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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 31

Senator BRANDIS (12:32 PM) —I note that Senator Wong was next on the speaker’s list, but with the lack of interest in this issue which has been characteristic of the government, she is not in the chamber.

Although the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Laws Bill 2008 [No. 2] is a private senator’s bill introduced by Senator Troeth and Senator Humphries, I want to indicate on behalf of the opposition that it has the opposition’s support. The principle behind the bill is a protective principle. It is to add to the armoury of parliamentary surveillance another mechanism designed to ensure that counterterrorism laws, which were amended so as to expand the executive and policing power of the state in extraordinary times by introducing into our laws extraordinary measures, are not allowed to become ordinary measures merely by the effluxion of time. Whenever the national security of the state is threatened as, in particular, it was after the events of September 2001 and October 2002, those of us in the Western democracies, and in Australia most particularly, felt that there had been a change in the nature of the threat to our democracy that required a legislative response that extended the policing powers of the state in ways that, in certain respects, had been unfamiliar to the legal tradition of this country.

The government and the parliament were of the view that some traditional protections should be reviewed and the policing function of the state should be extended through devices such as preventative detention and control orders, which were very controversial at the time, in service of the fundamental obligation of governments and parliaments—that is, to protect the public interest. But those of us who remember those debates also remember that the government which introduced them—the Howard government—made it clear that these were extraordinary measures. One of the most disappointing but familiar phenomena we see in parliaments is that laws are passed to deal with unusual circumstances and lie unrepealed on the statute books. Many of the provisions of which I speak were never sunsetted. There was a device of parliamentary review established and there were various other safeguard mechanisms put in place; nevertheless, they were not sunsetted. The mechanism proposed by Senator Troeth’s bill would create an office of independent reviewer of terrorism laws who could bring an objective and detached mind to the question both of the functionality of those laws and the necessity for their continuance. It is very difficult for me to see that that is other than a good initiative, particularly given the extraordinary nature of some of the powers which the laws have conferred. It is, as Senator Humphries has pointed out, a mechanism that has proved beneficial in other jurisdictions.

I was recently in the United Kingdom for the purpose of meeting the national security agencies in that country and looking at the operation of their counterterrorism laws. I met with Lord Carlisle, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws in the United Kingdom, and we had a very long discussion about how he discharged his statutory functions. I also had meeting with various national security agencies, including MI6, the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police Service and others. One of the issues that we canvassed was the utility within the United Kingdom of Lord Carlisle’s function. All of the national security agencies to whom I spoke in the United Kingdom, without breaching the confidentiality of those conversations, I think I am at liberty to say, strongly supported the apparatus of an independent reviewer of terrorism laws, in addition to the parliamentary oversight mechanisms.

Having sat through debates in this chamber and having heard what I thought were evidently at the time sincere protests by members of the now government about the impact these laws would have on the liberty of the subject and on traditional rights and immunities, it is more than passing strange to me to learn today that the government will vote against this bill. The bill in its original form was introduced into the House of Representatives by the member for Kooyong, Mr Petro Georgiou, whose presence in the gallery I acknowledge this afternoon. I am a little biased on this subject because Mr Georgiou is a friend of mine but I think I can say, without fear of contradiction by anyone in this chamber, that there is nobody in Australian public life who has taken a more principled and respected position in relation to the oversight of terrorism laws and the protection of the rights, liberty and immunities of the subject in consequence of the expansion of national security laws than the member for Kooyong. When Mr Georgiou introduced this bill into the House of Representatives last March, the debate was shut down by the government. If you look at the House of Representatives Hansard of 19 March 2008, you see that as soon as Mr Georgiou moved the suspension of standing orders that would enable his bill to be debated he was only able to get out the words ‘on a bipartisan basis’—

Senator Payne —So rich with irony.

Senator BRANDIS —Yes, it is so rich with irony, Senator Payne, that that it is beyond the wit of the scriptwriters of The Hollowmen. No sooner had he uttered the words ‘on a bipartisan basis’ than the Leader of the House, the member for Grayndler, Mr Albanese, moved that the member no longer be heard. That is how sincere the Australian Labor Party are about their professed concerns for the liberty of the subject! Mr Albanese’s motion, that Mr Georgiou be no longer heard, was then passed on party lines.

That is why it is of concern to those of us who actually do care about civil liberty. I acknowledge you, Mr Acting Deputy President Humphries, as one of the key participants in these discussions in the days when we were both on the government back bench and we were both participants in the backbench law and justice committee of the Howard government. I note that you and I and Senator Payne and Senator Troeth and others whom I see here strove hard to introduce safeguards into the antiterrorism laws. But there are those of us who mean what we say about this and there are those who only pretend to mean what they say.

I regret the refusal of the Rudd government to contemplate a measure which has worked very satisfactorily in the United Kingdom and would add to the Australian parliamentary apparatus of scrutiny to ensure that there is no overreach of the antiterrorism laws. This is consistent with the attitude of a government which refuses to debate this measure in the House of Representatives and is now determined to vote this bill down in the Senate. It will pass in the Senate, I believe, with the support of the Greens. But as the shadow Attorney-General, I call on the government to revise their position and to show, on this important issue of the liberty, rights and immunities of the individual in relation to this difficult issue of national security, that their actions match their rhetoric.