Terrorism (Community Protection) Amendment Bill 2021 - Second Reading Speech

October 14, 2021

Mr T SMITH (Kew) (10:20): I rise to not oppose the Terrorism (Community Protection) Amendment Bill 2021 and particularly support the delaying of the expiry of the original act, the Terrorism (Community Protection) Act 2003, noting the consequential amendments that are contained in this piece of legislation that are an Australian first and are entirely consistent with the national counter-terrorism plan and strategy that was released by the federal government in 2015.

It is important to note 20 years on from 9/11 how important these pieces of legislation are for the protection of our country, of our society and indeed of our way of life. Twenty years ago 10 Australians lost their lives in the then most egregious terror attack against Australians. Nineteen years ago the largest ever loss of life of Australians in a terror attack occurred in Bali, and this Parliament remembers the 88 Australians who lost their lives in that horrendous attack, in the garden to the side of Parliament. Those terror attacks have essentially changed the very nature of global politics, of national debate and indeed of law enforcement throughout the Western world and obviously within Australia itself over the last 20 years.

I remember 9/11 vividly. I was in year 12. It was one of the last school-assessed coursework days that I had in year 12. It was 12 September 2001. The shock and horror with which I and my then classmates witnessed the murder of 3000 innocent people by a terror attack—an unprecedented terror attack and the world’s deadliest terror attack, flying two aircraft into the World Trade Center in New York City—certainly influenced my life, certainly influenced the politics of my time in particular at university and really has bookended the last 20 years, between the 9/11 attacks and the withdrawal from Kabul that we have witnessed in recent months. That is of great concern, because the al-Qaeda terrorists that took down those towers were harboured by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Taliban have now retaken Afghanistan, to my great horror and to the horror of so many returned servicemen and the families of the diggers that we lost in Afghanistan defending freedom, defending our interests and indeed defending the women and children of Afghanistan.

I make these points because this bill is all interrelated with a global dynamic a long way from Spring Street. I want to put this bill in that context, because it is important. It is important that we understand that the loss of life that we saw in Bali and in New York and the terror attacks that have been averted by ASIO and by law enforcement agencies across the states and territories of Australia are interrelated and that the war on terror has not ended and it will be with us forever. You see, the head of ASIO said quite recently that the likelihood of another terror attack is probable.

Mike Burgess said this in April this year. And yes, there are multiple domestic challenges at the moment that are taking up reams of coverage, COVID-19 being the most obvious. But the nation’s counterterrorism approach and indeed strategy are still very important for keeping our people safe, and this bill I think is a wonderful early intervention at preventing someone from going down the path of violent extremism and where they might commit a terror offence. A number of the aspects of this bill I support and I think have great merit and should be replicated in other Australian jurisdictions.

The bill provides for a voluntary countering violent extremism case management scheme. It creates the civil support and engagement order, an SEO; establishes the Countering Violent Extremism Multi-Agency Panel, which is a terrible mouthful and which I will refer to as ‘the panel’ going forward in these remarks; and creates a standalone information sharing scheme to support the voluntary case management and SEO schemes.

The multi-agency panel, I think, is a wonderful initiative, because at its very core it establishes the multifaceted reasons why youth in particular go down the path of extremism and how early intervention, not just from law enforcement but from all the social policy angles of the state, could potentially get that individual back on track, and I think that is a very worthy goal. It is good to see that the government has taken various pieces of advice on board to bring about this multi-agency panel. The panel will include representation from government departments and agencies, such as the departments of health; families, fairness and housing; education; justice and community safety; jobs, precincts and regions; and Victoria Police, and quoting from the second-reading speech from the minister:

Each representative will be nominated by the department’s Secretary or Commissioner, and then appointed by the Secretary—

of the department of justice.

Where specific expertise is required, the Secretary—

of the department of justice—

… can also appoint non public-sector employees to the—


… such as subject-matter experts in … risk assessment or case management, or practitioners in child and adolescent mental health

The voluntary case management approach is something I also support. This process is essentially triggered by the Chief Commissioner of Police referring an individual to the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Community Safety.

