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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6124

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (11:53): by leave—I thank the secretariat of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security for their outstanding work in support of the committee members in this inquiry into what was and is a very complex piece of legislation. I'd like in particular to thank Anna, Lauren and James for consistently producing such a high quality of work under exceedingly tight deadlines.

I want to say a little about the process for this inquiry too, because it was clearly unsatisfactory for a piece of legislation that—in the form in which it was introduced at least—had potentially far-reaching and negative consequences for civil society groups and, more broadly, for democratic freedoms in Australia. We in Labor certainly agree that there is a need for this parliament to address the potential threat posed by malign foreign government interference in our democracy. However, complex legislation that sets up new structures and defences, with criminal sanctions to enforce compliance, should not be rushed, nor should such bills be developed in secret and then introduced without any form of consultation—as was the bill that is the subject of this inquiry—because, as the extensive amendments to the bill recommended in this bipartisan report of the intelligence committee make clear, the bill that the Prime Minister introduced on 7 December last year was riddled with problems.

The release of exposure drafts of complex legislation of this kind is one way to ensure that problems are identified and addressed before the bill is formally introduced. This process, which Labor often adopted in government, enables the parliament to call on the considerable expertise in the Australian community to strengthen draft legislation, and those with concerns to have the opportunity to air those concerns and have them addressed at an early stage. I think this process is particularly important when a bill introduces criminal sanctions with a potentially significant impact on longstanding rights and freedoms, as this bill clearly does. In any event the process of releasing an exposure draft has not been followed by the Abbott and Turnbull governments, and instead we have national security bills introduced in flawed form, which are then substantially amended following analysis and recommendations for change by the intelligence committee.

However, even the intelligence committee process for this bill has been far less than ideal, in large part because the time allowed for public comment was too short. The bill was referred to the committee upon its introduction on 7 December last year for report in February. Public comment was called for over the subsequent holiday period, with public hearings to occur on 30 and 31 January. The time for the committee to report was then extended to 23 March, with another public hearing held during that month. A long delay then occurred, with the government considering a range of amendments. Those amendments were finally produced six months to the day after the introduction of the bill, but, despite the significance of the changes in the amendments proposed by the Attorney-General, only a matter of days were allowed for public comment.

I conclude by saying that the bill as introduced to the parliament was clearly not fit for purpose. It contained an array of serious problems that, if left unaddressed, would have severely impacted upon the rights of individuals and would have imposed a massive administrative burden on civil society groups such as charities, who are working only to improve our nation. It was a bill that clearly showed all the hallmarks of the previous Attorney-General, who in his valedictory speech said that he had worked on the foreign interference legislation:

… with intense focus for most of the year—

and which he described as one of the:

… great pieces of law reform by which I had hoped to define my attorney-generalship …

I also extend my thanks to the current Attorney-General for listening to public concerns about the many flaws in the bill and for working constructively with Labor to produce amendments that deal with many of those concerns. I look forward to seeing the final form of this bill, and thank the other members of the intelligence committee for their work during the debates we had about this bill.