Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4088


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (11:17): The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill and the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill are part of what is effectively a Trojan horse to clamp down on civil society here in Australia. It is disgraceful that we have a supposedly liberal government that is prepared to introduce these laws. Worse still, we have these laws being passed with the enthusiastic support of the opposition. The fact that the Labor Party is facilitating these bills speaks volumes about their lack of courage to take on a government that is prepared to weaken our democracy. Now more than ever we need to stand up in defence of our democratic institutions. At a time when many regimes across the world are retreating into nationalism and authoritarianism, it is critical that here in Australia we protect and nurture our democratic institutions. If there is one lesson we have learnt from history it is that, across the world, over many years, movements like the civil rights movement, the struggle for women's rights and the peace movement were successful because they were built from the ground up by people coming together and exerting pressure on governments. What they demonstrate is that if we are to achieve progressive change in this country, and indeed right around the world, we need to support our democratic institutions and support those movements that ensure we put maximum pressure on governments, who will always retreat to the comfortable area of concentrating power in their hands.

The Turnbull government, cheered on by the ALP, seems determined to make sure we have a weak civil society in this country, one that is increasingly hamstrung and powerless. We expect that from conservative governments. This is part of the DNA of conservative governments. If we look at the Liberal National Party attacks on civil society, which began many, many years ago—well before it foreshadowed it's so-called foreign influence package—we witnessed the relentless criticism from the government on the independent Human Rights Commission and it's then commissioner, Gillian Triggs, because they didn't like what she had to say. We saw attack after attack, spurred on by a compliant corporate media, against somebody who was prepared to speak truth to power.

The Liberals established the Registered Organisations Commission with the express purpose of attacking unions. They established the royal commission into unions and, of course, have precious little to show for it. We saw the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters launch its inquiry into the last federal election. Of course, it was a platform for the likes of Senator Abetz and his cronies to criticise any organisation that might disagree with his and the Liberal Party's view. Right now, the Australian Electoral Commission is still investigating whether GetUp! is an associated entity that is a front group of not one political party but two very different political parties—so fathom that. We have Senator Abetz clamping down on civil society institutions, claiming that they're front groups not just for the Labor Party but also for the Greens.

We had the shameful, politically motivated raid on the Australian Workers' Union, all to determine whether the union gave donations according to union rules more than a decade ago. It was carefully orchestrated, with the media arriving before the raid occurred. The list goes on and on. There is clamping down on whistleblowers who seek to call out what is happening in detention centres offshore. It's part of a worrying pattern of behaviour, where governments that are in trouble use the apparatus of the state to silence dissent. What we're seeing now is part of a sustained attack on our democracy. And now we've got the government introducing this package of legislation that will create laws to muzzle civil society.

Of course, as I said, we expect this from Liberal governments. It's part of their DNA. There's nothing 'liberal' about this government; this is a government that has shown itself to be increasingly authoritarian. But what is most disappointing here is that that ALP has simply crumbled. You've got the Turnbull government here seeking to silence dissent and seeking to clamp down on civil society, and all with the complicity of the Australian Labor Party. And, of course, that's why both parties are rushing this legislation through the parliament. Let's remember that this is literally two days after a secretive committee on intelligence and security, one in which the Greens and other crossbench members are not participants, released more a more-than-300-page report. As a consequence of that, we saw hundreds of amendments made in the House, and we're now being asked to consider the impacts of this legislation. We know what's going to come next. It's only a matter of time before we see an hours motion, and we're going to be forced to pass this legislation at a minute to midnight, under the cloak of darkness, so that we don't fully interrogate and understand laws that are being passed in this parliament. It's no way to run a country, and that's why my colleague Senator McKim has repeatedly tried to refer this bill to another public and transparent committee for consideration.

There is no excuse for the Labor Party to deny us the opportunity to interrogate this legislation through a thorough committee process. And it is shameful that it is with the support of the Labor Party that we have seen any committee process that enables us to fully understand the extent of these laws being stopped as a result of their support of the LNP. The ALP could have taken a principled stance here. They could have taken a stance: they could have stood up to the government and said, 'We understand the need to ensure that we minimise foreign interference in Australian matters. However, these laws are far reaching.' They are extensive. In the words of many experts and analysts, 'They do take us closer to those authoritarian regimes we seek to defend ourselves against.' Because these laws have a whisper of national security about them, the Labor Party simply doesn't have the ticker to do it.

When we have national security being used in this parliament, it is almost always used as an excuse for a bipartisan consensus to ram through laws without any scrutiny. The effect is that the ALP and the government have come together to make Australian society less free and less democratic. Let's look at that legal advice we heard from our previous speaker. In the last few days we've seen legal advice that tells us the espionage bill could criminalise protests and the communication of opinions harmful to the Australian government. Somebody who is peacefully blockading entry to a coalmine could be charged with an offence under the espionage bill and could face up to 20 years in jail.

According to the founder of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Kate Eastman, criticism of Australia's human rights records or its treatment of foreign investments in projects such as the Adani coalmine could fall foul of these laws. Amnesty International is spot on when they say, 'These draconian laws proposed will make Australia more like the authoritarian countries this bill is supposed to protect us from.' That's not hyperbole. That's a statement of fact. It's a statement of fact from a respected international institution whose only mandate is to uphold and protect human rights across the world.

We don't for a second deny the fact that the Australian government should do what it can to counter undue foreign influence in Australia. We don't want foreign governments or foreign entities to influence what we do in this country. But if we're serious about that, if we are serious about restricting the impact of foreign corporations or foreign governments on Australian political activity, we know what needs to be done. The best way to tackle that problem is to dry up the supply of money. The only way to do that is to implement serious reforms that cap political donations and increase transparency. If you don't want foreign influence in Australia, stop the flow of money. Make it illegal to donate to Australian political parties. Make it illegal for foreign corporations and foreign governments to make massive donations to the Liberal Party and the National Party and the Labor Party. Neither side of politics wants that, because they benefit from the rivers of gold that flow from multinational corporations and entities associated with foreign governments.

We've been campaigning on donation reform for years. The recent Select Committee into the Political Influence of Donations, a committee that I chaired, has shown that cash is still king in Australian politics. If we want to end foreign influence let's put an end to the cosy relationship between big business, foreign multinationals and our political parties. Let's cap donations and let's cap spending. As things stand, dark money can flow into old political parties' war chests without any scrutiny as to what that money is buying. Look at the Minerals Council, for example. The Minerals Council of Australia is 86 per cent foreign owned. It's spent half a billion dollars of tax deductible donations, over the past decades, lobbying Australian governments. Why does it do it? It does it to influence what is going on in this place. It doesn't do it because it's a philanthropic organisation that wants to support democracy. It does it because it wants to exert influence over government policy.

We can have all the legislation in the world that seeks to curb foreign influence in Australia, but until we deal with the cancer that is the millions of dollars that flow into the coffers of both sides of politics, from huge multinational corporations, we will go nowhere near enough to curbing the influence that this bill seeks to do. If this government and the ALP were truly serious about countering foreign influence in this country, the first thing they would be doing would be legislating to cap political donations, not rushing through laws that criminalise dissent.

These are laws that clamp down on civil society. These are laws that may criminalise political protest in this country. These are laws that, rather than protecting us from authoritarian regimes, take us closer to those regimes we say we are seeking to protect ourselves from. These bills are a disgrace. We expect nothing more from the Liberal and National parties, but it is a sad indictment on the Labor Party that it is willing to support them.