Nov 28, 2005

Anti-Terrorism Bill (No. 2) 2005


Second Reading

28 November 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (8.18 p.m.)—In our fight against terrorists and terrorism, we must be very clear about what we are fighting for. Our freedom and our values are threatened by terrorism. In responding to such a threat, we must ensure we do not overreact and in so doing threaten those values ourselves. Our response must be strong, effective and consistent with our democratic values and freedoms. Labor recognises the need to equip ourselves not only with the operational capacity to fight terrorism but with the legislative capacity to suppress terrorism within our own borders. We must be vigilant in taking measures to protect the community from terrorist threats; we must be equally vigilant in protecting civil liberties and democratic freedoms. These principles cannot be traded off against each other. We cannot protect our freedom by sacrificing that freedom.

Given the Howard government has form when it comes to playing politics with national security, Labor must also be vigilant to protect the community from the manipulation and excesses of John Howard and Philip Ruddock. The simple fact is: Australians have been grossly deceived many times by the Howard government over our national security. ‘Children overboard’, going to war against Iraq—allegedly to find weapons of mass destruction—and the culture of deception in DIMIA have all undermined Australians’ trust in their government. In 2001 Australians were told by the Howard government that asylum seekers represented a threat to national security. We were told by Peter Reith on 13 September 2001 that there was:

… a pipeline for terrorists to come in and use your country as a staging post for terrorist activities.

We were told that these people were illegals who would never set foot on Australian soil, and the Pacific solution was established at the cost of $220 million, or $500, 000 for every man, woman and child picked up by the Tampa. To underline the allegedly inhumanity of these asylum seekers, we were told that they had thrown their kids overboard.

The imagery was stark. For every parent, the concept that a person could drown their own child to gain personal advantage was chilling. We now know that, within a short time, senior government ministers knew that this was not true. They knew that defence personnel had been misused, that photographs had been manipulated and that electoral advantage had been put before common decency. And who were these people? Most of them were found to be legitimate asylum seekers fleeing the regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Specifically, 424 of the 433 asylum seekers picked up by the Tampa were Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Having vilified the opponents of Saddam and the Taliban, the Howard government then determined to go to war against the very regimes the asylum seekers had fled. They saw no irony in this. And what was the justification for war? In his televised address to the nation on 20 March 2003, Prime Minister Howard said:

We are determined to join other countries to deprive Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, its chemical and biological weapons, which even in minute quantities are capable of causing death and destruction on a mammoth scale.

They were the words of Prime Minister Howard but, only a year later, with no weapons of mass destruction found and this justification for war lying in tatters, Mr Howard and his colleagues reinterpreted history and emphasised regime change as the justification for the war. This contradicted the Prime Minister’s address to the National Press Club on 13 March 2003 which ruled out regime change as the reason for the war in Iraq.

The fact is that the Australian people were told we declared war on Iraq in order to deprive Saddam Hussein of his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons did not exist. We went to war on a lie. The Howard government made fraudulent claims about the existence of WMD and used doctored intelligence reports as the basis of those claims. At a time when careful judgment and leadership were critical, the Howard government was playing politics. The simple fact is that Australians are at greater risk today because Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war has made our country less safe. Later, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Defence and senior Defence officials seriously misled the Australian parliament and people about what the government knew and when they knew about the abuse of prisoners in Iraq.

This is a government that has wrongly detained at least 220 people in flagrant breach of our immigration laws and has illegally deported an Australian citizen who it assumed was an illegal sex worker. The culture in DIMIA was developed when the present Attorney-General was its minister, and that culture has produced a litany of abuse and mismanagement, leaving a trail of human misery. This is a government with form and a terrible legacy of playing politics with national security. Given this record, it is understandable that people are suspicious of the government’s new antiterrorism legislation. I also believe that the threat of terrorism is too serious to play politics with. Many people I have deep respect for are completely opposed to all of these measures.

The first position which must be established is this: is there a real threat to our security from terrorism? The answer to that is yes. That is an important distinction from the other security issue of asylum seekers and the Iraq war which were based upon promoting fear on the basis of lies and distortions. There has been a rise in adherents to a fundamentalist and extreme ideology which is fascist, misogynist and militant in its strategy. Whilst an academic analysis of the causes of this rise of extremism is of interest, it does not abdicate the responsibility that governments have to protect their citizens; nor does it console the families of victims of this extremism. The extremists do not act in accord with any faith, as evidenced by the fact that most of the victims of terror have been Muslim.

I have a view that it is reasonable to be cautious on these issues, for if you are wrong and someone you love is travelling on the Sydney train line that is targeted you do not want to regret not taking any measure that could have prevented that attack. The question is therefore not whether the legislation should be carried for the changed circumstances but what is effective in achieving the objectives necessitated by these changed circumstances. Individual liberties must be balanced by having regard to the collective interest.

