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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 3244

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (13:17): I'm no great fan of George Brandis, the former senator and former Attorney-General. We strongly opposed the laws that he got passed through this place to give greater surveillance powers over everyday Australians' activity online. Watching him in that famous Sky interview trying to explain what metadata was, as a justification for this big power grab, was like watching my dog trying to play chess. It was an absolute debacle from a government that was intent on power grabs without understanding why they were seeking what they were seeking.

When George Brandis, who has been on the inside of this government as the nation's highest law officer, says, 'Be worried about the conservatives within this conservative government and their ideological right-wing bent,' and says, when he has been out of the job for five minutes, 'I'm worried about what's happening inside this government,' and when the deputy Liberal leader, the member for Curtin, organises front-page articles in the Herald Sun to say that she is worried about the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, increasing his power in this country, including the power to spy on or surveil ordinary Australians, then alarm bells should be ringing. It's not just the Greens who are saying that if there's someone who deserves the full oversight of parliament and the full scrutiny of the people it's Peter Dutton, the member for Dickson; now his own colleagues and former colleagues are saying that this man cannot be trusted with the greater power to surveil everyday Australians. When they are prepared to say that something is going on in this government, we as a country should all be worried.

What is happening here is that this weak Prime Minister is doing what the Minister for Home Affairs has organised and got the numbers for. He has forced upon the Prime Minister this power grab over security matters—the likes of which we have not seen before. It is no wonder that his current and former colleagues are doing everything they can short of open mutiny to say: 'Hey, Australia, have a look at what is going on here. Something is deeply wrong.' As you go through the bill and the government's proposed amendments to the bill, you will understand exactly what is at stake.

Let's take the question of adverse security assessments, for example. We have seen people languish in limbo in detention centres because they were caught in a diabolical catch-22. They were told they were not eligible to come to Australia because they were a national security risk. When they asked to see the details so that they could respond, they were told: 'No, we can't tell you. It's an adverse security assessment from ASIO. We can't give you the right to respond.' So many people languished in detention for years without any justification all because they were in the situation where they could not respond to an assessment that was put on their file. They had no rights to challenge it, no rights of appeal. But at least that was not being done by the minister responsible for their immigration detention. At least there was another government department and another government agency. As a result of some of the pressure that was brought to bear over many years, we saw many instances of the notices being withdrawn and people being able to move out and live in the community. But under this bill and these sets of proposals, the home affairs minister is now going to accrue both powers: the power to keep someone in detention and also the power to say that they're a security risk but not give them the chance to respond. Those are powers that restrict peoples' liberty and movement, and these are people who have not committed a criminal offence. We are giving to Peter Dutton, the member for Dickson, unfettered power that will not be able to be subject to review by anyone, and that should send a shiver down the spine of everyone in this country.

It doesn't just stop there with respect to adverse security assessments. There are a number of agencies that are now going to come under this minister's control. At the moment, with respect to people who are on welfare, who are doing it very tough and trying hard to make ends meet, there are certain situations in which someone's social security payments can be taken away from them not through the person necessarily having done anything that was proven wrong by a court but just because of ministerial discretion. At the moment, there's a degree of protection because it requires two ministers to do that. When you consider that you're effectively saying to someone, 'You now no longer have any money on which to live,' there's a good reason why that shouldn't be vested solely in one person. But that's what this bill does. This bill gives the Minister for Home Affairs the power to say to certain people, 'You no longer get any money either.' Sole power! It is unreviewable power, in many instances.

It's not just about whether certain people are going to get locked up and it's not just questions about whether or not you're going to be able to survive because you don't have any money; we're also dealing with some of the key questions around peoples' right to move freely in society. At the moment, there's the capacity in certain situations to go and get control orders put on people—that is, they go to a court, and the court can say, 'Person X, even though you haven't committed a crime, we will restrict what you can and can't do.' It's worrying that a government can exercise that power—full stop—because it's effectively saying, 'We are worried about something you might do in the future, even though you haven't been prosecuted, charged or convicted yet.'

A government doing it is an abrogation of the separation of powers, which is why, in most instances in Australia at the moment, there are at least some minimal checks and balances in place. One of those is that, in most instances, it's the Attorney-General who has the power to go and do that, because it is seen as such a fundamental question of liberty that it should be the first law officer in this country who is able to go to a court to seek something so serious—very, very serious—as a control order against someone who has not committed a crime.

That has now gone. In many instances, that has now gone and is being transferred to Peter Dutton, the member for Dickson, the Minister for Home Affairs. What is the justification for that? What is the justification for an abrogation of such a fundamental liberty as the right to freedom of movement and the right to be presumed innocent if you have not been found guilty of committing any offence? It's for that reason that the Law Council said:

Given the extraordinary nature of these powers and the potential for restrictions on liberty involved, the Attorney-General should retain responsibility for their exercise. As the First Law Officer with broader policy responsibility for the administration of the criminal justice system and integrity functions, the Law Council considers it appropriate for the Attorney-General to continue to exercise powers and functions relating to potential restrictions on liberty. This approach would also be consistent with the proposed amendments for the Attorney-General to retain responsibility for powers and functions that have the potential to restrict liberty under the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (Cth) (e.g. questioning, and questioning and detention warrants). As a minimum, the agreement (i.e. not simply a consultation) of the Attorney-General should be obtained prior to the bringing of such applications and for matters subsequently arising out of proceedings.

The Law Council is telling us that this is such a fundamental departure from democratic practices in Western society that we should not do it. But the government does not care.

And when you have a home affairs minister who is willing to broadcast to the nation that certain people are dead to him because they happen to disagree with him, when he is happy to say that journalists, commentators and activists are dead to him because they dare to question him, this is not a man who should be given the unfettered power to go and seek control orders or to detain people or to cut off people's welfare payments. This is a man who should be kept on a much shorter leash, not given bigger powers, but that is what we seem to be about to do.

Everyone else in this chamber, it seems, is prepared to vote for this bill, and that is of grave, grave concern, because we could have the prospect in the Senate of stopping it proceeding. In exactly the same way as the opposition wants us to stand up to the government on a number of other matters, this is one matter that we could be standing up to the government on and should be standing up to the government on. I say to the opposition in particular: please reconsider your position when it comes to the Senate. Do not give this man unfettered power over people's liberty, over people's payments, over people's lives. This is a man who should be held to account. I very much hope that he gets turfed out at the next election, and I hope this government gets turfed out at the next election, and it may happen within a matter of months. If it's potentially going to happen within a matter of months, do not sign off now in this parliament on giving this man more power and on putting in place changes to the way that we deal with fundamental individual rights and liberties in this country, because we might not be able to get them undone after the next election. Who knows what the composition of the Senate will be at that stage?

We've got the opportunity to stand up to this government and to stand up to a very bad minister and to say, once and for all, 'You are not going to get further powers over the rights and liberties of people in this country who have not committed a crime, but instead we will hold you to account.'

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): The debate is interrupted, 10 seconds early, in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.