FRIDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2014
SUBJECT/S: National Security Legislation; Ebola; Comments of Professor Barry Spurr; Iraq.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: We welcome the unanimous report from the Parliamentary joint-committee on intelligence and security. It has made a number of significant bipartisan recommendations which we now expect the Government to consider. There is no doubt that our security agencies need the right laws to keep Australia safe. But with these enhanced laws come additional responsibilities - the responsibility to ensure that we have the right oversights to ensure that the liberties of our citizens are not in any fashion diminished by these changes. The intelligence committee has made a number of reasonable recommendations to this effect and Labor will consider this in detail.
I wish to personally thank the Labor members of this committee who worked so hard with Government members to make improvements to the initial legislation. Protecting Australians and securing Australia's future is the highest priority of any Government. I believe that the work of this committee by making its improvements has significantly contributed to this goal. I might ask the shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to make some more specific remarks.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Bill. The Labor members of this intelligence committee have worked very hard with the Government members in quite a short time to produce a very substantial report which makes a number - some 36 - substantial recommendations for improvements to the bill that the Government had brought forward. In particular, I mention the recommendations that the committee has made on a bipartisan basis that very much suggest to the Government that the ten year period that the Government had provided for a number of exceptional powers to be sunsetted in should be knocked right back to two years after the next election. That's a recognition by the committee that these extraordinary powers are powers for exceptional circumstances, but they're ones that need to be kept under review and that's also why the committee has recommended that there be a legislated review by the independent monitor and by the intelligence committee to make sure that those extraordinary powers don't stay there forever.
One other thing to mention is that again, the committee in its report on the first bill made a very strong recommendation to the Government that the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor should be immediately appointed and I'd like to again endorse that recommendation of the intelligence committee, the position should not be allowed to remain vacant at a time when the parliament and the community of Australia is looking at the very subject that the independent monitor is established to deal with.
SHORTEN: Before we take any questions I'd like to make some additional comments about the Ebola crisis. The outbreak of Ebola disease in West Africa is a most serious mounting international crisis. The US Centre for Disease Control has said that the number of Ebola cases could reach 1.4 million by the end of the year. The United Nations has said there is a 60-day window to deal with this crisis.
The best thing that we can do to stop Ebola from further spreading and becoming a crisis for the world, is to contain it in the region where it has started. We need more money from Australia and we need more of our Government Ministers to pick up the telephone and to talk to their international counterparts about what the Australia can do to prevent this unfolding international tragedy becoming an unfolding international calamity. Government ministers need to address this issue most seriously and personally, rather than leaving it just to our public servants to deal with. We need a Government to stop sitting back and waiting till Ebola reaches our region. The best way to prevent a further spread of Ebola is to contain it where it has started and not ignore the problem until too late.
Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Just on Ebola, can you spell out exactly what you think Australia should do. Should we send Australians there and if so to do what?
SHORTEN: Obviously in terms of treating it, medical experts in both Australia and elsewhere, have said that the addition of volunteers from Australia with the right skills will help in term of preventing the further spread of it. Clearly keeping our people safe as they go into harm's way has to be paramount. We need no lectures about maintaining the health and safety of this volunteer workforce, but if other nations can find the energy and the capacity to deal with this, so should we. The idea that by pulling up the draw Bridge and pretending it couldn't affect us here and therefore it’s not our problem and the issues are too hard and beyond the wit and wisdom of Australian compassion and ingenuity are not satisfactory. How is it that one businessman, Mark Zuckerberg, can give more money than the whole of Australia. This is an international humanitarian crisis and requires Australia's extra energy and commitment.
REPORTER: Extra energy in term of money or personnel?
SHORTEN: It can take the form of extra resources, if there are volunteers who wish to go and help, then we need to ensure that they are safe, that goes without saying. But how is it that other nations can find that it is important enough for them to deal with and we just hope this disaster passes us by? What has to be done of course, is that the volunteers have been as safe as possibly can be. But it's not a question of even what Labor thinks: I think Australians recognise that if you don't deal with a problem at the source of the outbreak, and wait till it comes to our shores then that is too late.
REPORTER: Do you think members and resources from the Australian Defence Force should be sent?
SHORTEN: I believe that it has to be a voluntary context but I also believe that we can do more to work with the rest of the world to tackle this problem. There are people who are medical experts, there are people involved in disease control all around the world, there is the capacity for Australia to do more than what we are doing and if we don't then we become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
REPORTER: This has become a political football, the Prime Minister said it shouldn't be that way, do you think that has become the case and shouldn't this be a bipartisan approach?
