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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4081


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (10:43): At the outset, I want to state very clearly that the Australian Greens do acknowledge the need to guard against malicious foreign interference in our democratic processes in Australia. We've seen, in other countries, very serious, malicious and, in some cases, successful attempts by foreign powers to covertly influence and interfere in democratic processes. Two examples I'd use there are the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the most recent United States presidential election. Both of those processes were the subject of malicious and significant foreign interference. And that foreign interference undoubtedly had at least some influence on the outcomes of those two processes.

But you do not defend democracy by smothering it. You do not defend democracy by cracking down on things like public interest journalism and civil society. And, unfortunately, that is exactly the approach that these two pieces of legislation take. This legislation will have a serious impact on freedom of speech, on freedom of political communication and on the political debate in this country. And I'll go to some advice from experts on that, and place that on the record. But before I do that, I want to say very clearly that this legislation, as it currently stands, should be rejected by the Senate. These bills will criminalise a wide range of peaceful and non-violent protests, and journalists could face lengthy jail terms for legitimate public interest journalism.

We're in this position because the Liberals are committed to clamping down on dissent. And there is example after example to support that assertion. But we're also in this position because the Labor Party are too scared to oppose the Liberals when they crackdown on dissent. And they're too scared, as I said earlier, because they don't want to open up a wafer of difference between them and the government on issues that the government claims are around counterterrorism and national security. And that's a shame. It is a shame, because it's the country that loses out.

We've seen the consequences of this bipartisan policy lock step in other areas, such as, for example, the detention on Manus Island and Nauru of innocent people seeking asylum. I've been to Manus Island many times. I've seen the human suffering that occurs as a consequence of this policy lock step, which, at its heart, is happening because of Labor's political cowardice. Labor is scared of Minister Dutton and his extreme right-wing cronies. They're scared of the access they've got, through radio talkback, to those parts of this country that Labor and the Liberals regard as key marginal seats. And the tragedy here is that Labor's political fear has crippled its ability to fight back. It's crippled Labor's ability to push back against draconian and dangerous legislation, such as what we are debating right now.

I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again, because this stuff needs to be called out: we are shuffling ever more rapidly down the road to a police state, ever more rapidly down the pathway to a surveillance state and ever more rapidly down the road towards authoritarianism, totalitarianism and fascism in this country. And if you think that some of those terms are overreach, I invite senators to read Madeleine Albright's recently published book Fascism: A Warning. I invite senators to read that book. I invite them to look at the warnings by Ms Albright, a former Secretary of State of the United States under Bill Clinton, to understand the points she is making and to heed the warning she is making, in the context of the United States, that there are early warning signs of fascism in that country.

And do you know what? There are earlier warning signs of fascism in our country too. There's an undermining of the rule of law. There's the deliberate demonisation of an external group of people. There is a disdain for human rights. There's a disdain for freedom of the press. There's an unhealthily close relationship between the old political parties in this country and the big corporates who donate so generously to the re-election coffers of the Labor Party and the coalition, who get, in return, public policy benefits.

I say to Labor, if they are scared of Minister Dutton and his extreme right-wing cronies, leave. Get out of the parliament and make way in this place for people who are prepared to stand up to it. That's what we need to see in this place. I do want to be fair to the Labor Party, and I do accept Senator Wong's comments on face value that the bills are improved by the processes that were undertaken through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. I accept and agree that the bills have been improved. That process rasped off a few of the roughest edges in this legislation. I'm not sure whether Senator Wong's comments were referring to my previous contribution when she said that it is wrong to suggest that the legislation has not been subject to inquiry and that the Australian people have not had the capacity to make submissions and attend hearings. I do accept that the original pieces of legislation did allow for submissions to be made from the Australian public and from civil society in Australia. What has not been the subject of that opportunity, though, are the 280 amendments that we only saw for the first time publicly yesterday afternoon and which, less than 24 hours later, we are debating in this chamber.

Those amendments have not been put through any scrutiny process at all in the context of this parliament, most specifically in the context of the Senate. That's why it was so disappointing that Labor and the coalition colluded yesterday to deny and oppose the Australian Greens' motion on the entire legislation—that is, the original bills that went into the joint standing committee on intelligence and security along with the recommendations and, importantly, the amendments that were drafted as a result of those recommendations that came out of the joint standing committee on intelligence and security. As I've said a few times, there are 280 amendments. We've had less than 24 hours to get across them. There's been no capacity for the Australian public, including civil society, to have their say directly through the processes of this Senate because the old parties got together, stitched up a dirty deal and voted down a Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry. So here we are again: a dirty deal through the closed shop of the PJCIS.

The Greens' position is on the record that the crossbench ought to have a representative on that committee. We simply reject the argument that has been made by Senator Wong today and by members of the coalition in the past that this process should be reserved for what they describe as 'the parties of government'. This Senate is about more than who forms government. To state the bleeding obvious, government flows from a majority in the other place, not in this place. This Senate as a chamber ought to be standing up for the right to have reasonable representation for the crossbench on that committee. It's a deal stitched up behind closed doors, but it's also a dud deal. There are still significant concerns with this legislation that it will criminalise peaceful protests and there are still significant and legitimate concerns that it will criminalise public interest journalism.

