FAIRFAX ‘BREAKING POLITICS’
WEDNESDAY, 6 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s back down on repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; Counter terrorism laws
CALLUM DENNESS: I’m joined by Michelle Rowland, the Labor Member for Greenway, good morning Michelle.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Good morning.
DENNESS: Yesterday the Government announced that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act would be dropped, or rather changes to those sections would be dropped. This has been rather welcomed by Labor, wouldn’t it?
ROWLAND: It certainly is welcomed by Labor, we have been absolutely united in our opposition to these changes, unlike some of the Government members. But also this is an incredible victory for the community. The community has spoken loud and clear about the need to retain measures which make sure, in Australia, that we don’t give the green light to race hate speech.
DENNESS: The Prime Minister at that press conference said that he was disappointed to be dropping the changes. He also said that if the law was to be drafted today they’d be drafted in a different form, presumably not including ‘insult’ and ‘offend’, do you agree with that statement?
ROWLAND: I’m quite concerned that the Prime Minister seems to be going down the same path as George Brandis did when he originally put forward these proposals. We have no detailed rationale for the proposed changes, we have no instances where the Government has been able to show us the evidence of the need for change, and yet we have the Prime Minister still talking about possibly drafting them in the future. I mean, the Prime Minister chose his words very carefully yesterday. He made comments to the effect of ‘at this time or in other contexts these proposals would be perfectly valid to consider’. I don’t believe it is perfectly valid to consider watering down protections against race hate speech. So we need to remain very diligent on this issue and make sure that these are off the table for good.
DENNESS: Are you saying you think the Government will resurrect these changes?
ROWLAND: Who knows. I mean this was a Government that, when in opposition, went to the last election with this as its policy. This was its policy and this is a promise which I have said I am very happy for them to break, and obviously they have chosen to do that on this occasion. Whether it is off the table for good, unequivocally, that remains to be seen. And I believe that all sections of the community who are concerned about this will remain quite vigilant on this matter, because they’ve seen a Government that is prepared not to take their interests at heart.
DENNESS: Moving on the Government also announced yesterday in the same press conference broadened anti-terrorism laws including proposals to store meta-data. Now Labor has previously opposed this, is this something they will be considering or are Labor still opposed to storying meta-data?
ROWLAND: We’ve been offered a briefing as an Opposition and we will take up that briefing as we need to see the full details of it, but I will say a couple of things. Firstly that the term ‘metadata’ is understood to be different things in different contexts; whether it be different information about messages or the history of those messages. Always here I’m talking in electronic form and of course in a variety of technology-neutral formats. I think that it is a valid concern for the community to have, that when we have counter-terrorism laws, they need to be balanced very carefully against privacy rights of individuals and also we need to ensure that those counter-terrorism laws have very effective independent oversight. These are some of the matters I am sure will be taken into consideration as we get that briefing and more details.
DENNESS: On that confusion about terminology, the Prime Minister this morning in a radio interview seemed to imply that browsing history would be included in any meta-data stored. Is this your understanding of the term meta-data and of the proposals that so far been put on the table?
ROWLAND: My understanding from yesterday was that this is purely a set of counter-terrorism measures. It’s news to me that this would be extended to other forms of metadata and other contexts. I think that given those comments just this morning following on from the Prime Minister’s briefing yesterday, people will rightly question ‘what is the purpose of this’? I think we all need to accept – and I think that most Australians do accept – that unfortunately we live in an age where counter-terrorism laws are not a novelty, they are here to stay, and that is the unfortunate truth. However we need to make sure in what circumstances those laws operate, we don’t want law-abiding Australian citizens to be treated as criminals – that is a fact. I think we need to make sure that the balance is properly struck and we be very clear about what these laws will be used for and who they will be targeted at.
DENNESS: So would Labor support, or would you personally support, this stored meta-data being used for broad crime fighting, or would you only consider it if was restricted to purely tackling terrorism.
ROWLAND: Again I think we need to firstly get the proper briefing on the matter. It’s not clear to me from the Prime Minister’s comments whether what he was saying this morning is entirely consistent with what he said yesterday. But I will say this: the community does have a right to expect that their privacy will be kept paramount when they are using electronic communications; and that people are also protected from the threat of terrorism by good laws within Australia. That is the balance that needs to be struck.
DENNESS: There were other elements of this announcement yesterday, one of them being that under the proposed laws it would be an offence to travel to certain regions without explanation, essentially reversing the burden of proof. Is this a road we should be going down?
ROWLAND: That is an interesting question and again some of this will need to be deferred to getting a full and frank briefing on the matter. But I think it is the case – and our independent national security legislation monitor has even commented – unfortunately we do live in an age where there are people do chose to travel around the world and engage in foreign wars. We do have laws already that permit passports to be withdrawn now. Whether that is part of the process that certainly is something we need to look at to make sure Australians are not only discouraged from engaging in this sort of behaviour, but that there are sanctions there to make sure that there are consequences if they do.
DENNESS: You’ve mentioned a few times that Labor is yet to receive a briefing, there is usually bipartisan support on issues of national security, but what approach will Labor be taking, will you be looking at each proposal one by one?
ROWLAND: There is usually a bipartisan approach to these matters and for good reason, and Labor will certainly be examining these proposals. They are part of a package, so I think that it is not only important to examine the detail, but also to examine the desired outcomes and how – again in the spirit of bipartisanship, we all want to make sure as parliamentarians that our citizens are kept safe – we can possibly improve them and how they can be made more effective for their actual purpose.
DENNESS: And so Labor accepts that there is a case to strengthen terrorism laws including possibly introducing things like storing metadata and reversing the burden of proof and the other elements that were announced yesterday?
ROWLAND: There is always a case for vigilance, the devil is in the detail on these matters and we will be looking at them very closely.
DENNESS: Okay Michelle Rowland thanks for your time.
ROWLAND: My pleasure.