Mr WILKIE (Denison) (11:10): Anything that diminishes the protection for the environment is obviously wrong and to be resisted. So too to deny some Australian citizens the right to access all aspects of the legal system, no matter what the matter is, or to deny some Australian citizens the right to judicial review in particular is self-evidently wrong. In fact, anything that diminishes the protection of the environment, anything that diminishes the rights of our citizens, is so self-evidently wrong that it is quite remarkable that it has come before the parliament and that we even need to debate the rights and wrongs of these issues.
It is also wrong for us to look at these issues in isolation. I suggest we need to take a step back at this point and have a look at the direction our country is going in a whole range of ways and, in particular, the direction we are going for the rights of our citizens and the way in which the rights of our citizens and our groups, be they environmental groups or any other groups, are slowly being diminished in an incremental way. When you take a step back and you look at a whole range of decisions that have been made by this and previous governments, including the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Standing) Bill 2015, which is before the parliament today, which would deny some Australian citizens the right to access all aspects of the legal system, you can draw a conclusion that Australia has reached the stage of being almost in a police state. The rights of citizens have been diminished so far and the power of the state has increased so much that we are in what I will characterise as a ‘pre police state’.
When I turned my mind to this issue today in preparing this speech, it took me very little time to quickly come up with some 10 characteristics of a pre police state which exist in Australia right now. I will quickly rattle through them, if you do not mind, Deputy Speaker. For a start, there is the way that all members of the community are now monitored by the state on account of mandatory metadata retention, which passed this parliament some time ago, is already in law and will be implemented from next month. The community need to understand that, from next month, every phone call they make, every website they visit and every location signal sent from their mobile phone or other mobile electronic device will be recorded by law and can be accessed by the security services without warrant. This is something that has been rejected by many other developed countries. The scale of the mandatory metadata retention which is being implemented in this country from next month is almost unprecedented around the world in any developed country or democracy.
Another characteristic of a pre police state is the way that the media is being manipulated in this country. We have seen the way that funding for independent broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, has been reduced. We have seen the way government ministers have bullied the ABC, bullied the Fairfax papers and bullied some of the News Limited papers, at least the tabloids. We have seen the way that in this country The Australian broadsheet has now become almost like Pravda was in the Soviet Union, as the official organ of the Australian Liberal Party. Again, this is a characteristic of a pre police state: the way the media is being used and manipulated.
Another characteristic of a pre police state is the manipulation of the judiciary. It is remarkable that the government sees nothing wrong, nothing wrong at all, in the fact that a royal commissioner would agree to go to a party political event.
Another characteristic of a pre police state is the secrecy that we see with this government and the ludicrous level of secrecy that surrounds our response to irregular immigration and the development of this term ‘on-water operations’, whatever that is. All we know is that it is some sort of term that means, ‘We are not going to tell you what is going on, even if it is being paid for by you, even if it is being done in your name and even if it is of great humanitarian significance.’
Another characteristic of a pre police state is the fact that in law in this country now you can be arrested on suspicion, in the absence of any hard evidence, when it comes to terrorism. This, of course, is contained in one of the approximately seven separate pieces of legislation that have passed the Australian parliaments since 9/11. The fact is that in Australia you can be arrested, in the absence of hard evidence, just on suspicion of thinking that you are going to do something in the future.
Another characteristic of a pre police state, and something that we see in Australia, is the fact that some people can be incarcerated indefinitely without trial. That is exactly what we are doing to some asylum seekers. They are being incarcerated, seemingly indefinitely and definitely without trial, in third countries that we send them to—we send them to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or to the Republic of Nauru.
Another characteristic of a pre police state—there is no shortage of things I can rattle off here—is the fact that this government now shows complete and utter disregard for international law and any number of international agreements that previous parliaments and previous governments have agreed to. For instance, this government ignores its own statute. This government ignores the refugee convention. This government ignores the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A healthy democracy—one that respects the rule of law, the rights of its citizens and the rights of the citizens of other countries—is one with a government that respects international law and international agreements.
