate, and to vote in just a few minutes on, amendments that we were given maybe half an hour or so ago—when we're dealing with bills which, if passed, may result in people going to jail.

I think the starting principle should be: you are entitled to dissent against a government; you are entitled to hold a government to account; and you are entitled to do things that the government may even say are against the country's interests—if what you're doing is trying to uphold human rights, if what you're doing is to trying to make sure climate change doesn't devastate us, and if what you're doing is trying to make sure there is some accountability and integrity in parliament. If the test becomes, 'Are you embarrassing the government in the international sphere?' then we're all in strife, because then it means you can't stand up to deals that governments do with each other, and you can't hold governments to account for human rights abuses, for environmental abuses or for abuses of their population. That is the road that we are going down. And so I plead with the opposition and with the government, one last time, to allow the full scrutiny of this bill, all its amendments and the associated bill; to not rush this through the parliament; and to give civil society in Australia, and everyone who is going to have their rights diminished by this legislation, time to fully digest it.