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Sophie speaks on anti-terrorism measures

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Sophie Mirabella, the Federal Member for Indi, spoke this week in Parliament to the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Terrorist Material) Bill 2007. This Bill strengthens and improves the ability of our laws to prevent the circulation of material which advocates the doing of terrorist acts.

Mrs Mirabella was the Government speaker on the Bill and the Attorney General thanked her for her contribution to the debate.

In her speech, Mrs Mirabella detailed the history behind the Bill and what the impact of the legislation would be; which is to essentially make it illegal to deliver, promote or sell material that advocates terrorism and terrorist acts in Australia.

“Unfortunately, the Labor Party moved amendments to the Bill which substantially altered the Bill’s desired impact,” Mrs Mirabella said.

“Thankfully, these ill-informed amendments were voted down by the Government. Yet, through their actions, Labor has once again shown that it cannot be trusted on national security and it cannot be trusted to strengthen laws against terrorism.”

“The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General – that is, the commonwealth attorney general and the state and territory attorneys-general – met in 2006 to discuss this matter. They resolved to work together to sort this problem out. Yet last month when the commonwealth Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, presented his state and territory counterparts with a proposal to amend the classification code, only New South Wales and South Australia agreed to such a move. Why did Victoria refuse to sign up to this proposal?” Mrs Mirabella said.

Instead, the Commonwealth went ahead with the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Terrorist Material) Bill 2007 which did not require the majority consent of the states and territories.

“Strengthening our resolve against terrorism and terrorist acts is an issue that is way too important to get bogged down in petty, partisan politics.” Mrs Mirabella said.

“The Howard Government has acted in the national interest on this important matter. The same cannot be said for the Labor Party.”

“When passed, this bill will allow the Australian Government to be in a better position to deal with material which advocates terrorist acts and we should support this. It’s a pity that Labor moved unworkable amendments to the Bill, but I am pleased that the Government has acted in the national interest to remove this perverse material that promotes terrorism from our community,” Mrs Mirabella said.


Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (10.04 a.m.)—I rise to support the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Terrorist Material) Bill 2007. It gives me no great pleasure to follow the member for Brisbane. The member for Brisbane spoke about the Liberal Party having a narrow constituency, but perhaps it has eluded him that, on this side of the House, we have representation from nurses, policemen, milkmen, doctors, lawyers and motor mechanics—unlike the situation opposite, where trade union hacks litter the opposition benches at a time when less than 17 per cent of the workforce in the private sector is unionised. This is the situation in a party that has been gutless and stuck in a previous century and refuses to reform its party structure to allow within its ranks genuine, fair representation of the Australian community. They know it, and they are embarrassed by it. The member for Brisbane’s bold claim that the Liberal Party has a narrow constituency does indeed ring very hollow.

The member for Brisbane also spoke about the threat of terrorism. I could not help but sense yet again Labor saying ‘me too’. But let us stop for a minute and think: had the Labor Party been in government instead of the coalition over the last few years, would we have had the myriad of security measures that this government has taken? The answer is no.

They like to say, ‘We’re exactly the same as the coalition.’ They like to say, ‘We will be just as strong on security and terrorism.’ But we know, and in their hearts the Australian people also know, that this is wrong, that this is false. It does not matter how many times and how loudly the Labor Party say, ‘We are just as strong against terrorism as the coalition’; in their hearts the Australian people know it is not true.

When the Attorney-General presented this bill to the House in June, there was a view around the parliament that perhaps we would not need to proceed with the bill as the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General would be meeting in July and this issue would be resolved with amendments to the National Classification Code and guidelines, which require the consent and agreement of the states and territories. That meeting of the state and territory attorneys-general occurred on 27 July this year, exactly one year since the standing committee had previously met. It should be noted that New South Wales and South Australia were the only two states who agreed to support the amendments to the classification act that were proposed by the Australian government.

The Attorney-General is on record as saying that he would rather have dealt with the matter under the provisions of the National Classification Code and guidelines than deal with it under the classification act. But, as the National Classification Scheme is a cooperative disposition with the states and territories, all state and territory attorneys-general and the Commonwealth Attorney-General must agree to the provisions contained in the code and the associated guidelines.

Let no-one be confused as to the lengths to which the Commonwealth Attorney-General has gone in seeking the agreement of the states and territories to amend the classification laws landscape. Indeed, so much of his current role is taken in negotiating with all sorts of individuals within his party and between governments to get cooperation and agreement on essential legislation in the national interest.
This process has been going on for more than 12 months. In fact, on 27 July 2006, the Commonwealth Attorney-General noted that he was pleased that, after a meeting of the state and territory censorship ministers, the states were ‘willing to support a fresh look at the classification scheme’. Yet 12 months later, they did not agree to such important changes. It is like Victoria’s approach to the National Plan for Water Security all over again. You can just smell an election in the air when state Labor governments become recalcitrant and work against the national interest just to support their union hack mates in the federal parliament.

It is surely not a fanciful policy ideal to ensure that material advocating and supporting terrorism be illegal in our country. Why has it taken the states more than 12 months to come to terms with this basic policy ideal? We are not dealing with fairytales here. We are dealing with the very materials that advocate acts of terrorism. This bill amends the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to require that publications, films and computer games that promote terrorist activity and terrorist acts be refused classification. This measure will essentially make it illegal to deliver, promote or sell such material in Australia. It is clear that the Australian government is serious about ensuring that material which supports and promotes terrorist activities will not be legally available in Australia.

Of course, concern has been expressed that this legislation may impinge on the notion of free speech. This is misguided as the proposal put before the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General clearly included provisions that would have ensured that these new provisions would not encroach or infringe upon our much valued freedom of speech or mainstream popular culture. In society we often say that prevention is better than cure. When we are dealing with terrorism, it seems that it is often prevention which is the hardest battleground to conquer.

Once again, some in the filmmaking industry and the publishing industry need to realise that these provisions are not intended to limit the authentic operation of their democratic right to free speech, nor are they intended to limit writers, publishers or filmmakers from dealing with sensitive subject matter in an informative manner. There are protections in the act for public discussion and debate, along with investigative journalistic work and other things such as historical analyses. However, the government believes that material which goes beyond this—material which might directly praise terrorist acts or might inspire, provoke or instigate terrorist activity—clearly needs to be dealt with under the Classification Act to ensure this material is free from the hands of those in our society who wish to do harm with evil intent.
We need to do everything we can to improve our laws to prevent material that glorifies terrorism by removing its circulation within our community. This is a basic responsibility we have as a national government: to ensure that we take these preventative measures in the national interest and in the interests of the safety of our communities right across Australia.

So I take the cries from prominent actors, academics and celebrities who claim that actions such as these are too draconian or an encroachment of civil liberties with a grain of salt. As the Attorney- General noted in his second reading speech on this bill, this is a very serious issue. He has noted that it is important to strike the right balance on matters such as this. On this matter I agree with him entirely. But that does not mean we should not take strong peremptory action in condemning terrorist acts, which are tightly defined under the Criminal Code, and the published material which might inspire terrorism.

The Attorney-General should be commended for bringing this matter to fruition. Whilst the government would have preferred that the states and territories came on board through amending the classification code, this was not to be the case as interstate egos, a federal election and other priorities got in the way. This is an issue that is far too important to get bogged down in petty politics. When passed, this bill will allow the Australian government to be in a better position to deal with material which advocates terrorist acts and we should support this wholeheartedly. I commend the bill to the House.

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Written by Greg Naylor

16 August 2007 at 6:37 pm

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