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Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Page: 9494

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (19:51): I rise to speak today on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015. I rise to express the Greens' concerns about this bill, which we believe is flawed in many respects but, perhaps even more worryingly, is in fact a very dangerous piece of legislation. We think the bill is of concern for three key reasons. Firstly, it erodes fundamental human rights and principles of law that have existed for centuries. Secondly, it focuses on dealing with the issue of violent extremism once a crime has been committed rather than focusing on prevention. Thirdly, a much more pragmatic but perhaps the most important reason is what, while this bill has as its core objective to keep Australians safe, it is our concern that this bill may in fact potentially endanger the lives of Australians rather than keep them safe.

Let me go to that point. If we force Australians who hold dual citizenship and engage in violent extremism to leave the country and not return to Australia, we believe that we are making the world a less safe place and therefore making Australia less safe. We do believe that, once somebody is guilty of having committed a serious crime, if they are convicted of acts of violent extremism either here or overseas, the best place for them is in custody rather than roaming the world to continue to inflict their violent acts. It is possible that some of these people will return to the theatre of war in Syria and engage in activities there—something that none of us would like to see—but we know that violent extremism does not respect or distinguish between national borders. If there is one tragic lesson from the events of Paris and, indeed, before that in Beirut and subsequently in Bamako, it is that making the world a safer place and protecting people from violent extremism requires a high level of diplomacy and cooperation between nations, but this bill does nothing of the sort.

Our concern is that, effectively, deporting somebody allows them to continue to perpetrate violent acts, whether it be, as I said, in those conflicts, or, as we know from Paris, in other areas where innocent victims are subject to the horrific activities of some of these individuals. One can also imagine that an embittered, hateful individual who has been deported from Australia might seek to organise in a way to deliberately target Australians, and it is for that reason that we do hold grave concerns about whether the passage of this bill potentially further endangers the lives of Australians.

We do have a duty to protect Australians but we do also have a duty to protect people from all nations as well as Australians who are travelling overseas and Australians who are living overseas—in fact, we know from the events in Paris that Australians were involved in the violence that occurred over there—but we cannot make Australia safer by making other countries more dangerous. That is what these laws, effectively, do. We are exporting people suspected of terrorism to other countries that are less able to contain the threat that they post and are therefore making the world a less safe place. Could you imagine if all countries adopted this approach. We would, effectively, be exporting individuals who are violent and filled with hate into a global marketplace full of displaced, disenfranchised and violent extremists. We do not think that is the appropriate response.

We think the appropriate response is to ensure that there is a strong domestic policing response from within Australia. We do agree that our security agencies should be equipped with appropriate powers and resources to do that job. Of course, there is some debate about what the appropriate level of those powers should be. But, ultimately, we think the safest place for Australian citizens who have been convicted of violent acts and who are indeed criminals is in custody here in Australia, not roaming the international stage.

On the second point, which is the focus of this bill—punishment rather than prevention—it is of concern to us that this government has taken an approach that is focused almost entirely on punitive measures and has not done enough to focus on prevention. It must be said that, with the change of Prime Minister, there has been at least a changing tone and changing emphasis, and we welcome that, but the critical task now is to invest in building social cohesion here in Australia.

There are many ways that we can do that. There are a number of programs that we know work that go directly to those individuals who might be vulnerable to the influences of individuals who are determined to cause a danger in Australian society. We need to invest more in those social cohesion programs. There are a number of them that have been successful. It means working with affected communities. It means working with young people. It means peer-to-peer activities and outreach activities to ensure that we do have an investment in prevention, not just in dealing with crimes once they occur.

That is the second area of concern for the Greens. We do worry that the government—certainly up until very recently—has focused almost exclusively on the punitive end of the spectrum when we know the greatest dividends are to be gained through prevention and working with those affected communities.

Of course, there is the issue of this legislation really violating some quite fundamental principles of human rights and law that have existed for many centuries. We have heard many of those concerns expressed from a number of constitutional lawyers, human rights groups and community organisations. In fact, we heard from the Human Rights Commissioner. They have all objected to parts of this legislation.

Ben Saul, who is a professor of international law at the University of Sydney, said:

For a democracy ostensibly committed to liberal values, basic rights and the rule of law, this Bill is particularly bad, even by the low standards of some other Australian counter-terrorism laws. It should not be passed …

…      …   …

Exiling or banishing Australian wrongdoers is primitive, medieval, simplistic, and dangerous.

That, of course, reflects some of the concerns we have around this legislation.

   Kim Rubenstein, Director of the Centre for International and Public Law said:

What the Parliamentary Committee of Intelligence and Security report and both major parties in our Parliament have failed to address is the bill's core weakness, which no amount of tinkering can amend.

That is why we will not be focusing on amending this piece of legislation but voting it down in its entirety. He goes on to say:

Its central object, of banishing certain Australian citizens, undermines the rule of law itself. In doing so, it diminishes the protection of people from the exercise of excessive and overreaching political power.

There were a number of other organisations. For example, the Human Rights Law Centre say the provisions of the bill are likely to breach international human rights law. They go on to say that the bill does not provide sufficient due-process safeguards around the removal of citizenship. They also had a number of other concerns.

The University of New South Wales law professor George Williams, himself a constitutional lawyer, suggests that the legislation put forward by the government has 'cast the net far too wide'. He believes that, with regard to the extension of section 29 of the Crimes Act, activities such as destroying or damaging commonwealth property, which would appear to not necessarily require any connection to terrorism at all, might actually catch someone who is involved in vandalism. That is clearly of concern, and Professor Williams, being a noted constitutional lawyer, is somebody who needs to be listened to. He says that possessing a 'thing' connected to terrorism is an open-ended term and is not defined.

The Australian Lawyers for Human Rights said:

While it is said that judicial review of Ministerial decisions is possible, the fact that no reasons need to be given by the Minister makes review effectively impossible. There is no transparency or accountability. The provisions overriding existing obligations to give reasons and to abide by the rules of natural justice should be removed.

I suppose the final word, in terms of legal opinion, goes to Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Sydney, who said the bill is 'a consequence of making policy on the run and pursuing thought bubbles and sound bites … a textbook example of the sort of fiasco that occurs when processes are not followed'.

We have huge concerns about this legislation. We acknowledge this is a hangover from the previous Abbott administration. We acknowledge that, if reports are to be believed, the Prime Minister resisted any further moves in this area. It is remarkable to contemplate that the legislation was, originally, not just directed at dual nationals but also at sole nationals, at Australian citizens; effectively, under that proposal, rendering individuals stateless.

It is a shame that the new Prime Minister had an opportunity to really shed himself of some of these, as Professor Twomey describes, 'thought bubbles' and 'sound bites' when it comes to making policy and had the opportunity to really change tack, to head in a new direction, to move towards much more sensible responses to the very serious issue of violent extremism. Yet what we have instead is legislation before this parliament that violates those fundamental principles. It focuses on, I think, the wrong part of this issue and on actions once these crimes have already been committed. At a very pragmatic level, it runs the very real risk of making Australia less safe rather than more safe. It is our view that once somebody is convicted of having committed a serious crime, and these are very serious crimes, then the best place, the safest place, is for those people to be in custody here in Australia.