Back to All News

Tackling terrorism takes more than laws alone

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 24 Sep 2014

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (15:31): Today we have been debating the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, which is the first tranche of significant national security legislation, and this afternoon we anticipate the introduction of the second tranche, known as the foreign fighters bill. Both of these bills contain significant and far-reaching changes that will fundamentally affect some long-held values of our justice system and the civil liberties of every Australian.

The Australian Greens are committed to protecting Australians from terrorism-of course we are; we live in and of this community; our family and our friends live in this community-but we are also committed to safeguarding the rights of innocent Australians and ensuring that we do not, in the end, give up the very freedoms that we actually want to protect from terrorism. Make no mistake: public safety is paramount. So a fundamental question has to be: Will these laws really make us safer? To start with, the greatest threat to Australia's security is heading into an unwinnable war in the Middle East. The best way to make us safer in Australia is to bring people together and not to have division, suspicion, mistrust and violence. The Australian Greens support the intention of the government to prevent terrorism, but we are very concerned that these extensive and extended laws will be rushed through without sufficient scrutiny or input from those in the Australian community who are most affected.

Australia's counter-terrorism organisations already have very extensive powers. At times of heightened fear, suspicion and threat-the sorts of times that we are living in in Australia at the moment-civil liberties and established legal rights are more vital than ever. The foreign fighters bill includes an extension of preventative detention orders for a further 10 years. This is despite the COAG review of counter-terrorism laws recommending that they be repealed. It is also despite reports by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor that preventative detention orders are not effective, not appropriate and not necessary. In fact, the INSLM said that they should be abolished because they are worse than useless.

Indeed, today in the Guardian Mr Bret Walker SC, the former INSLM, was reported as saying that he did not understand why control orders and preventative detention orders were necessary given the powers already available to police and intelligence agencies. Mr Walker said:

The problem is that people think that passing laws makes us safer. Well not unless the laws are necessary because we lacked powers to keep us safe. The existing laws should be properly implemented.

In his response to my question today, the Attorney-General acknowledged that the national security legislation contains unusual and far-reaching powers. He also waxed lyrical about the coalition's role in the creation of the INSLM as a watchdog. Mr Walker's term expired in April. The government planned to abolish the position and presented a bill to abolish the INSLM in May. The government changed its mind in July but the position remains vacant to date and there has been no funding and no announcement as to funding. At a time when these extensive changes are being brought in, the Attorney-General has not been willing today to inform the Senate as to when the INSLM will be appointed-merely remaining coy about that and using a very ambiguous word like 'soon'. What does that mean? He did not answer the question about funding of the INSLM at all.

These laws come on the back of already extensive national security laws that we introduced in 2005. They contain restrictions and will have consequences that have the potential to affect every Australian-us, our children and our neighbours. Let's be clear: it is not the guilty we want to protect but the innocent-those who get caught up inadvertently and end up suffering from the curtailment of freedoms that these laws may usher. It is for that reason that we need properly considered and scrutinised legislation. We need an independent committee to look at these laws because, once they are on the books, they can be very hard to shift and what may be an initial and hurried response could change the landscape in Australia forever.

Question agreed to.



Back to All News