Dodgy deal done on last day in Parliament – Political Campaigners Bill 2021

The Australian Greens MPs

The House absolutely should not consider this dodgy deal immediately. This is a dirty deal that’s bad for democracy, done on the last day of parliament, between Liberal and Labor It has been rushed through the Senate without even debate or an inquiry, and it has been brought here on the last day of parliament, and we’re urged to rush through a bill that will silence charities and string them up with red tape and also potentially affect the outcome of the election, because it will impinge on people’s rights to campaign against the government during this forthcoming election campaign.

When you have a bill that impacts on so many people in society, from charities to non-government organisations, to people who want to engage in democracy, at the very least we should have a debate about it, we should have a full inquiry in the Senate into the bill, and we should have a full debate in the Senate about the bill. That should be an uncontroversial proposition in this place-that, when this government comes in with a bill that is aimed at silencing people that disagree with it, we should at least be able to inquire into it and have a debate. But no. You’ve always got to watch out on the last day of parliament, you’ve always got to watch out, because that is the day that Labor and Liberal will do dirty deals to ram through legislation that is bad for democracy and bad for civil rights, and we are seeing it here with this bill.

ACOSS, the Human Rights Law Centre, Anglicare and 80 other charities wrote to the government urging them to drop this bill or, at the very least, demanding that there be a serious look at it to work out what it is going to mean for their operations before it is passed. The government ignored them, but we expect that from this government, because we know that this government is in an ‘in case of emergency break glass’ mode. They fear that they’re behind in the polls, so they’re trying to change the rules of the game to stop people from voting or speaking out against them. We expect it from this government, but what we don’t expect is that Labor will sign up to a dirty deal to ram through an antidemocratic piece of legislation on the last day of parliament.

We have got some of the biggest charities and non-government organisations and people who look after others who are doing it tough are speaking up against this bill. Saying, ‘At the very least, can we please have a debate about it and have an inquiry into it before it is rushed through on what might be the last sitting day of parliament before the election.’ But we also have the government, in their own words, saying that it is clear that this is about targeting their political opponents, that they perceive – the Climate 200 group, OpenAustralia Foundation, They Vote For You. The government and government members have been explicit that this bill is about shutting up people who might want to campaign against them.

So we should be doing all we can to preserve democracy in this country and to stop the government getting away with legislating to change the rules of the game because it doesn’t like what people say. The so-called party of freedom of speech is now saying, ‘We want to tie up organisations in red tape and make it retrospective.’ I’ll come to how bad these amendments are when we get to debating the amendments themselves, if that’s what happens-if we do in fact find that they’re being voted on immediately. The government has been absolutely explicit that this is about trying to tilt the playing field in its favour by stopping people from speaking and putting them under obligations that might make them responsible for activities that happened before this bill even came into effect. It’s potentially going to be retrospective for these organisations.

We have known from the start in the Greens that it’s bad law, which is why we’ve opposed it. But what we thought is that there would at least be a chance to debate it, to understand exactly what it’s going to mean for civil society in Australia and then potentially to go and change some people’s minds, to say, ‘Hey, actually, having heard all of this, we should not be passing this bill.’ We are now being denied that opportunity because of the Labor Party. The Labor Party are saying, ‘No, we want to ram it through today, on the last day of parliament.’ They may well say, ‘But, look, we had to do this because we’re stopping another bill, another terrible bill, of the government,’ but I just ask people to cast their minds back to yesterday.

Just yesterday the parliament held the government to account and came together across party lines, with everyone from the opposition, to the Greens, to the crossbenchers, to force the government to back down on a cut that it wanted to introduce on Australia’s screen sector. We held firm and we forced them into a backdown. We have the potential to do this again, especially with things at the moment being as fluid as they are in this parliament. And we know that the wheels are starting to come off the government the closer it gets to an election and the more it realises it’s behind in the polls. In that environment especially, we should be doing everything we can to apply maximum scrutiny to this bill-absolutely. That should be a fundamental principle. But, instead, Labor and Liberal, on the last day of parliament, are getting together to rush through a bill to silence democracy. They couldn’t even debate it in the Senate. They weren’t even allowed to have a full debate on this bill in the Senate.

This is a dark day for democracy, not only because we here in this parliament are being denied the opportunity to debate a very bad bill, but also because this bill will restrict people’s right to campaign and say what they want to say during the course of the election campaign. This bill will restrict democracy. The dirty deal that has been done to pass a terrible bill is a dark day for democracy.

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