Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (12:05): Well, it sounds like the cold war has returned: Australia's at risk, the nation's under threat, foreign agents abound, threatening our democracy; possibly they've taken the place of the 'reds under the bed'. Clearly action must be taken, but fortunately the major parties are here yet again to save us! They're collaborating. And it's nothing new for Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals to collaborate when it comes to so-called national security measures. Since 2002, can you believe—you probably can, sadly—67 pieces of legislation, so-called national security bills, have come here, with the Liberals, Labor and the Nationals all lining up to pass them together, with insufficient security and massive overreach, time and time again. I acknowledge that only six of those 67 bills have come from Labor, but Labor just comes on board every time the coalition government uses the words 'national security'. They've got to take a stand. Our democratic processes, the fundamental way this country works, have been eroded for well over a decade now because of this so-called national security scare, and it is being misused for the benefit of a certain section of this society.
Senator Richard Di Natale named that so clearly, as did Senator Nick McKim, when speaking about the corporate interests, particularly in this bill here—the way the voice of so many organisations will be curtailed, despite the amendments that went through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The committee's recommendations put forward a number of amendments; some of them are useful. But still these bills are irresponsible. One recommendation, as Senator McKim set out, is that we should have had the opportunity to send it to a Senate committee.
We know we've got a big problem with this legislation because of the way it's been structured. Just going back to my theme about 'reds under the bed'—or foreign agents in this case, isn't it?—what we're left to conclude is that it's all these foreign agents, such as climate advocates, human rights advocates and many others working to make this a fairer, greener world. The organisations, the charities have now been looked after. That's good; we welcome that. But a number of not-for-profit organisations are out there advocating on so many important issues. Now, probably I and some of my colleagues wouldn't agree with them all, but that's not the issue. The issue is having the right to go out there and express yourself—take action, protest. But now the limitations and the penalties are quite extraordinary, so we shouldn't back these bills. Under no circumstances should that be the next step.
What former senator Scott Ludlam wrote in The Guardian today really summed it up:
… the government is quite deliberately turning "national security" into a weapon with which to protect corporate interests and attack its opponents.
They're former Senator Scott Ludlam's words, in The Guardian today, and I recommend that senators read his full article. It really does unpack the bill and pinpoint what a serious stage we are at in this country—not dissimilar to the unravelling of democracy that we're seeing in a number of countries: England, Hungary, the US. Shocking things are happening, often in the name of democracy, often in the name of national security. But it's an overreach, and it's an overreach in the interests of a very narrow section of society: that section of society that the coalition government backs, that section of society that is committed to making profits. Why do they want to curtail civil society? Because they don't want to have to deal with protests and actions. They just want to get on and make their money and not have to worry about environmental standards or abiding by workplace safety measures, et cetera. They just want to be able to get on and do the job. I know somebody will probably come back and say all unions are exempt, but, the way industrial relations are going in this country, it's still damn hard for people to be able to get their voices heard.
It is deeply shocking that Labor have gone along with these bills. They've abrogated their role as a party of opposition. They've abrogated their role in the Senate, where, clearly, we have a specific job to do: to look at these bills when they come before us. But it's been denied to all senators because of a deal stitched up as a way to fast-track this legislation as quickly as possible this week, and we're right in the midst of it now because the deal's in. They're trying to hang their hats on these 280 amendments. That's just an embarrassment, to try and make out that that's the solution here.
The danger still lurks within these bills. Take the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill: the term 'foreign political organisation' is retained. This is a really big problem with this bill, and Labor senators—I'm sure some of them can see this—are not being honest if they're not bringing that forward in the debate and at least acknowledging that something needs to be done here, rather than just giving it a tick—'Oh, we got all our amendments. Everything's okay; just put it through. Foreign agents? Well, we really do want to grab foreign agents because they're bad people'—without looking at the definition of who we're capturing.
The term, as I've said, is extremely broad and it's too ambiguous. This is where we can see how so many public interest not-for-profit groups that are not charities can be captured. This really goes to the essence of the major problem with what we're dealing with here. When I'm talking about groups that are public interest not-for-profits, I'm thinking of so many of the organisations that I work with: organisations that are refugee support groups doing extraordinary work, and activist groups in other countries. I'm about to go through a number of areas of work; it's a very rich part of our society. What it reminds you of is that, in this day and age, advocacy and protest actions are global. This lends madness to what we're dealing with here. It's madness from my point of view; it's a serious intent from the coalition government, because they do want to capture and silence the voices of so many of these groups.
Think of all those organisations here and in other countries that took action on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That was a collaboration between a range of organisations—and sometimes even government groupings were involved as well—understanding the seriousness of that piece of so-called free trade legislation and that it had to be taken on, and this broad global alliance was built up. What happens to all those people in Australia? Do they have to then declare that they're foreign agents? Another recent one that comes to mind—we had a motion about this one—is the five-year anniversary of the tragic factory collapse in Bangladesh. Groups in Bangladesh and organisations here and in many other countries have worked together, highlighting the problems with the Bangladeshi government. There are all sorts of interactions going on there. Again, these are the sorts of people that can be covered.
A very interesting one is cruel cosmetics. We have legislation before the parliament about that issue, about ending the testing of cosmetics and cosmetics ingredients on animals. The organisations that we're working with, Humane Society International and other groups, are working with governments and organisations around the world to advance these legal changes needed to outlaw cruel cosmetics in other countries. They'd be a cert to be captured by what's going on here, purely because of the very fine work they're doing. But, because of the loose term 'foreign political organisation', they could well be captured. The Great Barrier Reef is another one that, these days, is an issue that's being taken up by non-government organisations; many international organisations. At times, other governments are taking an interest in this. Again, the complexities here that this bill does not deal with are very serious, and the Senate needs to be very mindful of them.
I want to just go back to some of the work of the Parliament Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. As I have said, the PJCIS recommendations did not satisfactorily address either the definition of 'political organisations' or the term 'acting on behalf of'. Again, I really want to give emphasis to this because if we can't deal with that then both these bills need to be rejected, because they go hand in hand. This matter is very serious, and this is what we need to take on board. Groups that are not registered charities may remain exposed under this bill because of the failure of these sections. I repeat again: that's because of the definition of 'foreign principle' and the treatment of 'acting on behalf of' in the legislation. 'Acting on behalf of' and 'foreign principle' are both key terms, because they remain problematically broad. Put simply, something has to be done about them. And we need to ensure that we accept amendments on those key areas.
I understand that one of the recommendations has been to redefine the phrase 'foreign political organisation' to include only foreign political parties or organisations that field candidates in parliamentary elections. So there are proposals around, and Senator Nick McKim will bring those forward, as we do have amendments to move in this debate.
But again, it has been so hard to grapple with the legislation, given the speed with which this has been rushed through. I again emphasise: there are 280 amendments to the legislation; we saw them only yesterday afternoon. That is a shocking way to deal with the situation before us.
So I congratulate my colleagues: Senator Richard Di Natale and Senator Nick McKim have really set out the major problems we have with this legislation. It should have gone to the Senate committee; it should not be rushed through. And amendments need to be made so that we ensure that this whole issue of foreign agents does not further cripple our civil society and our democratic practices.