Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Bill 2017

21st December 2017

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 17:49 ): I contribute to debate on the Terrorism (High Risk Offenders) Bill 2017. Notwithstanding the elucidating contribution from the Minister for Counter Terrorism and Minister for Corrections, I take an alternate view on this important bill. We live in an ever-changing world and we must constantly review how we adapt to it. We have a responsibility to our electors and to the people of this State to respond to those changes and to ensure, as best as possible, that our communities are safe. In exercising that responsibility we must be extremely careful that we do not overplay our hand and dramatically infringe on the fundamental civil rights and freedoms of the people of New South Wales. We must, as much as possible, guard against lightly undermining those tenets of law and justice that, while on occasion are found wanting, have overwhelmingly served our society well.

Those tenets relate to the separation of powers that have already been eroded through the introduction of mandatory minimum sentencing and the effective removal of a judicial system having the power to determine merit or mitigation in some circumstances. This bill goes to another level and seeks the State to have the power to speculate as to what a person might do in the future and pre-emptively incarcerate or re-incarcerate a person based on fear, not fact. I do not believe that detaining and imprisoning people for crimes they have not committed will keep the people of this State any safer than they are already. Indeed, this bill could create the opposite situation, and I trust that is never the case. I accept the Government has produced this bill with the best intentions.

I acknowledge the bill establishes rigorous processes for authorities to deal with offenders. In particular, I accept that the Supreme Court must rule that a person is deemed to be an underlying terrorist offender and the evidence must be supported by reports from psychologists, medical practitioners and other relevant experts. The fundamental issue is that we will be identifying and incarcerating people for things that have not happened—thought crimes, for instance. It is an almost Orwellian measure that will rely on the evidence of prison officers and others that a person may have been radicalised while serving time in jail. That fact alone is an indictment that our system should be attuned to the risk of radicalisation of inmates and should focus on rehabilitation. I recognise that the Minister seated at the table is sensitive to the need for rehabilitation in prisons. I have asked questions and discussed these matters with the Minister in the past. We should not surrender that view. These offenders do not need to have been convicted of a terror-related offence. They may have served a prison term for a firearms offence or for violent behaviour.

Mr David Elliott: Murder.

Mr GREG PIPER: And murder. Detaining or incarcerating offenders for a further three years on the basis of a suspicion that they might be involved in a terrorist-related atrocity not only erodes their presumption of innocence but also lacks basic legal principles, unless we change those principles. I have listened to the Premier, the Attorney General and others. They have said that in drafting this bill they have made tough decisions. I understand that this Government wants to take appropriate steps to protect the community from the threat of terrorism. Perversely, eroding the freedoms that potential terrorists or actual terrorists seek to take away from us is exactly what terrorists want us to do.

This State already has the toughest anti-terror legislation in the country and, according to the Minister, in the world. Regardless of my views, those laws already allow police to detain a person for 14 days on the suspicion that they may commit a crime. The police already have the power to lock someone up merely on a suspicion that they might be involved in terror-related activity or for what they have said. The bill extends the incarceration period from 14 days to anything up to three years for a crime that has not been committed and may never occur.

To their credit, our intelligence agencies have been able to thwart a number of terror-related activities. I am sure the Minister agrees that the community is not privy to many terror-related activities, for which I am thankful. I am unconvinced that this bill will allow the police to do their job better. I do not believe they will make our communities safer, but it will chip off another piece of our freedoms and basic rights. Existing laws give our authorities the right to detain an individual as young as 16 years of age without any evidence. Our laws and judicial system serves to protect the community. We cannot start creating a parallel justice system that is based on rumour, suspicion or prejudice. Surrendering more of our freedoms will not make us safer. It will not free us from the horrors that terrorists seek to inflict. If having a fear of a terrorist act alone is enough for us to give up our freedoms and liberties voluntarily then those who seek to inflict terror upon us have surely won.

I appreciate we sometimes tread a fine line between maintaining civil liberties and providing laws to protect the broader community, but this bill oversteps that line. Seen in conjunction with other pieces of legislation introduced under the guise of the war on terror—much of which I do support—we are unnecessarily and involuntarily one step closer to being seen by many as a police State. The bill will be passed in this Chamber. It is clear it is supported by the Opposition, although when listening to their contributions I was not sure that was the case. We have to ask ourselves: If there is another incident and there is a failure in the application of this law, then what next? It is a slippery slope. While I will not call for a division, I do not support the bill.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate

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