The Bill and its referral
On 24 September 2014, the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis, QC, introduced the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 (the Bill) into the Senate. In his second reading speech, the Attorney-General stated that the Bill is intended to ‘enhance the capability of Australia’s law enforcement, intelligence and border protection agencies to protect Australian communities from the threat posed by returning foreign fighters and those individuals within Australia supporting foreign conflicts.’
The Attorney-General added that:
Around 160 Australians have become involved with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq by travelling to the region, attempting to travel or supporting groups operating here from Australia. While this is not the first time Australians have been involved in overseas conflicts, the scale and scope of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the number of Australians presently involved, is unparalleled and demands specific and targeted measures to mitigate this threat.
On the same day, the Attorney-General wrote to the Committee to refer the provisions of the Bill for inquiry and to request it to report by 17 October 2014. He further requested that the Committee should, as far as possible, conduct its inquiry in public.
In the letter, the Attorney-General informed the Committee that the Bill would constitute the Government’s second tranche of legislation in response to the current national security threat. The first tranche was the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014.
Inquiry objectives and scope
In conducting its inquiry, the Committee acknowledged that the Bill responds to a request from the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Attorney-General’s Department for enhanced powers to deal with the heightened security threat. The Committee took evidence to this effect in both public and private hearings. The Committee was inclined to support this request subject to appropriate safeguards.
As part of its inquiry, the Committee examined:
- whether the Bill incorporates adequate safeguards and accountability mechanisms to ensure the proper application of the laws into the future; and
- whether the Bill is drafted in a way to avoid any foreseeable unintended consequences.
The Committee notes that at the time of this inquiry, a further proposal for amendments to national security legislation was being discussed by the Government. This included foreshadowed legislation relating to mandatory retention of telecommunications data, which is not within the scope of the Committee’s inquiry and is not discussed in this report.
The Committee also notes that there has been discussion about its previous inquiry into the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014, which passed the Parliament on 1 October 2014.