Now, one of the concerns I have is that I am not sure what thresholds or indeed what behaviours would trigger the commissioner to refer an individual—a child or an adult, as it were—for voluntary case management. One would suggest that it was relatively obvious radicalised behaviour, and I would have thought that common sense would prevail, but I think it would be a worthwhile exercise for the government at the very least to disclose the nature of some of those triggers that the chief commissioner would be looking for. I put on record my thanks for the very thorough briefing that I received from the department for this bill. I do think that for the chief commissioner to go down that path and to refer to the secretary of the department of justice there needs to be a set of criteria, as it were. As I said earlier, that would to my mind be relatively common sense, but in saying that, it is something that I wanted to raise in debate.

I am advised that it is not expected that there would be that many orders and that particularly the support and engagement order would only apply to a very small number of people—as you would hope, as you would absolutely hope. I would say that despite the fact that we know that ASIO and Victoria Police have worked hand in glove now for 20 years or longer to protect Victorians from the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism, at any given time there are significant counterterrorism operations going on in Melbourne and in Sydney, so we would be naive to think that there are not people in our city, in our state and in our nation that mean us harm and mean our way of life harm.

That I suppose leads me to the SEO, which is a civil order, and it is applied for in the Magistrates or the Children’s Court. As I said earlier, this will be for a very narrow class of person where there is some concern over their propensity for radicalisation, as the minister said in her second-reading speech:

• disengaging people who are radicalising towards violent extremism;

• addressing the underlying causes of their radicalisation;

• connecting or reconnecting people with the community and positive support networks; and

• by doing so, protect the community from the threat of violent extremism.

The threshold for the court awarding one of these orders—granting one of these orders, as it were—would be that on the balance of probabilities the respondent is radicalising toward violent extremism and that the order is an appropriate way to achieve a therapeutic purpose for them. That is, it is going to go to the nub, the heart, the underlying cause of why they are heading down that path.

It is an age-old adage that an early intervention—prevention essentially—is far better than a cure. I think really, to summarise this bill, that this is a preventative measure enshrined in legislation that is far better than a cure, because the cure unfortunately looks like this, and I quote from 11 October in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A Sydney man—

and I will not use his name, because I do not want to glorify these people any more than they think that they are glorified by being in the newspaper—

… admitted to being a member of IS and pleaded guilty in the NSW Supreme Court to two charges: planning terrorist attacks on Australian soil, and preparing to engage in foreign fighting with the terrorist group in Afghanistan—

that is, ISIS—

… The maximum penalty for each offence is life in prison.

This individual was jailed for seven years. This man is 22 years old. He was a threat to Australia and its people and appropriately jailed. This is a life now not necessarily wasted—because hopefully he will recover; hopefully there are programs in New South Wales where this man can be rehabilitated—but you would have to say that this man’s life is not heading in the right direction, that this man’s life could well be wasted and that if someone had got to him earlier, if an agency of the state or a community group had got to this man earlier and uncovered whatever it was that was so disturbing him that he went down that path towards violent extremism, then maybe he would not be in jail and maybe he would not have been the threat that he clearly is to our country. That is why these stories are so tragic, because this is a wasted life. A man is now in jail for going down the path of violent extremism and planning a terror attack, where in actual fact, had there been an early intervention, which the program enshrined in this bill would attempt to do, he could have been persuaded, he could have been encouraged—in fact there could have been a mental health intervention that could have alleviated this sort of behaviour, and that is why I think this is a good idea.

That is why I will not be opposing this bill. It is why the national counterterrorism strategy in 2015 talked openly about state and territory law enforcement agencies working with the commonwealth and particularly to ensure that people do not become radicalised in the first place. The most effective defence against terrorism is to prevent people from becoming terrorists in the first place. There is no one process or pathway to radicalisation, to violent extremism. The exact combination of causes and drivers are unique to each individual, but the common element is exposure to violent extremist ideology. If we can start those early interventions, particularly from family and friends and communities but also from the state, as this multipanel approach suggests, then I do think there is every likelihood that this program will have a very positive effect on the ground and that it could well dissuade those going down the path towards violent extremism from doing so. That will make our community a safer place. It will make Victoria a better place and make Australia a better place and hopefully stop the horrible incidents we have seen both at home and abroad over the last two decades. I thank the house.