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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 14041


Mr PORTER (PearceAttorney-General) (10:09): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Australian government is committed to ensuring the safety and protection of the Australian community.

We have passed 17 tranches of legislation since 2014 when the terrorism threat level was raised. These laws have covered matters such as the continued detention of high-risk terrorists and strengthening control orders to minimise the threat to the public.

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 continues this important work of protecting our community. It will ensure that there is a presumption against bail and parole for all terrorists and their sympathisers. It will also make two changes to improve the operation of the continuing detention order scheme for high-risk terrorist offenders.

Schedule 1 —R estrictions on bail and parole

Introducing new restrictions on the existing arrangements for bail and parole ensures that there will be a presumption against bail and parole for persons who have demonstrated support for, or have links to, terrorist activity, which is consistent with the agreement reached by the Council of Australian Governments in 2017.

Following the appalling terrorist attack in Brighton, Victoria, we now know that the perpetrator of that attack was on parole and had previously been charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack.

In line with the COAG agreement, this bill expands the Commonwealth's existing presumption to include those offenders who are the subject of a control order, or who have links with, or who have shown support for, terrorist activities. The new presumption against parole similarly covers all of these terrorism related offenders.

This means that offenders who have links with, or have shown support for, terrorist activities will not be released on bail or parole unless they can positively show that there are exceptional circumstances that would otherwise justify their release into the community.

Given the overriding need to protect the community, the presumptions against bail and parole will apply to terrorism related offenders who are under the age of 18. This is consistent with the existing presumption against bail which already applies to children charged with, or convicted of, a terrorism offence. However, whilst decision-makers already take into account the age of the offender when making decisions about bail and parole, this bill will make it an explicit requirement, with the protection of the community continuing to be the paramount consideration.

This bill also amends section 19AG of the Crimes Act, which requires the court to fix a non-parole period of at least three-quarters of the sentence imposed for a terrorism offence. This applies to adults as well as children.

While this bill retains the existing application of section 19AG to children, this will be in the form of a presumption rather than a mandatory requirement that will apply unless there are exceptional circumstances to justify a lower non-parole period.

When considering whether exceptional circumstances exist, the court must have regard to the best interests of the child as a primary consideration, with the protection of the community as the paramount consideration. This is aligned with the drafting formulation currently provided for in Commonwealth legislation underpinning control orders.

The revisions in the bill to section 19AG reflect the need to remain firm in the face of the serious threat posed by terrorist offenders whilst ensuring that the circumstances of children who commit terrorist offences are taken into account when fixing the minimum period that they are required to spend in jail for their crimes.

Schedule 2 —Amendments relating to continuing detention orders

Schedule 2 contains two measures to improve the operation of the Commonwealth's HRTO scheme.

The first measure will amend the HRTO scheme to ensure that jailed terrorist offenders who are also serving time for non-terrorist offences remain eligible for consideration for a CDO, a continuing detention order, at the conclusion of their time in prison.

It should not matter whether a terrorist offender's final day of detention is for a terrorist offence or another offence, usually a state offence. What matters is the safety of the Australian public, and the bill will ensure that the community can be protected from terrorist offenders who pose an unacceptable risk to the community of committing a terrorism offence if released from prison.

The second measure brings the options for protecting national security information included in an application for a CDO into line with criminal prosecutions.

The continued detention of terrorist offenders after their sentence of imprisonment has expired is not something this government takes lightly, and the process is subject to stringent procedural safeguards.

These safeguards must be balanced against the need to protect information of intelligence agencies and sensitive sources. At present, the protections for information in an application are different to those available in a criminal trial: they only serve to limit what can be disclosed to the public, and do not allow for the full range of protections that a court may order, including under the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004.

The bill will amend this to provide that the information given to the terrorist offender is subject to any orders the court makes for the protection of national security information.

It needs to be stressed that this amendment will in no way allow for the use of secret evidence in CDO proceedings. When deciding whether to issue a continuing detention order, a court can only rely on the same information in the proceedings that has been provided to the terrorist offender. The courts also oversee the protection of sensitive information, and they will retain the ultimate power to determine the appropriate orders to protect the information and their impact on the fairness of proceedings.

With these amendments, the government can get on with the job of protecting the Australian people from the risks posed by terrorist offenders who pose an ongoing and unacceptable risk.

Conclusion

This bill demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to protecting the Australian community from terrorism.

To enable the parliament to give full consideration of this important bill, the government is writing to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to ask it to examine this bill.

On that basis, I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.