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Thursday, 4 April 2019
Page: 14817


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (10:51): We all grieve with New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, no more so than in Melbourne, where the significant Muslim community has been devastated by the events in Christchurch, this tragedy, as has our broader community. The community has come together to express its solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers and with New Zealand. I take the opportunity to place that on the record here, again, on behalf of myself, the Melbourne community and the Greens.

In the wake of the Christchurch massacre, it's clear that social media must no longer be an unregulated and lawless place where degrading and horrifying content can be posted and shared, spreading like a poison, harming whoever it touches. Graphic and horrifying footage of innocent people being murdered caused untold harm and furthered the terrorists' evil aims for every second that it remained online, and Facebook took over an hour to respond. The Greens have called for a comprehensive response and review of how our media deals with terrorist acts, violent acts and acts of white supremacy like we saw in Christchurch.

Today's bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Bill 2019, was Australia's opportunity to comprehensively address the issue. As I said, the Greens were one of the first voices calling for new laws to protect our multicultural communities and hold the mainstream media and social media giants to standards that reflect their role in a modern democracy. I think it would be fair to say that certainly in this place, in this chamber, there would probably be unanimous agreement that the broadcasting that we saw during the Christchurch massacre was abhorrent and should have been stopped and needs to be stopped in the future. The question is: how do we do that in a way that makes sure it does not have unintended consequences? This bill, and this way of doing it, is not the way to ensure that we strike the right balance, because we don't know whether or not this bill in fact does the job the Attorney-General tells us that it's doing and we do not know whether or not it goes far enough in stopping that kind of hate speech from being broadcast. But we also don't know if it goes too far in the other direction and captures forms of speech or reporting that most people would not want to be criminalised, because this is being rushed through.

If you have a look at the Senate Hansard, you will find that this bill was introduced into the Senate at 9.13 last night and passed at 9.13 last night. From the Greens' perspective, the Labor opposition may say they've had a version of this since Monday, but we haven't. And the parliament hasn't. When we are dealing with something that could potentially—as the front pages of various papers today suggest—criminalise journalism, that should have significant scrutiny. Does it do that? I don't know. The parliament probably doesn't know. We've got a very significant bill that is being rushed through before this parliament rises, and Labor is going along with it. That should not occur. When something as significant and important to the Australian people as responding to the abhorrent material that we saw, but which also regulates future journalism, comes before this parliament, we should be very loath to make decisions about that without putting it to scrutiny. As I said, the Senate had a few minutes to debate this last night. It got pushed through. We didn't get a chance to look through it, and other senators probably didn't get a chance to look through it. When we read on the front pages of the papers today that this bill might have a series of unintended consequences, we should pause to make sure that we're doing our job properly.

The Labor opposition and the shadow Attorney-General—and this isn't a personal comment about the shadow Attorney-General at all; this is about the opposition's position—just got up and called the bill 'clumsy and flawed' and called the process 'appalling'. You would think that what they would then do is say, 'We're going to refer the bill to an inquiry.' The shadow Attorney-General just gave a good and eloquent speech about why this bill deserves further scrutiny, but then said that Labor and the government are going to side together to ram this through without us having had the opportunity to consult with stakeholders to determine whether there are unintended consequences. That is not the way that parliament should function. And now we're here in the House being asked to put through a bill that's only been introduced into the House today, on the same day. That is not right. As I said, I expect you would get 100 per cent unanimous agreement across this chamber for the prohibition of broadcasting abhorrent material, but everyone would also be alarmed if we were about to pass something that had unintended consequences.

I, for one, am not prepared to take the government at face value when they say that a bill that they didn't even have the courtesy to show to us until yesterday evening in the Senate and is being introduced in the House today is all completely fine and has no unintended consequences. That is not a way to run a government. When we have the opportunity to say, 'We're not going to say no to the bill; we're just going to ask for it to go to an inquiry,' that is something the opposition should grab with both hands. I heard the opposition say that if they win government they will send the bill to an inquiry. But, firstly, what if they don't? And, secondly, what if One Nation has control of the Senate after the next election and there are some proposed sensible changes that can't get through because they can't get through the Senate? That is why we need to give this bill scrutiny now, before we pass it. It's not right that, as often happens on the last day of parliament, we're asked to pass really important legislation without even the chance to read it or go and talk to our stakeholders about it. When we see things on the front page of the paper that say, 'Hang on; parliament should pause for a moment, because there might be unintended consequences,' and we're not given the chance to do that, that is not right. And the problem with rushing something through is that it potentially undermines the legitimacy of the bill further down the track. Who knows if there are errors in this bill that might stop truly abhorrent content from being broadcast? We just don't know.

So I come back to where I started. Of course—on the part of myself, the Greens and, I suspect, many others—we want to see a proper approach to regulating social media and we want to ensure that that kind of horror and terror that we saw is not allowed to be broadcast. No-one would quibble with that, but we want to make sure we're doing it properly and that it doesn't catch legitimate journalists in its wake.

That is why I move this amendment to the bill:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House refers the bill to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for inquiry and report no later than 1 August 2019".

That is an eminently sensible timetable. We could still have this legislation pass expeditiously, if that's what the parliament wants to do. The shadow Attorney-General just stood up and identified three or four big problems with the bill. Well, this would give us a chance to go and fix those. The bill could still be passed, if that was parliament's will, but we would be a bit more confident that it had no unintended consequences and—who knows?—we might even close loopholes that might be there in the first place, because this government has actually rushed it. We could actually strengthen it and ensure that this kind of terrible material doesn't find its way onto Facebook or other social media in the future.

This committee is not necessarily our committee of choice—there's no Greens representative on this committee—but it's one that, as a joint committee, could continue to operate and could sit soon after the election. We could be back here within a very short period of time, within what is effectively a matter of weeks, and pass the bill, if that's what we wanted to do. I do hope that this amendment gets support, and especially gets the support of the opposition, because it's an opportunity to say, 'Yes, the bill can pass, but let's make sure we're doing our job right.'

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Bird ): Is the amendment seconded?