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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2206


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (18:26): As my colleague Senator Nick McKim has already indicated, the Greens will be strongly opposing the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2016, just as we have strongly opposed most of the erosions of basic freedoms that have been pushed through this parliament and previous parliaments over the course of the last 15 years. One of the most noxious elements of the current bill is that it purports to extend the operation of control orders to children as young as 14. For the people who may be listening, control orders are the instruments which allow a court to make an order, on the evidence of the Federal Police, that severely restricts the movement and the freedoms of an individual.

There has been much debate about control orders in the past. The former Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Bret Walker SC, said that there is no need at all for control orders—that is, control orders simply serve no purpose. Mr Walker pointed out that existing provisions are more than sufficient to achieve the purpose of keeping the community safe from possible acts of terrorism and other violence—that is, his belief was that the same could be achieved through existing provisions, existing laws. If there is any evidence that would justify the restriction of somebody's freedom on the basis that they are planning to commit an act of violence, then that person should be placed under conditions of bail or, indeed, remanded in custody. That is our view and that it is consistent with the view of Bret Walker SC.

Senator Xenophon just referred to the current Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, Mr Roger Gyles QC, who was a former Court of Appeal judge in New South Wales. He was also of the view that much stricter safeguards in relation to control orders are warranted. He has made it very clear that, if control orders are to exist, we need much stricter safeguards. So here we have two fine minds, two esteemed legal professionals, who have made it very clear that they see no case for expanding control orders and yet here we are in this parliament, after almost 15 years of legislation that has opposed very basic freedoms, with a government proposing to apply control orders to 14-year-old children. The Attorney-General's claim is that this measure is necessary because adults are now using 14- and 15-year-old children to get around the control order regime as it already applies to adults, but of course using that logic begs the question: what happens when this bill passes and adults work out that they can do what they were doing previously using 12- and 13-year-old children to get around control orders, or perhaps younger children? Should we apply them to 10-year-olds or eight-year-olds? Are we then to look forward to yet another bill in the future which extends control orders to children barely out of primary school?

In its submission to the inquiry of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security into the previous version of this bill, the Australian Human Rights Commission—and we do have respect for the Australian Human Rights Commission, unlike some others in this place—said:

The Commission is not aware of what evidence there is to support these claims—

that is, about lowering the age for control orders—

… However, they are, on their own, insufficient to demonstrate that allowing control orders to be granted for children between 14 and 15 would be necessary and proportionate …

It is a view that was echoed by a number of other organisations in their submissions to the same inquiry. We had the Muslim Legal Network's submission, which again said that on their own they are insufficient to demonstrate that allowing control orders to be granted for children between 14 and 15 would be necessary and proportionate.

The unfortunate reality is that this parliament has waved through far too many restrictions on basic freedoms and individual liberties. If we reflect on how a control order works in practice, we can see just how profound the impact is with the restrictions of individuals. Suspects who are subject to control orders might need to wear tracking devices. They might face curfews. They might be restricted from using phones and from communicating with particular people. They might be restricted from using the internet. All of this is in the face of suspects sometimes being denied knowing what the evidence is against them. They may not in fact be facing any criminal charge. These are people who are rounded up and sometimes not told what evidence the police may have against them. They may not be facing any criminal charge, yet they are faced with significant restrictions on individual liberties. Of course, any breach of a control order carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. You have to ask yourself: at what point does a democracy look less like a democracy and more like a police state?

I was having an interesting conversation with some members of the Muslim community, and a young man who migrated to Australia from the former Yugoslavia spoke about the nation that he knew and that he grew up in and how slowly the country he grew up in and loved changed with further restrictions on individual liberties and went from being a democracy to essentially a police state. His view was that many of these changes happen incrementally and chip away over time and, at some point, the nation you once knew becomes unrecognisable.

We have seen over the past 15 years an incremental chipping away at our basic freedoms and liberties. I say 'incremental' for most of these changes, but occasionally there are extraordinary leaps and the changes are significant. It is for that reason that Australia is now commonly recognised amongst developed countries as having some of the most restrictive anti-terrorism legislation in the democratic world.

