Michael Sukkar MP

Federal Member for Deakin
Assistant Treasurer
Minister for Housing
Minister for Homelessness, Social and Community Housing
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Second Reading: Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill

I want to commend much of what has been said by previous members and, particularly, the member for Latrobe, who, as a part of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Security and Intelligence, of which I am chair, contributed greatly to our deliberations of this legislation. Let there be no mistake, today is testament to the fact that the committee I chaired has provided a ringing endorsement to this legislation—an absolutely ringing endorsement. What was provided to us by the Attorney-General, of course with the imprimatur of the Prime Minister, was an A-grade piece of legislation in an extraordinarily difficult area. Yes, there are regimes around various state jurisdictions that relate to post-sentence detention, most particularly for sexual and violent offenders, but for the federal government to extend post-sentence detention, very importantly in our view and thankfully the view of this parliament, to terrorist offenders is something that many thought was so difficult, so hard that it was not worth pursuing. But it took our Attorney-General and Prime Minister to absolutely put their stamp on this legislation and I want to thank them for showing that leadership because nothing is more important—and this is said in a very glib way in this parliament, but nothing is more important—than the safety and security of our citizens.

We are dealing with a phenomenon now, a phenomenon of terrorism—home-grown terrorism in many cases—that we have struggled to react to, not just us in Australia but we have struggled to react to it throughout the Western world. The old thinking, very reasonably, was that you did the crime and you did your time, and then you left incarceration. What we have seen time and time again, not only in Australia but throughout the world, is that many terrorist offenders, due to the ideological beliefs that they hold, go into jail with that insidious ideology and they leave even worse. They are not rehabilitated in prison. They leave even worse. They leave posing an even greater threat to our society, an even greater threat to honest, ordinary men and women in our society. We have seen it time and time again here in Australia—those instances where a terrorist offence occurs and people like my parents, ordinary Australians, would say, ‘How come we weren’t able to stop them? It seems so obvious that that person was radicalised. It seems so obvious that that person was embarking on a path of destruction and seeking to hurt fellow Australians.’

In a sense, this regime is a last resort; it is a backstop. It is a last resort for the worst cases of terrorist offenders who, with a high degree of probability are determined by a court—not the government, not the Attorney-General but determined by a court—to be such a risk to our society that they must continue to be detained. I think the vast bulk of Australians will applaud this parliament today. I am very pleased that when this piece of legislation came before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security that our committee was able to reflect the views of that community. In the process of reviewing the legislation, we received 18 submissions, if I recall correctly.

One of the things that struck me was that, perhaps, there is still a segment of our society—quite a scary segment in my view—who disagree with legislation, extraordinary though it is, as sensible as this. We have just heard comments in this Senate from the Greens, who have opposed this legislation. We had submissions from the Council for Civil Liberties, who said under no circumstances could they ever support a post-sentence detention regime. We had representatives from the Muslim Legal Network, who effectively said the same thing: ‘Under no circumstances, even if we knew somebody was very likely to seek to do fellow Australians harm.’ Even then, they would not support this regime.

So I want to thank members opposite. I particularly want to thank my deputy chair, the member for Holt, for his counsel and great support during the review we undertook. Indeed, I want to thank most of the members of the committee for the wonderful work they did in ensuring that we were able to come up with 24 recommendations. May I say, yes, there were 24 recommendations, but in most cases those recommendations, in my view, were just performing a function that our committee should, which is just another pair of eyes. We sought clarification of certain aspects of the explanatory memorandum and we, in a sense, had only a handful of substantive amendments, which I think is a great credit to the Attorney-General.

The biggest amendment that we proposed, which our community unanimously presented, was that a 10-year sunset clause be placed on this legislation. My view—public view and private view—is that this phenomenon of terrorism, this phenomenon of individuals who, unfortunately, are beyond redemption and beyond rehabilitation, will not go away in 10 years. This will be with us for a lot longer than 10 years.