SHORTEN: Doing nothing is not a recipe for a bipartisan approach. We don't want this issue to be a political issue, the problem is though that thousands of people have died from Ebola and many more will die as we speak. The question is, are we part of the greater world and part of the bigger world or do we think that Australia can put its head in the sand and pretend this problem will disappear? It's clear from what global medical experts are saying that this problem will become a bigger problem, it is not a recipe for dealing with a disease where thousands of people are dying to hope well it won't come here or that we can just quarantine Australia indefinitely. If we adopt that approach, I'm afraid that we will be here in later days and weeks and months saying down the track "if only we'd done more before now” and I don't want to take a risk with Australians’ health - without some want of effort now, we have bigger problems down the track.
REPORTER: On the recommendations from the committee, are there any which you think you are unlikely to agree with?
SHORTEN: Labor will consider this in detail. I'll ask my colleague Mark Dreyfus to go through the process a bit more in a moment, but as I said at the outset, the joint committee in terms of security and intelligence has worked hard, six Government members, five Opposition members, they've come up with unanimous recommendations for change and improvement and I thank the effort of our Labor members for the hard work with Government members to make as Mark has said 36 suggested improvements. We hope the Government takes this report and considering it in detail. I might ask Mark to talk a little further.
DREYFUS: Yes, the five Labor members of the committee have worked very hard over the time they had with the Government members of the committee, they are unanimous recommendations by all 11 members and what they call on the Government to do, is to make some substantial changes to the bill that it put forward. We'll be waiting to see what the Government's response is to those 36 recommendations, we'll be examining closely the redrafted provisions of the bill that the committee has recommended be brought forward and looking at of course at the bill as a whole to see whether it's sufficient to see whether it has been improved as the committee has recommended it should be, and then make our decision as to whether or not we'll be supporting the bill in the parliament. But at this point, provided the Government agrees to the recommendations, and provided the Government brings forward satisfactory amendments, and provided – I’ve got a few provisos - that the Government gives the explanations that the committee recommended, I think we could get to a position where Labor will be able to support the bill.
REPORTER: Will Caucus get a say on it?
DREYFUS: Of course. This will go through our processes, it will be taken to the Caucus committees, to the Caucus itself and of course Shadow Cabinet will be looking in detail at what the Government is proposing but at the moment we're not fully through the process. We have to wait to see what the Government's response is to the recommendations of the committee.
REPORTER: Are you comfortable with the world ‘promoting’ in the legislation, talking about inciting terrorism, isn't it too broad?
DREYFUS: That's a very good question and it's something the committee would agree with your question on, because it's recommended that the Attorney-General explain further what it is that the Government intends by not only the word ‘promote’ and the one you mentioned but the word ‘encourage’ and if you read the committee's report you'll see that the committee expressing concerns about the generality, the lack of clarity in using terms like that in a very serious criminal offence which of course is the offence, there's already an offence there of inciting violence, there's already another offence of inciting terrorism, this is proposed to add to that existing offence of inciting terrorism and that's why we have to proceed cautiously because it's serious criminal offence that would carry a very heavy penalty.
REPORTER: Just to be clear, do you think it's too broad?
DREYFUS: We're waiting to hear, as is the committee, as is the whole of the parliament, what the Attorney-General's explanation is as to what the Government intends is meant by those terms that it's put into its bill which are the terms ‘encourage’ and ‘promote’.
REPORTER: Are you comfortable with potentially having eight million Australians having their faces scanned at airports? Does this Legislation allow for that?
DREYFUS: The committee's recommended very directly on that, that there should not be power for the Government by regulation without further reference to the Parliament to introduce a power that would see iris scanning and finger printing of potentially every Australian, millions of Australians leaving the country each year. It's regrettable that the Government did not see fit to explain in the relevant part of the Explanatory Memorandum that that regulation making power included in the bill and it's something that came out during the course of the committee hearings that that was in fact what was envisaged, to be included in regulations yet to be made. The committee has expressed serious concern about that, as did a number of the witnesses and submissions before the committee, this is the parliamentary committee doing its job, applying scrutiny to a bill which I regret to say Senator Brandis didn't get right in a number of respects.
REPORTER: A number of members on the committee expressed concern about extending preventing detention and control orders before they could be reviewed. Why has Labor chosen to back that measure?
