Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin.
Minister for Housing & Assistant Treasurer.
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Speaking on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014



On reflecting on my comments on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 before us, I must say I have mixed emotions. In one sense, I applaud the responsible ministers, the Prime Minister, the government and of course everybody in this House who is supporting the bill, because it does something very important. Practically, it helps our counter-terrorism agencies in this country and it also sends a very strong message to those who would do us harm—that we have the resolve to do what we need to do to protect Australian citizens. Mixed with that feeling is also a feeling of sadness—that, in a liberal democracy like Australia, it is incumbent upon the parliament to continually be vigilant to the risks that, quite frankly, are home-grown in this country. So it is with a mix of emotion that I rise today to speak in support of this bill.

Ultimately, in a broader sense, this bill ensures that our counter-terrorism agencies, whether they be ASIS, ASIO or our defence forces, have everything that they need to do their job in protecting the Australian public. We know that those who would do us harm live by no rules, no code, no ethics and no morals whatsoever. It is always very difficult to combat an opponent who acts in the most unpredictable ways. That is why I commend this legislation, because it ensures that our counter-terrorism agencies have the flexibility that they need to evolve with the growing threats as they evolve. That is the practical aspect, in a broad sense, of this bill.

The broader signal it sends to our counter-terrorism agencies, the Australian public and, most importantly, our enemies is that we have the resolve and the spine to do whatever we need to do to stop enemies from hurting Australian citizens. That is a crucially important message to send to the enemies of our liberal democracy in Australia. The people who would do us harm, the home-grown terrorists who unfortunately walk in our midst, only understand one thing and that is strength. You cannot reason with them. They understand strength. That is why I was not surprised but absolutely dismayed with the contribution by the member for Melbourne. In similar terms are the lamentable comments of Senator Whish-Wilson, where he said that we should not call ISIL a terrorist organisation or a death cult but should sit around an open fire, sing Kumbaya and see if we can just work out our differences. That was really what I heard being echoed through the comments by the member for Melbourne. I am very disappointed that only 149 members of this House will support the bill. I think that 149 is a fantastic outcome, but I was dismayed that we have somebody sitting in this parliament who criticised this bill in the way that he did. Ignoring that lamentable contribution by the member for Melbourne, I say again: the message we are sending our counter-terrorism agencies is that we will do whatever we have to do to allow them to protect us. That is a very strong message.

This year has surprised many of us when we thought we probably could not be surprised anymore. I was a relatively young man when September 11 occurred. I suspect that, like many people, that was when my naivety and innocence ended as far as global politics and the fascist movement that shrouds itself in Islam throughout the world are concerned. But we have been surprised. This year—and the member for Eden-Monaro spoke very strongly on this point—we have seen throughout Syria and Iraq the most ancient form of barbarism. Things that we have not seen since probably the Middle Ages have re-emerged in our world and it is shocking. For that reason, I will always support absolutely anything that we need to do to give our counter-terrorism agencies the powers that they need to stop those people.

Moving to the substantive aspects of the bill, the bill seeks to enhance the control order regime to allow the Australian Federal Police to seek control orders in relation to a broader range of individuals and to streamline the application of those orders. The amendments will enable the AFP to request a court to provide a control order for those who have been identified as enabling and recruiting to terrorist organisations. The second dominant aspect of the bill is that it will allow for greater facilitation of cooperation between the Australian Security and Intelligence Service, ASIS, which I referred to earlier, and the Australian Defence Force on military operations. This will allow ASIS to provide greater and more enhanced intelligence support to the ADF. The bill does not seek to change existing limitations on ASIS. That makes complete sense. Given that we have made a contribution to the efforts in the Middle East, certainly as far as training Iraqi soldiers is concerned, we should not have any barriers between our agencies.

Often, other forms of government—less, shall we say, important forms of government—are criticised for being quite siloed in their approach and for not sharing information fully. There is no more important area than our counter-terrorism agencies, and that they share absolutely everything and not try to fight the enemy with one hand tied behind their backs. I think enabling ASIS to share information fully with the ADF is a no-brainer and an absolute step in the right direction.

The bill also enhances the arrangements for the provision of emergency ministerial authorisations to security agencies to undertake necessary intelligence duties. Again, we want to make it possible for our security forces to be right 100 per cent of the time and to be able to conduct the activities necessary to ensure this.

I also want to add that the changes proposed in this bill come from the work undertaken by Dan Tehan and his joint committee. They have done an outstanding job in ensuring that we get the balance right between protecting our citizens and all of the other rights and freedoms that we hold dear. Getting the balance right is always a pertinent question with these forms of legislation. My particular brand of politics is that we should always err on the side of protecting our citizens, because, as the Prime Minister rightly said, the greatest right our citizens have is the right to walk down the street feeling safe. The greatest right—or the most dominant right—that our citizens have is to be able to board a train or a bus and not be at real risk from the danger that somebody who would wish to do them harm is able to do so. Those rights in my view trump some other rights, but it is still very important that where possible we give balance to our objectives of freedom of movement and a right to privacy. But, ultimately, I think they have to be subordinate to the safety of our citizens. As a government, as a parliament, our greatest duty to Australian citizens is ensuring their safety and ensuring their protection.

Given the unprecedented and disgusting things that we are seeing from the Middle East, and the enlivening of Australian citizens, unfortunately, who want to follow that evil ideology, we, as a parliament, have to adapt. This legislation is one in a suite of changes that indicates to the Australian people that we are ever vigilant as a government and we are adapting as the threats emerge. We will ensure that our counter-terrorism agencies have what they need to protect you.

There will always be the raving loonies, like the member for Melbourne, out there on the fringes complaining about counter-terrorism legislation of the kind we are discussing today, but I will always ignore the disgraceful contributions of the member for Melbourne and put the safety of the Australian public and the citizens of my electorate of Deakin ahead of those petty and wildly ideological arguments.

I commend this bill to the House. I commend the Prime Minister, and I also commend Dan Tehan and his committee for doing a great job in ensuring these changes have found their way into this bill.