The committee felt that a 10-year sunset clause was a sufficient period of time to, in a sense, develop through the working group all of the additional work that will need to be done before applications for continuing detention orders can be applied for; a period of time where we can examine how the regime is working. In that 10 years there will be a body of evidence and, hopefully, a body of cases where we have successfully been able to detain terrorist offenders and then we can examine the legislation to see where it may need to be changed. I do not think this is a problem that will go away in 10 years, but the committee felt that that was very necessary.

I want to make some broader comments in relation to the conduct of the committee’s inquiry, which is of course relevant to the legislation before the House. It is extraordinarily important that the PJCIS is a bipartisan committee. Each and every day, we are dealing with legislation that goes to the most fundamental aspects of the safety and security of Australians. It is so important and, to date, the composition and membership of the committee has supported that endeavour of bipartisanship. But in the process of this review, there has been some unfortunate conduct from the shadow Attorney-General of leaking information from the committee and speaking to the media inappropriately. I think the shadow Attorney-General has conceded that he regrets that conduct and I would hope that in future, noting that he does regret the way he has acted in some parts of this review, we can get assurances from him that he will live up to the standards of the other members of the Labor Party who sit on that committee. In the conduct of this review, he did not live up to those high standards. That is a very important point, that as a committee we are together as a parliament. We are not there as partisan warriors for one side or another. We are not there with a blind hatred or a single-minded focus on trying to destroy our political opponents. We are there to review legislation that will keep Australians as safe as possible. I think this legislation does that. I am very pleased to be supporting this legislation.

Another aspect of the review which took a lot of the committee’s attention was around those who questioned the need for a post-sentence detention regime because we have control orders, which are where our security agencies, in effect, monitor and keep a very close eye on particular individuals and groups. The public evidence from the Australian Federal Police and other agencies is that control orders are extraordinarily expensive both from a human resource perspective and from a financial perspective. Many, many millions of dollars are required to keep an eye on a high-risk terrorist offender in the community. Even when a control order is in place, and with all that cost and all those resources, we cannot provide the community with a 100 per cent assurance of protection. The greatest and saddest recent example is that of the terrorist offender in France who slit the throat of a priest on the altar, killing that priest and injuring two other people. That person was subject to a French version of a control order. He was wearing an electronic bracelet on his ankle. He was being monitored by the police. But being monitored did not prevent him from being able to detain, kidnap and, ultimately, commit a ghastly terrorist act.

This post-sentence detention regime is the best way that this parliament can say with absolute certainty, ‘That individual is so dangerous we are going to keep them detained, and we can provide the community with a 100 per cent assurance that that person will not be able to harm anybody for as long as they are detained.’ That also means that instead of our security agencies spending vast amounts of resources, human resources and financial resources, in monitoring those individuals and groups, they can put those resources into other important endeavours to keep our society safe. It is not just a matter of throwing more money at it, as was the evidence from the public hearings. The skill, intelligence and human resources within the AFP are stretched and if we did not act to ensure that these types of terrorist offenders are detained, then we would not be doing them a service and we would ultimately be jeopardising the safety of our society.

On the last sitting day of the year this should be a very proud day for everybody in this parliament, perhaps minus the Greens. I want to commend the opposition for supporting this legislation. This is an area where it is so important that we maintain bipartisanship, and we have done it today. This is very hard, novel legislation and the fact that we have been able to do it and do it in a timely fashion, as requested by our security agencies, who said, ‘We want this as soon as possible,’ is a great testament to the parliament. But, most of all, I want to thank the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister for giving the committee their imprimatur for this legislation. It is hard but they have delivered it today. I look forward to the implementation working group over coming months developing the framework that is going to make sure that this is not just good legislation in principle, not just good legislation that sits on a shelf somewhere, but legislation that can be used practically by our security agencies to keep the worst terrorist offenders behind bars. That is the way in which we can give Australians a categorical assurance that those individuals will not do our society harm. I commend this bill to the House.

Click here to access a PDF copy of the Hansard transcript of this speech.