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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10185


Senator STEELE-JOHN (Western Australia) (09:58): What are we to make of the situation which has transpired here this morning? I will put it in one word: a mess, an absolute mess. Our job as senators, our role as elected members of the house of review, is to scrutinise legislation. And yet again we see a government attempting to sneak out of that role, to avoid that scrutiny, and we see an opposition complicit in that process. Before the commencement of this part of the procedure, there was an opportunity for the opposition to vote against the government's motion to exempt the bill from proper senatorial process. They voted with the government, once again playing a facilitatory role in the carnival of malprocess which has been the formulation and legislation of this diabolical act.

I am not sure whether the opposition have taken leave of their senses. I am not sure whether they have perhaps misunderstood the nature of the chamber in which they work or the job that we are sent here to do. I will provide them with an opportunity to go back and look at the Constitution and consider what they themselves got into this job for, and vote for my motion to refer this legislation to the relevant committee for scrutiny, because, in case anybody in here hasn't noticed, you guys have got no idea what you are doing. You drafted a mongrel piece of legislation before Christmas. You rushed it through so fast that even members of the government were ashamed of what they'd done. You then had the Prime Minister go out there and terrify everybody about attacks over Christmas, and, like some kind of obscene jelly creature, the opposition melted. They were comprehensively duped. They slink in here this morning, speaking words of: 'We've held them to account. We've made sure that what the industry wanted will be represented in the legislation.' Rubbish! What the industry wanted was for you to do your damn job—oppose and scrutinise, not go weak at the knees.

This bill that has come before us this morning proposes to expand these dangerous powers to yet more institutions; institutions which are, by their very nature, different from the agencies which currently have them. And yet again we see the opposition getting on board. You do not understand the technology you are working with. You are allowing yourselves to be ruled by people of fear.

I have, through the course of this process, worked in deep consultation with industry, with advocates, with people who actually understand the process. At every step of the way I have attempted to alert the opposition and the government to the true nature of the legislation that they are working with, and at every opportunity they have shown the ignorance, the arrogance and the recalcitrance of those who simply do not care about the detail of policy but are totally consumed by the nature of politics. This is one of the greatest crimes that can be perpetrated by a legislator. We are talking of the fundamental right to privacy of the Australian people. That should be an issue which is above the game playing and the nonsense which occupies so much of this chamber's time. But, no, the opposition couldn't pull themselves to do it. Now, this moment which we have before us is an opportunity for the opposition and the crossbench to come together and draw a line in the sand.

Senator McAllister: This is a truly unifying speech!

Senator STEELE-JOHN: Well, the truth hurts, doesn't it? There is an opportunity now to move forward from this moment, to refer this bill to a committee and do our job, to ensure that the legislation before us does what we expect it to do, to perform the very basic nature of our duties. I have expressed—and it will probably seem to be an understatement to some listening tonight—a great deal of anger on behalf of those who work in this sector. I do so because, through ignorance, you have put at risk billions of dollars of industry and threatened the right to privacy of all Australians. Through that process, though you were comprehensively told over the Christmas break that you were wrong, that you didn't know what you were doing and that you had passed bad legislation, you have come before this chamber today with the same mindset. That is ultimately the inexcusable aspect of today's spectacle. You mucked up, you didn't read it carefully, and now you continue to make your mistake worse. That is the unforgivable part that the opposition is playing in this process.

We will be moving amendments during this debate which seek to get good outcomes to repair some of the damage, to do right by the citizenry and the industry. I urge the crossbench and the opposition to support those amendments, to support referral and to finally get on and do your damn job. I thank the chamber and I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

", and the bill be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 2 April 2019."