Another characteristic of a pre police state is one in which the parliament, the elected representatives of the people, are forbidden to debate and decide on important matters of state. We had the situation yesterday where the government, in secret, decided to start bombing the sovereign state of Syria. The matter was never allowed to be debated by the parliament and was never voted on by the parliament. This makes Australia almost unique among our allies and among many developed countries. The fact is that in this country the parliament is not involved—it is not allowed to be involved—in decisions about waging war. In the United States the Congress has to debate and vote on declaring war. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, their parliaments are all required by law to debate and vote on the use of force. Even in the United Kingdom, where it is not law, it is certainly convention that the House of Commons these days will debate and decide on whether or not British military forces are committed to a conflict—but not in Australia, not in our pre police state, where parliament is not allowed to even have a proper debate, let alone a vote, about these sorts of matters.
Another characteristic of a pre police state that we see in this country these days is the way our safeguard mechanisms are disregarded, or even bullied, if they get in the government’s way. We saw the terrible treatment of the President of the Human Rights Commission when she spoke up on the issue of asylum seekers. A good government, in a healthy democracy, would have listened to the President of the Human Rights Commission. It would have listened very carefully and it would have been very careful to take the advice of the President of the Human Rights Commission and be seen to take that advice. Instead, what we saw was a conga line of ministers all lining up to have a go at her and to bully her. That is how an autocratic regime acts. It is not how a democratically elected government should act. It is not how our government should act. It was a shame on this government, the way it treated the President of the Human Rights Commission.
Another characteristic of a pre police state is when security agencies start acting beyond their lawful powers. Although it was eventually halted, in the face of overwhelming public concern and protest, the Australian Border Force thought it was okay to conduct an operation on the streets of Melbourne, a couple of weeks ago now, where it would have acted unlawfully by stopping people on the street to check their papers, so to speak—something that is not allowed in the act and is beyond their legal power. But was there any condemnation from this government over this? Was anyone sacked or held to account? No. All we heard from the relevant minister, in interview after interview, were attempts to try and downplay the matter and to say, ‘It was not that big a deal; it was just a badly worded press release.’ No, it was not a badly worded press release. It was worded exactly the way the Australian Border Force had intended for it to be worded. It was a press release that went to the minister’s office beforehand; we are not sure exactly how many times—it seems to have been at least twice, perhaps three times or perhaps more.
That is a long and pretty painful list to go through, but if I could come up with 10 characteristics of a pre police state and jot them down in a matter of minutes this morning—and I am sure I could add to that with any number of other ways in which our democracy is diminished right now—what does that say about our country? It puts this bill in quite a different light. If we were a healthy democracy, without that list of 10 characteristics of a pre police state—if this bill just came in fresh and there was nothing else going on around us—maybe we would respond to it differently. I do not think we would, actually, because it is self-evident we should not diminish the protections for the environment. It is self-evident that we should not deny some members of the community or some groups within the community the right to access all aspects of our legal system including judicial review.
It is a serious matter in its own right, this bill that is before the parliament, but when you put in the context of all the other things that have gone on in recent years in this country, you start to understand that this country not only is going in the wrong direction but has gone a long way in the wrong direction. When you look back history at the lessons of history and you look at once great countries that deteriorated over time or their democracy deteriorated over time—and some ultimately became police states—you see that often it happened incrementally. Often it did not happen with one seismic event where a dictator came to power. Sometimes these autocratic regimes were democratically elected. Over time, bit by bit, the country’s democracy deteriorated, was diminished bit by bit. And then one day the community woke up and asked: how on earth did we get here? How on earth did we allow ourselves to now be living in a country that is so bad, that is so far removed from the wonderful democracy it once was? How on earth did we allow a democratically elected government to bit by bit, incrementally, one bill at a time take us so far away from the healthy wonderful democracy we once had?
One of the problems is bit by bit things become normal. We get used one little bit then there is another little bit, another bill. I made the point already, since 9-11 there have been about 70 separate pieces of legislation in this country to do with our national security, even though it could be argued our laws at the time of 9-11 in 2001 were just about right. It was clearly a serious criminal offence to murder back then; it still is now. There is no doubt that much of that legislation contained in those 70 or so bills is unnecessary. We have gone too far in that regard. We must, however, ensure we keep our safeguards in place. That is one of the reasons why this bill is so bad—that we would think it okay to deny some Australians their lawful access to the courts.

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