These bills mean that people could face 15 years in jail for a peaceful protest such as blocking access to a port where people are trying to load live sheep for export, and people could face 15 years in jail for blockading against the Adani coalmine, supported by the Labor Party and the coalition in this place. Journalists could face up to 25 years imprisonment for reporting on, for example, the Australian government spying on a foreign power, as we know we did with East Timor. They could criminalise a journalist for reporting that the Australian government is engaged in egregious human rights abuses, which we know they are on Manus Island and Nauru. I'll be going to these matters in detail once we get to the committee stages of these bills. As we've seen in the metadata laws stitch-up and as we've seen in the ongoing erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security, where we have witnessed, in the last 20 years, over 200 pieces of legislation passed through parliaments in Australia that erode fundamental rights and freedoms, the agreements between the old political parties are letting down the Australian people and are actually letting down our democracy.

Of course, it's not just the Australian Greens. In fact, we're proud to be in here today representing a large cross-section of civil society and reflecting their concerns about these bills as amended, and we're also proud to be in here with the capacity to place other people's opinions on the record. To start doing that, I want to quote from George Williams, Dean of the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law and constitutional law expert, who spoke about the legislation on 11 June this year. Before I quote him, I'll make it clear that he was making these comments before the amendments were public but with the capacity to understand the recommendations from the committee. Professor Williams said:

Even with the changes of the parliamentary joint committee, the bill will remain incomplete and dangerous. It will contain overbroad and uncertain definitions of critical concepts such as national security. The law also will undermine freedom of speech and of the press.

As in past inquiries, the committee has given low weight to these values. It has failed to put forward amendments to prevent journalists being imprisoned ... The possibility also remains that people who publish information about Australia's economic and political relations with other countries will face jail under new espionage offences.

So what we've got here is the government and Labor getting up and saying, 'Relax, people. Chill out. We've sorted it all out in the committee. Everything's fine,' and then we've got Professor Williams making it very clear that everything's not fine. One of the foremost experts on constitutional law, counter-terrorism law and national security law in the country is warning this parliament and the Australian people that everything is not fine and it's not okay.

But it's not just Professor Williams. There have been reports of comments from Ms Kate Eastman SC, who is the founder of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights. Ms Eastman informed The Guardian recently of some of her concerns. In the context of the provisions in these bills that criminalise the publication of certain information, the article said:

Eastman told Guardian Australia those concepts "could cover almost anything" that embarrasses Australia in the eyes of another country.

The Guardian says:

Eastman cited examples of reporting that Australia spied on the Indonesian president and his wife, spied on Timor L'Este, criticism of Australia's human rights record connected to its role on the United Nations Human Rights Council, or its treatment of foreign investment and major projects such as the Adani Carmichael coalmine.

So, we've got Ms Eastman raising warnings but the Labor Party, through its shadow Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, saying it's not correct that peaceful protest would be somehow criminalised. However, those comments were contradicted by Ms Eastman, according to TheGuardian. We've also got legal advice provided together. Because time will prevent me from quoting that at length in this speech, I will place that on the record later.

I want to conclude my speech by pointing out that while civil society groups—non-government organisations—are bound by the provisions in this law, corporations and politicians are exempt. It's the corporatisation of power in this country and in Western democracies around the world that is at the foundation of so much of the environmental harm that's being done and at the foundation of so many of the human rights abuses that are occurring. It's because parliaments have voted to hand over the power to the big corporates that we're seeing our ecosystem trashed and human lives treated like garbage. It's because parliaments have gutlessly withdrawn their capacity to control corporations and handed over power to the closed doors of the corporate boardrooms. To suggest that for-profit businesses that might be involved in, for example, poker machines—let alone organisations like churches or the Vatican—are less of a risk to Australian politics than non-government organisations and civil society groups is either woefully naive or wilfully negligent. These corporates have more influence, more resources, more power and closer connection to politics and politicians than do non-government organisations.

Now, very quickly, I need to be clear about the amendments. We have not had the opportunity to adequately scrutinise the 280 amendments to these two pieces of legislation, even to satisfy ourselves that they adequately reflect the recommendations from the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security. There is simply no way we have had the capacity to do that. That's why we voted against the government exempting these bills from the cut-off order. That cut-off order is specifically designed to ensure that this Senate has a reasonable opportunity to scrutinise legislation.

I accept that the Labor Party has been involved in a process that's made improvements, but I do not accept that those improvements have taken these bills to a place where this Senate ought support them. This Senate should reject these bills because, if passed, they will have a chilling effect on democracy in our country. As I said at the start, you don't protect democracy by smothering it. Public speech and public interest journalism are at the heart of a thriving, vibrant democracy and, if these bills pass, Australia's democracy will be less thriving and less vibrant than it needs to be. I move the first of two amendments circulated in my name:

At the end of the motion, add:

", and the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2018 be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 14 August 2018."