Back in 2002 and 2003, when the parliament first considered the antiterrorism legislation and the ASIO bill, Labor amended the legislation to get the balance right. Let us not forget that the ASIO bill, as introduced on 21 March 2002, would have allowed children as young as 10 years old to be detained without their parents’ knowledge, without any representation, and to be strip searched and held indefinitely. So extreme was the draft that the Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD unanimously recommended 15 substantive changes. The Prime Minister declared Labor’s amendments made the bill unworkable, but eventually it was amended and carried. The Director-General of ASIO, Dennis Richardson, stated to a parliamentary committee on 19 March this year:

I would note that … it has worked very smoothly so far. To be frank, there was a concern … the legislation would be unduly complex and difficult to administer. The legislation that was initially introduced into the parliament with our support and advice was much simpler and was, of course, tougher. We debated among ourselves whether the compromises … would make it unduly complex. Our concerns were misplaced. We were wrong in worrying about it … the balance … has so far been very workable …

Only laws which properly balance being tough on the terrorists while at the same time protect our democratic freedoms are good laws. They are only strong and effective laws if they get that balance right. It is critical the new laws make our community safer, and it is equally important the community feels our hard-won democratic freedoms are not compromised.

I respect the ultimate sacrifice of so many Australians in the fight to defend freedom, and I believe we honour their sacrifice with our vigilance and defence of freedom and of Australian values. Migrants to Australia since the Second World War fled dictatorships in their personal search for freedom and a safe place to bring up their families. Many of those migrants came to the part of Sydney I represent. Whether from war-torn Europe, Asia or Africa, those families have an acute sense of freedom because they often felt the harshness of brutal, undemocratic dictatorships first-hand. So it is absolutely essential in our defence of freedom that we do not give an inch to the terrorists, and it is essential that we defend the pillars of freedom in Australia that so many have sacrificed their lives to defend.

At the state and federal level Labor has pushed the Howard government for better safeguards in the antiterror laws. Labor supported the COAG decision for nationally consistent counter-terrorism laws. We supported it because for four years we have been calling for such an approach. We need strong, balanced laws. However, when the ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, posted the draft legislation on his web site it was glaringly obvious close scrutiny was required. The Attorney-General, in his highly cynical, arrogant way, criticised Jon Stanhope for releasing the draft legislation but then later claimed Jon Stanhope’s actions had helped community consultation about the bill. I pay tribute to Jon Stanhope’s action. We should be used to such cynicism, however, from the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General is the high priest of cynicism and does not even blush when wearing his Amnesty International badge.

It was only under Labor pressure that the government caved in, giving the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee until today to report back. Thankfully, the legislation we see here today is very different from the draft posted on the web site of the ACT Chief Minister almost a month ago. Its evolution reflects Labor’s determination to get the balance right, to demand the time to carefully scrutinise the bill and to suggest changes.

And so in the legislation before us we have achieved the abandonment of the shoot-to-kill provisions and a much improved judicial scrutiny of control orders. At the confirmation hearing for such an order the subject will have access to a summary of the reasons for the order and will be able to make arguments about why it should not apply. Now the judge has to specifically balance the need to protect the public against the potential loss of liberty for the subject of the warrant. The redrafted bill now has clearer rights of review in preventative detention, which include the right to receive a summary of the reasons for detention and a clear requirement that the issuing authority must re-examine the police case. There is also the right to judicial review of the lawfulness of the preventative detention order and a right to a merits review with possible compensation after the detention. And, importantly, there is now a legislated independent review after five years.

The Labor premiers and chief ministers have forced the Howard government to dramatically alter its plans in the key areas of control orders and preventative detention orders. The Labor premiers’ success in having these powers totally rewritten must be acknowledged. Judicial oversight of these matters was a threshold issue that federal Labor set out prior to the COAG meeting. This legislation would be unacceptable without those changes. The amendment moved in this House by Labor leader Kim Beazley includes measures to further strengthen the review and accountability mechanisms. For example, Labor’s amendment to the bill calls for the creation of a federal public interest monitor to provide that protection for all Australians. Labor’s amendment also calls for the creation of a police integrity commission to oversee the Australian Federal Police. This is particularly important given their greater powers. We also need to change the sunset clause. Ten years is not a real sunset clause; it is a political lifetime. Labor’s amendment reduces that to five years, with an independent review after 2½ years. This parliament imposed a three-year sunset clause on the 2002 antiterrorism laws, together with an independent review. The United Kingdom’s 2005 antiterror laws are subject to a one-year review. These are all important measures in getting the balance right, and the government should support Labor’s amendment.

The government has clearly not got the balance right when it comes to sedition. I consider the offence of sedition to be absurd. It is a nasty add-on by a nasty, cynical government. In Australia there has always been a big difference between comedy and crime. We have always been big enough to accept that having a laugh at the expense of a politician was a national sport, not a threat to national security. Unfortunately, the Howard government wants to change all that with the proposed new sedition laws. The government’s proposed laws define ‘seditous intent’ as an intention ‘to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt’ or to urge ‘disaffection’ against the Constitution, the government of the Commonwealth or either house of parliament. Given the current crop of government ministers, you can see why comedians are worried!

