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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8161

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (10:02 AM) —The Democrats oppose the motion put forward by the government. Indeed, the Democrats remain opposed to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002, even as amended—partly for reasons that Senator Ray just mentioned. Whilst we all need to balance the issue of security versus people's freedoms, as Senator Ray said, even the amended version of this bill is still more extreme than the law in any other comparable country. For that reason, the Democrats remain opposed to the legislation. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the Labor Party amendments and the couple of Democrat amendments that have been passed by the Senate significantly improve the legislation. We certainly will not support any motions by a government to remove those improvements.

It is worth noting that we have heard frequent interjections during this debate on the New South Wales legislation put forward by Bob Carr. There have been lots of critical comments from the government senators— and quite rightly, I believe. The New South Wales parliament's legislation is far more extreme and is completely unacceptable. It is an example of people using a climate of fear in the community to push through extreme legislation that dramatically removes people's rights and that dramatically undermines the basic rule of law. The key point that needs to be made to all those from the Liberals who criticise Mr Carr's legislation is that it only passed into law because it was supported by the Liberals in New South Wales. I think there were seven in the New South Wales upper house who opposed the legislation, including the Democrats and the Greens—I am not sure who the others were; probably Peter Breen and a few others. The law was passed with the combined support of the Labor and Liberal parties in the New South Wales parliament, and that should be acknowledged.

It is true that the law that New South Wales has passed is extreme and is unacceptable in the Democrats' view. But, again, not only did the New South Wales Liberals pass that law but, when the Democrats moved an amendment to this legislation at the third reading stage, seeking to have a Senate committee inquiry specifically into the New South Wales law and whether it was constitutional or appropriate in terms of its privative and ouster clauses, the Liberal Party opposed that. So any complaint from the Liberals that somehow or other Labor is culpable for Mr Carr's legislation is true, but the Liberals are equally culpable.

It is a very worrying trend that needs to be acknowledged not only in terms of this legislation and the New South Wales legislation but also, as we saw last year, in terms of the so-called border protection package, where there was a massive removal of people's rights, including Australian citizens' rights, to have access to the law. There were massive areas where Commonwealth officers were basically put above the law so that the power of governments was dramatically increased and the power and rights of the average citizen were dramatically decreased. The power of people like us, who want to assist people in the community, was also dramatically decreased. Again, that legislation was pushed through using a facile argument about the need for security.

As we have now seen throughout this year, the threat to our security is not from asylum seekers and it is not from refugees. Yet this government, which this morning made lots of loud statements about how important it is that we maximise the opportunity to protect Australian citizens, is still this very day wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of intelligence, defence and bureaucratic resources with this ridiculous so-called border protection policy. We always knew but it is now blatantly clear that there is no threat to Australia's security from asylum seekers. If this government were genuine about maximising its protection of Australians, it would scrap its Pacific solution today. It would save hundreds of millions of dollars and it would be able to redirect bureaucratic and intelligence resources, defence spending and intelligence coordination back into the region to where the real risk is. Tragically, we know now that the real risk, after Bali, is from terrorist and extremist groups in our region. If the government were genuinely serious about maximising the security of Australians, it would drop the ridiculous and expensive facade that is the Pacific solution.

Another $200 million is being spent as we speak to build a detention centre on Christmas Island that we do not need. All of those resources could be put towards protecting Australia's security against the real threat, but that is not happening. I think that, until it does happen, one has to assume that the arguments put forward by Senator Ray are true: that the motivation is more about politics than it is about so-called security. I think it is also worth making the point, as was made yesterday by the Democrats, that to suggest that it is appropriate for us to be considering such important legislation on the back of what has now been basically 24 hours straight of sitting is simply ridiculous. We all acknowledge, whatever our position, that this legislation is very significant and fairly complex. This is true even of the message that we are considering at the moment, as moved by Senator Campbell, which deals with a large number of amendments that have been disagreed to and other amendments that have been made by the House in place of Senate amendments.

