Boost for terror law monitor powers proposed in new bill

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Boost for terror law monitor powers proposed in new bill

INSLM needs ability to review draft legislation, Greens senator says.

Greens Senator Penny Wright will today introduce draft legislation aimed at increasing the powers and cementing the position of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, a role that came inches from being scrapped earlier this year.

The federal government in March announced it would disband the position - which had until then been filled by Bret Walker, who was Australia's first INSLM - as part of its package of red tape repeal initiatives.

It reversed this decision several months later after introducing extensive new national security legislation, opting instead to keep the INSLM office to review the new laws.

Meanwhile, the position has remained vacant since Walker’s departure.

The Government has faced a myriad of calls - including from the joint parliamentary committee on intelligence and security [pdf] - to fill the position as a matter of urgency given the amount of national security legislation it has introduced in the last half of the year.

The INSLM's stated role is to review the operation, effectiveness and implications of Australia’s counter-terrorism and national security legislation on an ongoing basis.

Greens MP Penny Wright will today introduce the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (Improved Oversight and Resourcing) Bill 2014, in an effort to shore up the security of the position by ensuring it is never vacant and always funded, and additionally to increase its powers of review.

The bill will seek to ensure that the INSLM can review proposed or draft legislation - not just bills that have already passed into law - to prevent a reapeat of situations like when federal opposition leader Bill Shorten failed to express concerns about a bill expanding spy agency ASIO’s powers until after his party voted it into law.

Wright’s bill will also seek to ensure that INSLM reviews consider whether Australia's national security legislation is proportionate to the stated threat faced.

The bill will additionally attempt to force the Government to respond to the INSLM’s reports - which Wright wants tabled in parliament - within six months of their publication.

"That the position of Independent National Security Legislation Monitor has remained vacant since April is, I believe, no coincidence," Wright told parliament last week.

"This vacancy has coincided with some of the most significant changes to our national security legislation in my lifetime, and the Government has wanted to avoid scrutiny on each of the national security bills at every step of the way.

"I have stood in this place late at night ... and witnessed the Government push draconian national security legislation through this place without enough time for sufficient scrutiny, without adequate time for senators to know exactly what they are voting for or against, without a full appreciation of the unintended consequences for our freedom of association, of speech, of movement, of the press."

She said while the Greens recognised the need for law enforcement agencies to be able to find and prosecute those engaging in terrorist and hostile activities, the party did not accept that "the rights and freedoms of Australians need to be significantly eroded in order to achieve this goal".

"It is crucial we are able to protect innocent Australians while prosecuting the guilty, and it is crucial we have independent oversight of national security legislation to ensure it is a reasonable, necessary and proportionate response to the national security threat we are facing."

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