The offence of sedition is a serious impingement on free speech, and it has been rightly relegated to the dustbin of history. I understand that the last prosecution for sedition was in 1960 when Brian Cooper, an officer of the Department of Native Affairs, was prosecuted for urging ‘the natives’ of Papua New Guinea to demand independence from Australia. Now the Howard government wants us to ignore the lessons of history and resurrect these dangerous laws. Sedition laws only exist in Zimbabwe, North Korea, Malaysia, Syria, China, Cuba and Singapore—hardly a model for Australia. Little wonder that artists, musicians and comedians have expressed their concern about the proposed new sedition offence. The fact is that under this law no genuine commentator or religious or ethnic group leader wishing to participate in legitimate debate on the topic of terrorism could be certain that his or her conduct would necessarily fall outside the ambit of the offences in this bill.

There is no doubt that the proposed new sedition offence raises fundamental issues of freedom of speech. It may well criminalise support for independence movements such as the African National Congress. These laws could criminalise much of the political activity which parliamentarians engage in. I certainly have no intention of being silenced on political issues as a result of these laws: I will continue to be outspoken on issues of environmental sustainability, I will continue to be outspoken on social justice and I will continue to be outspoken in opposition to Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war. The sedition offence is absurd, and the notion that I could be jailed for doing my job is absurd. The Attorney-General admitted the sedition laws in this bill are faulty by announcing a review of them in the same speech in which he introduced them. In question time, the Attorney-General could not even explain to parliament how these sedition laws will work. He claimed that he could not discuss them because they are still being negotiated with the states—yet the sedition laws are solely a federal government initiative. The sedition laws are not an integral part of the antiterror laws. It is absurd to ask the parliament to vote on laws that are known to be deficient and will immediately be subjected to a review launched by the very person who introduced them. The proper course is for the parliament to accept Labor’s amendment, delete the sedition provisions altogether from the bill, have the review and then introduce decent laws that say clearly and unequivocally what the parliament wants them to.

During this speech I want to take the opportunity to appeal for tolerance of and support for our multicultural society. There is no doubt that the occurrences of racist attacks against members of the Islamic community have increased in recent years. The ideology of al-Qaeda contradicts Islam, just as the actions of fundamentalist Christian Eric Robert Rudolph, whose most notorious bombing was during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, contradict Christianity and just as the act of Jewish extremist Yigal Amir, who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, contradicts Judaism. The media must resist sensationalising these issues. Piers Akerman stated in the DailyTelegraph that the ‘problem for Muslims is not the handful of unfortunate attacks by half-baked rednecks’ but the support they have received from politicians ‘such as Anthony Albanese’ which has prevented Muslims from ‘integrating fully into the community’ and has ‘ensured their ongoing isolation’. I rang Mr Akerman and invited him to my electorate of Grayndler to see how multiculturalism works in promoting respect, tolerance and harmony.

Just last Wednesday I attended Marrickville High School’s Multicultural Day. Students performed dance and music from their cultural background, there were 15 magnificent food stalls and parents and community members made the day a major event. For just a dollar you could have a falafel from Lebanon, pig from a hungi from Tonga, satay from Indonesia, souvlaki from Greece, prawn rolls from Vietnam or other delights. The highlight had to be the Japanese school group sharing a traditional dance with Indigenous youth.

Yes, I am proud to be a supporter of the Islamic community, as I am proud to be a supporter of the various Christian denominations, as I am proud to be a supporter of the Hindu community and as I am proud to be a supporter of the Jewish community. The suggestion that this makes me a bigger problem than the racist rednecks who attack Muslims is extraordinary and offensive. Attacks based on race or religion should not be easily dismissed. Two weeks ago, Mr Harry Walia, a Sikh travelling to work, was attacked on Tempe station. He was verbally abused as ‘Osama’, jostled and had his turban removed and thrown away. I have spoken to Mr Walia, who was very shaken by these events. The DailyTelegraph was responsible in its reporting of this event.

Tolerance must be cherished. It is the terrorists who are defined by their lack of tolerance. We must oppose intolerance in all its forms. Labor will not allow terrorism to undermine or destroy our society or the principles upon which it is built and which so many have fought for and died to protect. Labor will act in the national interest, as we always have, to place the safety and wellbeing of Australians first. We will be pursuing our amendments here and in the Senate.

There is a difference between the situation now and what Labor were able to achieve in 2002 and 2003. Now the government has a majority in both houses of parliament. That requires a change in Labor’s strategy, but we are fighting for these amendments to be carried. We fought for the Senate committee, and I am pleased that at least some of that has been recognised. I would urge the government, particularly its senators, to look closely at Labor’s amendments and concerns and to vote for the amendments. If in the end the government rejects these amendments, we will go to the Australian people committed to making these amendments part of an initiative of a Beazley Labor government.