From the Democrats' point of view, to suggest that we are best able to talk about how important this issue is and how much we value getting the best possible outcome for the people of Australia after 24 hours straight with various amounts of sleep deprivation along the way and other end of year activities that do not necessarily enhance one's critical faculties sends a bad signal. We are undoubtedly not in the best place to make proper, informed and considered decisions when we have basically worked for 24 hours straight. In this we need to particularly note those who have engaged in the debate such as Senator Greig from the Democrats, Senator Faulkner, Senator Ray from the opposition and others from the government and other parties. Those people have been engaging directly with the legislation hour after hour. To suggest that this is the best way of dealing with what is historic and significant legislation is farcical and is an insult to the Australian people and to the parliament.

Again I repeat the Democrats' call that we need to acknowledge that we have to spend more days sitting here. We cannot just keep extending sittings every time the government decides that it wants to push a lot of legislation through. It is simply not acceptable and from the Democrats' point of view we have to acknowledge that the Senate has that major role as a legislative body.

Senator Brandis —The government's got to make the calls about national security, Andrew.

Senator BARTLETT —The Senate has always had this role. I am surprised that upstanding conservatives from the Liberals, who are normally strong defenders of the Constitution and the way our system of government is established, would suggest that somehow or other you can just magically label an issue and then say, `Okay, the parliament does not matter anymore; we're the government and we have to deal with this issue.'

The parliament has not only the right but the responsibility to consider legislation. This Senate is the only protection against a government doing whatever it wants. A time like this, when there is insecurity and apprehension in the community and when there are obvious real threats and dangers, is precisely the time you need a body that can double-check, reassess and look at it from different angles. Whether it is the current Prime Minister or anyone else, nobody—no party or person—should ever be in the position where they are able to just act without adequate scrutiny and without the opportunity for another body to examine what is being proposed. Those checks and balances are one of the fabulous things about our system.

One of the reasons legislation like this is so dangerous is that it removes one of those checks in many places. It removes the courts and the legal system from oversight of the actions of particular bodies or people. That is what has happened with the border protection legislation, putting a whole lot of people outside the reach of the law. That is what has happened with the New South Wales legislation put forward by Mr Carr. Police are basically able to act outside the rule of law and outside the scrutiny of the law. It is removing one of those crucial protections in terms of the judiciary, the parliament and the executive. They are meant to work in balance and we are seeing more and more attempts to remove the judiciary or curtail its powers. At the same time, we have seen a long trend of attempts to weaken the power of the parliament as well. It puts the executive—and therefore the Prime Minister—in an incredibly powerful position. We all the know the cliche—it is nonetheless a true cliche—that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is very dangerous to give anybody absolute power, and that is why we have balances in our system. That is why the Senate is so crucial.

Senator Murray —That is why the Australian people elected it like they did.

Senator BARTLETT —As Senator Murray says, that is why the Australian people specifically elected it the way it is—to ensure that the Senate can play that role. We have seen plenty of occasions at the state level around the country where we have not had properly functioning upper houses or, to speak about my own state of Queensland, have had no upper house at all and where there has been no adequate scrutiny of governments. We have seen the terrible outcomes that have occurred as a consequence of that. I think the statements that were made, particularly by Senator Hill, which suggest that at the end of the day the government should get what it wants because it is the government are fundamentally a trashing of our entire system of parliament and political democracy and fundamentally a trashing of the Constitution. I am sure that while he needs to make the point as a rhetorical one he does not actually believe it. I am sure that if he were in opposition, as he has been in the past, he would be fervently arguing against such an outrageous proposition.

The fundamental point remains that this legislation, as it has been amended by the Senate after a lot of consideration, is in the Democrats' view significantly improved. It still does not get the balance right, in our view, but it is far and away an improvement on what was originally put forward and far and away an improvement on what the government is insisting on through the motion that Senator Campbell has moved. We will certainly stand firm in opposing that motion and at least ensure that if we are going to get some form of legislation passed the amended version works. We certainly urge all others in the Senate to do the same thing.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Ian Campbell's) be agreed to.