SUBJECT/S: Foreign Fighters Bill; Hizb ut-Tahrir; commercial surrogacy.
DAVID SPEERS: Joining us is the Shadow Attorney-General, Labor's Mark Dreyfus to discuss this and more. Thank you for your time. Can I start on this particular question of whether it should be an offence to encourage, promote, counsel or urge a terrorist act. What is your view at the moment on this particular provision?
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: That's one of the proposals in this bill that's now being looked at by the Intelligence Committee, David and I'm expecting the committee to give appropriate scrutiny to that provision. There's been a number of concerns raised in the submissions and in the two days of public hearings that the Intelligence Committee has held, and the sorts of things that have been raised about whether or not this is an undue interference with freedom of speech and the question the committee is going to have to look at is whether or not the existing law - which is a prohibition, a criminal offence on inciting acts of terrorism or inciting violence - whether that's adequate.
That's the question that's raised by a lot of the proposals that the Government's putting forward. And what the committee will be doing is scrutinising these proposals to see whether they really add to existing law, whether they're effective, whether they're necessary, whether they're appropriate.
SPEERS: It's a complex question really and it seems to be a fairly grey area, but take the example of Hizb ut-Tahrir, from what we've heard them say, the actions of the Americans and Australians is more barbaric than the things ISIL is doing. Does that amount to encouraging someone to go and join ISIL and engage in terrorism?
DREYFUS: The question you've posed and you're right to say it's a difficult question, that you're raising, that difference between free speech and whether it should be a criminal act. That's a totally objectionable thing for anyone to say.
DREYFUS: No doubt about that.
SPEERS: But in your mind should it be illegal to say that?
DREYFUS: Up until now we've had a criminalisation of organisations which are actually engaged in terrorist activity. It's a very serious step because it becomes a criminal offence not only to belong to such an organisation, but to assist it in any way. So simply being a member.
SPEERS: That's the word there, assisting it in any way. What is assisting it and what isn't assisting a terrorist organisation. What's your view on this as to where the line should fall?
DREYFUS: We've looked at Hizb Ut-Tahrir before. And up until now the intelligence agencies have not recommended that it become a terrorist organisation.
SPEERS: But is it promoting terrorist activity?
DREYFUS: I have not had any briefing or any material drawn to my attention which could be regarded, to my mind, as inciting a terrorist act. There's a difference between expressing a particular political view about world politics and inciting a terrorist act. I think we need to maintain that distinction and that's the kind of thing that the committee is going to be looking at when it engages in its scrutiny of the bill.
SPEERS: The committee's also been looking at the other headline provision in this bill, to declare terrorist no-go zone, if anyone goes there they're committing an offence. Brett Walker, the former National Security Legislation Monitor doesn't mind in principle some elements of this but he does see it as unworkable. What's your view on it at the moment. I know the committee is still doing its work, from what you've heard in the evidence what do you think about this measure?
DREYFUS: Some very serious concerns have been expressed about this declared areas or no-go zones. It's obviously a major restriction of freedom of movement of Australians. I'm not yet convinced it's going to add to the powers that are available to our agencies in a workable way. I think we have to be careful when we’re looking at new laws as to whether they're going to work in practice, whether they truly add to the armoury of powers that our agencies have got. On this one the public submissions, the public evidence that's been given have pointed to a host of problems and it's one of those ones where I think you’d have to be asking, is the law here part of the solution or might it be part of the problem? Because the public disquiet that's an expressed about it does raise some issues.
You've got a problem with the kind of defences that are set out in the Act. People have pointed out in their submissions that it doesn't exempt going on a religious pilgrimage, or going to visit friends or simply living in a place. I think when you're talking about criminalising just going to a place even when you didn't know the declaration had been made, there's some possible problems with that sort of provision.
SPEERS: Can I turn to surrogacy, the ABC reported last night that an Australian couple paid for a surrogate in India to have their child in 2012, turned out to be twins, they only wanted to take one of the children because of the gender. We're not sure whether they wanted the boy or the girl. The Australian High Commission apparently tried to convince them to take both children but were unable to convince them of that. It was reported that a senior politician in Australia helped organise a visa for one child to come back. No one seems to have any recollection of who this politician was or what the case was. You were a Parliamentary Secretary at the time in the Labor Government. Did it ring any bells for you?
DREYFUS: Absolutely not. The first I heard of it was Diana Bryant speaking, the Chief Justice of the Family Court, speaking at the family law conference here in Sydney yesterday about it. Obviously there's some serious concerns that have been raised by those reports and by what the Chief Justice Of the Family Court had to say. And it's drawn attention to the fact that while commercial surrogacy is illegal in every state in Australia there's an inconsistency between states so that in some states, such as the one I'm in at the moment, NSW, it's illegal for a resident to go and engage in commercial surrogacy anywhere in the world. In other parts of Australia while commercial surrogacy is illegal in the state, it's legal to go overseas and engage in it. That's something that I think raises a concern and we should be looking for a national approach.
SPEERS: Can there be a national approach on something like this?
DREYFUS: Of course.
SPEERS: Can the Federal Government do that? It's not a matter for the Federal Government?
DREYFUS: It's a matter for the states to work with the Federal Government. It's a federal matter, a matter that COAG would look at. We should be aiming at uniform laws across Australia in this kind of area. It's a federal matter in the sense that international obligations are involved, international arrangements are involved and of course for someone to bring back a baby who is born through a commercial surrogacy arrangement, they need to be issued with a passport. It's a federal matter.
SPEERS: That is, yes, the difficult part I suppose in having any federal or national ban on commercial surrogacy is policing that in places like India, Thailand, wherever it’s taking place, where the financial transaction is taking place.
DREYFUS: Yes, but I think Australians would be concerned that quite possibly in some of these developing countries, the same standards are not going to be applied as we would expect to be applied here in Australia. That's a concern. Equally, our Labor Government commissioned the Family Law Council to look at the status of children born in surrogacy arrangements once they do come back to Australia. There's clearly some problems about the parental status of people caring for children who've been born in commercial surrogacy. That's something that should be definitely looked at.
SPEERS: Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, thanks for your time this afternoon.
DREYFUS: Thanks for having me David.