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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 1146

Senator LUDLAM (1:51 PM) —If one phrase could sum up where this debate on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010 finds us today it would have to be ‘missed opportunity’. This process has been turning now for about two years, depending on what you consider the starting point. Senator Brandis said in his speech that nothing in the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill is particularly controversial and that we are not really extending or withdrawing any powers.

I will take issue with Senator Brandis on a couple of matters. I think there are some things in this legislation that are quite striking in their extension of the powers; but perhaps Senator Brandis has got the general gist about right—that this is a proposal to stand still and effectively do nothing. An enormous amount of work has been put in by a lot of people—in the legal community and more broadly—who are very close to these issues, about the gradual descent of Australia into what is effectively a surveillance state. Laws were passed in the heat of the moment after the horrific attacks on 11 September 2001 in the United States, and subsequent attacks, and these laws were not only badly drafted or never even enacted or used; they also clamped down on the rights of Australians to go about their lives, without there being any consequential increase in security or safety, and that case has in fact never been made.

I want to give the Senate one example of how dramatically out of balance the debate has become. Right at the moment on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin—and I know this has been the subject of some local controversy right here in Canberra—a gigantic complex is being built, costing about $585 million, in which we are going to house ASIO. I do not know exactly what it is about this secret agency that led them to believe they needed this enormous complex right in the Parliamentary Triangle on the shore of the lake, that will probably be visible from space, but there you go. The secret agency is coming out of the closet, it is tripling its staff numbers and its budget has increased more than sixfold to $438 million per year. That is ASIO. There is not a single amendment—not a word—in this bill that the government has brought forward. Despite a lot of evidence from people who are very close to these issues we have not touched ASIO’s act. There is not a single amendment in this legislation in response to many of the concerns that were raised over the last couple of years. ASIO’s budget has been multiplied by six and its staffing has been increased threefold. Similar things are happening to ASIS and to the Office of National Assessments so that the national security budget—now totalling about $4 billion—is going on against the backdrop of this process, which has proceeded at a snail’s pace. I will talk in a bit more detail about what it has been like working through this process under the current government and the one directly before it.

At the same time as that extraordinary increase in resources and staffing is going on, we have the office known as the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, which is an office that I have spoken of a couple of times. This is the person who would be assessing whether these laws of terror, every single word of them that are still on the books from the Howard-Ruddock era, are actually necessary or proportionate to the threats that we face—whether or not they make us safer. This is to be a part-time officer, supported by two part-time staff, I believe, out of the Prime Minister’s office.

It took the Senate about a year, I suppose, on the motion of Senator Judith Troeth, to pass a bill, with the support of the Greens—and with several amendments of the Greens—to bring this office into being. That was quashed in the House of Representatives. The government swatted that aside and said that they wanted to do it their own way. They came back with a vastly more feeble bill several months later, and eventually passed it. Six months after the passage of that legislation through this parliament, that officer has still not been appointed. I think that gives us, quite starkly, a very sound idea of where this government’s priorities lie: massive budget increases for the national security estate, the surveillance estate and the agencies that are tasked with protecting our security and our safety. But the officer, the one part-timer, whose job it would be to assess whether these laws are necessary or proportionate or whether they are doing anything at all to make us safer, has not been appointed six months after this legislation was passed through the Senate. That is how asymmetrical and out of balance this debate has become.

When these laws were passed, we do not believe that the right balance was struck between providing for national security, which is one of the most important responsibilities of the government, and the protection of our fundamental human rights, which is one of the other most important responsibilities of the Australian government. The balance was not struck originally and therefore, in this do-nothing bill, the balance is being struck inappropriately as well.

Before we go to question time, I want to put firmly on the record and remind the chamber, as I have done on many occasions before: nonviolence is one of the four core pillars of the Australian Greens policy platform. We strongly oppose the presence of any form of violent extremism within Australia. We are also committed to the principle of democracy and to the civil liberties that accompany a strong democratic system of government. We acknowledge the very real threats—faced by security agencies and by Australians here in this country and also overseas—that violent acts of terrorism pose to us and the damage that such acts claim to have on our democratic institutions and on our civil liberties. It is a very important principle on which the Australian Greens were formed, and we therefore condemn outright any form of violent extremism or violence in the pursuit of political aims—which of course is the reason that we are legislating.

We are opposed to the corrosion of democratic rights and civil liberties not only through violent means but also through nonviolent, or covert, means. We support the fundamental right to oppose government and corporate conduct through peaceful protest and through civil disobedience and therefore do not support any attempt to restrict legitimate political dissent in this country.

We believe that in responding to terrorism we must address the underlying causes of violent extremism by acting in conjunction with neighbouring countries and with the international community. Factors, including poverty and social exclusion, which lead to the vulnerable being susceptible to recruitment from extremist organisations, must be addressed both in Australia and abroad. I will acknowledge that in many instances, particularly on the publication of the white paper, the language had shifted very strongly from the Howard government’s ‘war on everything’ terminology to something that was much more nuanced and did acknowledge some of the underlying causes of the violence that we are seeking to combat. However, we believe that the restriction of fundamental civil liberties in pursuit of eradicating the threat of terrorism can be profoundly counterproductive and that the right balance must be struck between security and the protection of civil liberties and democratic rights that Australia has long desired to uphold. If Australians are prepared to give up fundamental civil liberties and their democratic rights, they will effectively be furthering the goals of the very extremist organisations that we seek to confront.

This legislation has been the subject of a public consultation process, with the release of an exposure draft of the bills in August last year. This is a process that the Australian government supported, and I would say to all government ministers that providing an exposure draft giving the public and the parliament an idea of the government’s intention to legislate is almost always a good idea, and this is a process that we supported. But then you have to hope that the government will listen to what is being proposed when people provide a response to an exposure draft of a bill. So we supported the process as something positive—and it is something that we engage with—as did many people in the legal profession and in civil society, on the understanding that perhaps the government would listen to some of the views that were put forward. Unfortunately, while the process for reviewing Australia’s antiterrorism legislation has improved, the outcome has remained exactly the same. Many of the worst aspects of the antiterrorism laws introduced by the Howard government remain in force and are even entrenched by the legislation that we are debating today.

Debate interrupted.