DREYFUS: As you'll see in the report, the committee records that it took evidence both in public and in private, from the Australian Federal Police and from our intelligence agencies as to the need for some of these extraordinary powers at this time. A time of heightened security concern. Our particular issue with this was the suggestion by the Government that these powers should be extended for another 10 years which would in effect have meant that they were in place for some 20 years without a review and I'm very pleased to see that the committee has recognised the exceptional nature of these powers and has said to the Government these powers should not last longer than two years after the next election, there should be a review by both the independent monitor and the intelligence committee so that the Australian community can have a further think about whether these powers are still needed.
REPORTER: Given their exceptional nature why not review them sooner than later and delay the review?
DREYFUS: The committee's concluded, based on the evidence, based on the present circumstances and the threat that Australia presently faces, that these powers should be retained for the time being, but has refused the proposition in effect put by the Government that they need to last for another 10 years and we think that's a very appropriate course to follow. We will have a review; a formal review; a legislated review; by the monitor and by the committee and the powers will only last for two years after the next election.
REPORTER: The Greens want even more change, any chance you'll back any of their recommendations?
DREYFUS: We’ve only just seen the formal recommendations, if I can call them that, that the Greens have put forward today saying that as a dissenting report to the Senate's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee. I'll have to be looking and all of us will look at their detailed suggestions and see whether or not they can be in some way incorporated but it needs to be remembered that the Greens party did not participate in the intelligence committee hearings. I've had a very quick look at the that Greens party report, their dissenting report, they do not seem to be taking proper account of the of the threat that Australia is presently facing, I don't think it's enough to approach the question of security legislation and ignore the actuality of the threat that’s there.
REPORTER: If the Government does reject parts of the recommendation would that see Labor withdraw its support for the bill and the Government's war on terror?
DREYFUS: This is a report that’s been made by both the six Government members of the intelligence committee and the five Labor members of the intelligence committee. I think it would be an unusual step for the Government to decline to accept recommendations made in that manner by the intelligence committee after a lot of consideration. Let's see what the Government does but I'd be urging the Government to accept each and every one of the 36 recommendation made by the committee.
REPORTER: Mr Shorten, just back to Ebola, the Foreign Minister has made representations on behalf of Australia asking countries to guarantee that if they were to assist any Australian workers that were affected but no countries have yet guaranteed this - has the Foreign Minister failed in her international negotiations on this?
SHORTEN: Australia cannot sleep walk its way through this Ebola crisis and leave dealing with, I believe, to everyone else. That is a lack of leadership; Australia cannot sleep through the Ebola crisis and rely on a blue sky theory of the world which says ‘if we do nothing it won't ever be a problem for us’ – that’s very risky policy. In terms of what the Government's done, I don't think anyone thinks that the Government has done enough and applied their personal efforts to working with other nations. How is it other nations can see their way to provide greater resources and support, yet Australia says it's all too hard? It is not a recipe, either we contain Ebola in the region where the outbreak started or we will have these same discussions and same recriminations except there'll be a lot more cases in a lot more places.
REPORTER: Mr Shorten, what's your response to Professor Barry Spurr being suspended from Sydney University?
SHORTEN: The remarks that this Professor made are disgusting and I'm sad to say I think the Prime Minister's reaction was inadequate. It is not right when you are the leader of the country to simply laugh off racism. It is not leadership to not stand up for minorities, to not recognise that what makes this country great is that we come from a 100 different countries and that adds to our richness. People in Australia whatever their backgrounds have got the right to live their lives in Australia free of prejudice and ignorance and our Prime Minister has now developing a pattern. Be it Senator Cory Bernardi, be it this discussion about what people wear in the Parliament as visitors or indeed now. The Prime Minister has to recognise that he's a leader for all Australians, not just pandering to the views of some.
REPORTER: So it's right that he be suspended?
SHORTEN: That is a matter for Sydney University, but someone who is a Professor, should be above making the sort of remarks that we've seen attributed to them. These are not the remarks of an educated person.
REPORTER: Can his review of the English curriculum now be considered credible given the emergence of these emails?
SHORTEN: I think you raise a very fair point and it’s one that the Government has to explain. I notice the Education Minister basically disowned this person's conduct but the question is how much of the conduct has influenced the review of the curriculum. The Government needs to explain and reassure Australians, that the views of the reviewer and the disgusting remarks have in no way infiltrated the curriculum which is taught to all our young Australians.
REPORTER: Looks like Australia has made its first strikes in Iraq on IS fighters there. What’s your response to that and where do you think things will go from here?
SHORTEN: It is a most serious matter. Our Australian Defence Forces are being sent in harm's way to defend the innocent and the vulnerable. Conflict is dreadful and I believe that our Australian Defence Forces are absolutely conducting themselves with the professionalism and the skill which Australians trust them to do.
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