I have said this on a number of occasions, as have many others: you do not remove freedom in order to protect it. That is not how you protect individual freedom. Removing freedom is not the way to protect it. You cannot protect liberty by locating more of it behind a police line. We have to remember that if you are fighting a real threat—and, of course, we acknowledge that there are significant threats—you do not do it by becoming more like the threat that you are facing. Of course we should be taking sensible, evidence based actions to prevent acts of terrorism and violence—no question. We understand that the threat is real. But the key here is that the response must be both sensible and evidence based. It needs to be proportionate and measured.

The tendency, sadly, of this parliament has been to simply sign off on more and more restrictions on individual freedoms, often on the vague justification of national security. It is a great shame that there has not been a full and frank debate in this place about what we are giving up. There has not been the scrutiny that is required of this sort of legislation, largely because we have seen both a government and an opposition that are too afraid of being seen as soft on terrorism to ensure that we have scrutiny of legislation that removes some of the most basic individual freedoms and liberties. Yes, there is an issue that needs to be addressed. We are seeing young people being radicalised and we are seeing people who are engaged in violent activities. Often they are groomed through the internet, sometimes via a particular self-proclaimed religious leader. They are recruited into a hateful ideology, the ideology of ISIS and many other extreme groups. We know that these are toxic ideologies and of course we should be doing everything in our power to prevent their reach to our young people. But people who work in this area, who are experts in the field of youth radicalisation and this extremist ideology, say time and time again that the very worst thing that the Australian state can do is to buy into the logic of fear, division and marginalisation. Unfortunately, that is what bills such as this one do. Again, let's remember what part of this legislation seeks to achieve. A 14-year-old child can be rounded up, locked up and have their freedoms restricted, all without charge, and for a breach face imprisonment for five years. It is social cohesion—not division, not demonisation and control and, more and more, not just surveillance of particular individuals—that is going to help keep our community safe.

We should acknowledge that it is Australia's very successful and quite unique model of multiculturalism—our celebration of cultural differences within our diverse Australian nation—which represents our greatest strength and our real protection from some of the acts that we have seen in other parts of the world. People of different cultures working together, going to school together, learning from each other, building trust within communities and creating families together are Australia's true strength and our best defence against this poisonous ideology. The most toxic effect of this bill and other, similar bills is that they do the opposite. They drive more fear and more division within our community. All you have to do is spend five minutes talking to members of the community who practise the Muslim faith to know exactly how they are feeling. They feel that they have been isolated, marginalised and demonised and they see division being sewn within their community.

Let's be clear about the impact of this legislation—I accept that it is not the intention but it is the consequence. Again, speaking to members of the Muslim community, when you hear young people say, 'We are afraid of putting deep roots into our community because we worry that at some point in the future we will have the authorities knocking on our door,' you know just how deep that fear is. Let's not beat around the bush here. There are some communities in Australia who will cop the brunt of this country's ever-expanding national security enterprise. As I said, I do not think that is the intention of the government or indeed the opposition when they put up and vote for bills like this, but everyone of us who votes in this chamber must be aware of the implications of our vote: that we are making our community less safe rather than more safe. Regardless of what we intend, we have to be aware that when we support bills like this we are ensuring that particular minority communities in Australia will be targeted even more, and that does not support our efforts at enhancing social cohesion.

It is for those reasons that the Greens are voting against this bill. We do want to keep our communities safe, but we do not believe this is the vehicle to do that. We do not agree that there is a basis for this legislation. We are deeply concerned at the continual erosion of our basic freedoms and liberties, because, when we give up those freedoms and liberties, those people with whom we are fighting—they win. We believe that ultimately this legislation will drive a deeper wedge between members of the community who are concerned about the impacts of terrorism and those members of the community who will be targeted by this legislation. We understand that Australia's diversity is our great strength. We understand that people of different cultures coming together, working together is how we combat some of the threats that Australia faces.

The Greens will be voting against the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2016 and we urge the government and, indeed, the Labor Party to rethink their position on this bill.