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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7632

Senator BROWN (10:16 PM) —Finally! I will not expand on this, because the government is indicted by its own words. We are seeing a deliberated, premeditated breach of international covenants which are fundamental to the democratic values and freedoms which this government says the legislation is to uphold. There may be a conflict here between legislation that the government says is necessary to defend us from terrorism and Australia's obligation to international law. If that is the case the minister should say so.

We are into a process here whereby the government knows that this bill breaches serially international covenants on fundamental democratic, civil and political rights but it does not have the honesty to say so. It knows that that is the case. The minister has indicated that that is the case but this government, headed by the Hon. John Howard, Prime Minister, is not honest about this legislation. If it were we could have a much more reasonable debate here. We could say, `This is a difficult situation.' Of course, we have to attack terrorism. We have to defend ourselves against terrorism, because terrorism itself is an attack on democracy, freedom and liberty. But we are not into an open and honest debate on this matter and on how we deal with the dilemma. We are into a debate in which the government says it is defending those values but knows that, through this piece of legislation, it is in breach of international laws upholding those values but will not say so.

I think honesty is a basic component of a healthy debate in a free parliament like this. Sometimes we do get terrible contradictory problems and this is one of them. But this debate is not helped by the government failing to admit the problem it faces. Once the government says—and this is the problem— `We can do what we like in internal legislation; we can cut down civil and political rights to sections of the community,' but will not admit that, then the process has no end. We have seen it with the detained asylum seekers. We are seeing it here in this legislation. We have to ask: where does it end? The problem is that it will go a lot further if we allow the government to get away with saying that it is not breaching anything here. That is a lie. Any minister or member opposite who gets up and says that would be confronted with the compelling evidence that that is a lie.

This legislation does breach international covenants. It needs tackling from that basis. But here it is being put forward by a government which has at best its head in the sand and at worst, and more likely, is being deliberately deceptive because it will not put to this committee its own advice on the matter, let alone a mature assessment of just how far this legislation does go in breaching those covenants.

I will try with Senator Faulkner—I might get a better go here. I want to follow up on Senator Nettle's line of questioning, which was about taking the word `detention' out and putting in the word `custody'. The MacquarieDictionary says that detention means keeping in custody. What does the opposition aim to achieve by exchanging these words? What does it fear in the word `detention' but feel comfortable with in the word `custody'?