Peter Dutton sets up showdown over foreign fighters bill amid fears of overreach | Australia news

Peter Dutton sets up showdown over foreign fighters bill amid fears of overreach | Australia news

Political News

The 14th parliamentary sitting day for 2019 will begin in much the same way the parliament ended in 2018 – debating national security.

Earlier this month, when parliament met for the first time since the May election, Peter Dutton signalled he would push to have additional national security powers passed through both houses as soon as possible.

On Sunday, News Corp reported up to 40 Australians who joined extremist fighting groups in Syria had returned home. The report came a day before Dutton’s bill for temporary exclusion orders for dual-citizen foreign fighters faces parliamentary debate.

Dutton, who has held portfolio responsibility for much of the nation’s security since the Coalition’s election in 2013 has previously labelled the powers urgent. The Australian legislation is based on similar laws in the UK, which have been in place since 2015. Dutton introduced his bill this year.

The parliament’s joint security committee has recommended changes to Dutton’s temporary exclusion bill, including judicial oversight. Both Labor and Centre Alliance have expressed concerns the Coalition plans on pushing the legislation through without taking note of the bipartisan recommendations.

The increasing influence and omnipotence of Australia’s security agencies prompted former Labor senator Doug Cameron to urge his colleagues to ensure checks and balances were put in place in any future legislation at his farewell dinner, last week.

“We need proper parliamentary oversight and the capacity to ensure that security agencies are acting in the national interest,” he said. “Our democracy is diminished when we do not have similar oversight powers, including operational oversight as some democracies have.

“Our existing oversight is inferior and, in my view, almost non-existent. This is unacceptable and we should ensure our inferior parliamentary oversight of security agencies is changed and oversight is enhanced.”

It is a view shared by key Senate crossbencher Rex Patrick, whose Centre Alliance party shares the balance of power in the Senate along with independent Jacqui Lambie and One Nation.

“This week I will seek to amend the government’s counter-terrorism temporary exclusion orders bill to extend the jurisdiction of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security to include reviewing the operational activities of Australia’s national security and intelligence agencies,” Patrick said.

“Time and again governments have asked the parliament to give them new national security powers. Home affairs minister Peter Dutton and his security portfolio agencies now exercise an array of powers greater than any of those exercised by any government since the national emergency of the second world war.

“With more that 7,000 people involved in our intelligence apparatus and with a budget exceeding $2bn, it’s high time that the parliament steps up its oversight of those agencies and ends the exclusion of operational activity from parliamentary scrutiny.”

Patrick will use the coming sitting to ask the parliament to consider expanding the role of the joint security committee to review and oversee intelligence and national security agency operations, on top of its current role of considering how the agencies spend taxpayer money and their administration

“This limitation is in contrast to parliamentary oversight arrangements in other ‘Five Eyes’ countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada,” he said.

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Labor will hold its shadow cabinet meeting later on Monday to consider its position on Dutton’s bills, as well as the Future Drought Fund bill the government plans on re-introducing to the parliament this week.

Labor, under Bill Shorten, knocked back the legislation in the last parliament, concerned it would act as a “slush fund” for National party MPs, as well as take money from necessary infrastructure projects.

In a speech late last week, Anthony Albanese said his party would back “any number” the government saw fit to attach to drought funding – as long as it could guarantee the money would not be taken from other funding pools.

“Our concern with the legislation that was introduced last time was that it took money from the Building Australia Fund, that is an essential component of Infrastructure Australia and the idea that we would depoliticise infrastructure funding in this country in order to fund drought funding,” Albanese said on Thursday.

“I say to the government, don’t play politics with this. It is too important. Just stop it. Provide the funding, with appropriations, as you should. And we’ll back it. Any level you want, done. It can go through in an hour.”

In response Scott Morrison said the government would pass the legislation with or without Labor, and work with the crossbench to do it.

The government looks to have secured the necessary numbers to pass its increased trespass penalty legislation, which would make it a crime to promote or encourage trespassing either online or in publications, in a bill aimed squarely at animal activists.

Labor is still considering its position on the legislation, while the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, told the ABC he believed Australian laws already covered what the government was attempting to achieve.

“Those things are already criminal offences,” he said. “The concern here is that we’ve seen this government take us closer to a police state with passage of a range of laws that hand over more power to authorities with a whole range of unintended consequences.

“There’s the prospect that these laws could be used to criminalise protests. For example, coal seam gas activists, many of them farmers actually, protest against new coalmines.

“Journalists may be caught up in this because they’re going to have to prove that what they’re reporting is in the public interest.

“The substance of what we’re actually talking about is animal welfare standards, and what we should be doing is debating laws about how we improve animal welfare standards so that we haven’t got chickens in cages, battery hens that spend their whole life without being able to spread their wings or pigs in sow stalls that simply can’t move while they’re pregnant.”

However, with both One Nation and Centre Alliance already indicating their planned support for the legislation, the government appears to have the necessary number of votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate.

Meanwhile, both Morrison and Albanese will welcome Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, on Monday. He has demanded a timeline for the end of offshore processing on Manus Island, and is also expected to raise the awarding of contracts to run the existing centres during his visit.


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