Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Bills - Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Sunsetting Review and Other Measures) Bill 2021

August 23, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (12:10): It's very nice to follow the member for Curtin. I think she captured the essence of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Sunsetting Review and Other Measures) Bill 2021 very effectively. I should say from the outset that, as you can well gather, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, we will support the passage of this bill. In doing so, this really does go to the heart of our national security framework. I think it's fair to say that at any stage where national security has been an issue before this House we on this side have always worked in a bipartisan way to ensure that any passage of legislation is seen to be beyond politics. This is absolutely no different.

The evolving situation around the globe at the moment is that the current terrorism threat continues to be relatively high, particularly when assessed in terms of what we need to do within the concepts of what is reasonable, necessary and proportionate. Those are the measures which actually underpin the assessment of powers in this bill. I note that the Australian national terrorism threat level is currently listed as 'probable'. This means that there's a credible intelligence assessment by Australia's security agencies indicating that individual groups have the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist act within Australia itself. To put that into some perspective: these statistics, provided in the explanatory memorandum to this bill, note that by 30 July 2021 136 people had been charged as a result of 64 counterterrorism related operations around Australia. There have also been nine attacks and 21 major counterterrorism disruption operations in response to potential terrorist attacks being planned in this country.

The evidence also shows that 65 Australians, including former Australians, in Syria and Iraq, who have fought with or who are otherwise associated with terrorist activity—whether based on religiously motivated violent extremism or not—remain active within the region. I'd like to add that information provided by the ASIO director-general, Dennis Richardson—who is no doubt known to most of us in this place—in his annual threat assessment report earlier this year, pointed out that there's a significant threat in this country from home-grown right-wing extremist groups. People associated with such groups have been responsible for some terrible acts, including, don't forget, Deputy Speaker, the horrific attack that occurred in Christchurch in New Zealand.

In this environment, it's important that legislation keeps pace with the threat. That's necessary to protect our nation and to ensure the protection of all Australians from the threat of terrorism. In essence, this bill extends the range of counterterrorism and other police powers in the Crimes Act 1914 and the Criminal Code Act 1995. Those amendments are due to expire on 7 September. Specifically, the bill extends for a further 15 months the following AFP powers: the control order regime, the preventative detention regime and the stop, search and seizure powers which are able to be exercised by the AFP. All three of these powers are currently being reviewed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The committee was due to table its report in January this year, but the inquiry is still ongoing. For that reason, it is necessary to extend the sunset provision to ensure that the committee is able to report. Without an extension, we could see significant consequences, including the invalidation of some or all of the existing control orders.

To digress slightly from the bill, I point out to the House that on 29 September we will be observing National Police Remembrance Day. It's a time when we will pause to acknowledge the contribution our police play in keeping our communities and our nation safe. Hence, in relation to this bill, it's necessary that we provide to our police and those responsible for our collective safety the necessary tools and legislative support—the powers—that they need to fight contemporary threats, whether it be crime or in this case terrorism. I would encourage all those people who serve their communities in this place to at least acknowledge, come 29 September, the role of the police in serving in their respective communities. And can I just say how disgraceful it was to see the protests that turned violent in Sydney and Melbourne and the attacks on our police, who were simply on duty to serve and protect our community. Clearly, what we saw reflects badly on people who took their protest so far as to attack those who are sworn to protect us.

To return to the bill, the bill also amends the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Act 2010. It gives the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor more time to finalise its review of another counterterrorism power—that is, the continuing detention order regime. It will extend the reporting date to as soon as practicable after 7 December of this year. This amendment was sought by the independent monitor and allows for continuing detention orders for high-risk terrorist offenders. The new reporting date will enable the independent monitor to engage in interstate consultations, which have been disrupted during this pandemic period. It also enables a larger body of evidence to be presented for its review.

Finally the bill extends the 'declared areas' provision for a further three years to allow the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to conduct a review of the operation, effectiveness and proportionality of the 'declared areas' provision prior to the new sunset date. The 'declared areas' provision allows the Minister for Foreign Affairs to declare an area in a foreign country if he or she is satisfied that a listed terrorist organisation is engaging in hostile activity in that area of the foreign jurisdiction. This deals with issues of foreign fighters. It deals with terrorist acts, as we previously saw in respect of Syria and Iraq, which, I hasten to point out, are no longer declared areas.

It also makes it an offence for a person to enter and remain in a declared area, subject to a number of limited exceptions—namely, providing humanitarian aid, performing a duty on behalf of the Commonwealth or visiting family members. It is also important to highlight that the Intelligence and Security Committee also recommended that the 'declared areas' provision be amended to allow Australian citizens to request an exemption from the minister to travel to a declared area for reasons that are currently not covered in the Criminal Code. This recommendation has not been picked up in the bill, and yet this is one we believe should have been dealt with as it was the unanimous recommendation by the committee.

While on this, we're not convinced of the government's arguments for not having it in the bill—namely, that it would significantly divert security and intelligence resources away from national security. As I pointed out, this was a recommendation which was unanimous. It was put by the national intelligence and security committee in a bipartisan manner. For that reason, the shadow minister has moved a second reading amendment, which I support, but I would hasten to add I support the passage of this bill. As I indicated in talking about policing and law enforcement, it is important we ensure that our powers for law enforcement and policing for protection of the community in relation to terrorist acts are such that our law enforcement agencies have the powers and the tools they need to keep our communities safe.