Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:16): I rise to make a few comments on this legislation. I do not often say it, but I tend to agree with Mr Quilty, unusual as that may be. I think he does make some good points. This is concerning legislation, and certainly I also echo a number of the points that Dr Ratnam made in her contribution about this.
This kind of pre-emptive action does not work. It is not based on any evidence, and I think it has actually the greater threat of further radicalising people, of further isolating people. And it is that isolation, that sense of exclusion from our community, that tends to be the precursor for any form of radical extremism that leads to violence. I do support the need for terror legislation, and certainly I respect the recommendations of the expert panel on terrorism, but it is this kind of bracket creep that we are experiencing again, particularly when it comes to children.
In making some comments today I would really like to thank Liberty Victoria, and in particular their outgoing president, Julia Kretzenbacher. She really has been so wonderful in that role as president of Liberty Victoria, and I am sure many of you have had many dealings with her. I have to say I worked closely with her in the process of getting the spent convictions legislation and bill up earlier in the term.
The objectives of this bill say that they are seeking to increase engagement in the community and enhance community safety. That is very laudable. That is exactly what we should be doing. Early intervention is exactly what we should be doing. Community building is exactly what we should be doing. But I really am not certain that parts of this bill do that. In fact I think they do the opposite. As I said at the outset, we should be very wary of any intervention that may alienate a person or sections of a community, because it could have the opposite of the intended effect.
The scheme has the appearance of collaboration, but its structure is geared towards the making and granting of applications for persons who have not been found guilty of anything—of any crime—and now they may be placed on orders with restrictive conditions. This really could be fraught. It is a sort of volunteer program, but if you do not volunteer you get a court order. It is the view of Liberty Victoria that such a scheme is an unjustified intrusion on the rights of individuals to freedom of association, personal autonomy and privacy. As they wrote to me, they have serious concerns as to the breadth of the criteria for a person to become a prospective participant or a participant under this bill.
The bill targets persons who may be radicalising towards violent extremism and the definitions of what is captured include:
A behaviour engaged in with any of the following intentions may, in certain circumstances, indicate that the person engaging in that behaviour is radicalising towards violent extremism—
I will just say that again: ‘in certain circumstances’. Now, I have no idea what those certain circumstances are, and we may explore that in committee. But the bar is pretty low. Engaging in that behaviour is radicalising towards violent extremism by having:
(a) the intention of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause …
I would probably say most of the MPs in this chamber would be doing that. The lack of definition around ‘certain circumstances’ really does mean, as a result, that the potential for everyone in this room to be captured is not probable but it is certainly possible. Section 22AG(3)(a), as I quoted above, could be interpreted so broadly as to capture conduct engaged in by large numbers of people within our community, even where there is absolutely no identification of any particular act, they have not done any act in preparation, they have not committed any offence, they are not in possession of any item that may lead to violence—and they do not even need to be connected with anyone for the preparation of a particular act. They do not need to be doing any of that, yet they can still get captured by this definition and I think that is incredibly problematic.
It means that the act could be capable of capturing individuals where there is little or no risk of them in fact radicalising towards extremism without intervention. I get the idea of pre-empting terrorism—we want to stop things before they happen, of course we do, and it is challenging. But how do we assess capacity for violence? We cannot. It is impossible to empirically validate the level of threat posed by extremist groups. Based on past events, experts agree that only an infinitesimally small minority of people who hold extremist beliefs actually transition to violence—extremely, extremely, extremely rare. There is no empirically robust method of identifying these individuals and knowing who they will be.
The underlying assumption that supports these pre-emptive policies, laws and severe punishments, is that there is a radicalisation process that people step through. They do one thing, then they do another, then they do another and then they commit a heinous violent crime of terrorism. It is a radicalisation process described as a slippery slope or a conveyor belt along which individuals gradually become increasingly entrenched in their radical ideas and ultimately transition from cognitive extremism to a behaviour of violent extremism. However, almost every expert agrees that that transition to violence is not linear, nor is it predictable.
Because of these difficulties, the flip side is that there is a high likelihood that individuals will be placed on this scheme even when there is little or no actual risk of them radicalising or committing acts of violence. And if that happens, then I query whether there is a real risk that targeting individuals in this way, as I said at the outset, will actually have the opposite effect. It will make individuals feel alienated and persecuted, which then may compound any previous low risk into becoming actually a higher risk. So these sections of this bill actually could have the opposite effect of making us less safe, not more safe.
I would say that we have a very good Attorney-General in this state, but I would not like to be in her position in having to prosecute this bill. I have got concerns about this bill, and I will certainly look forward to exploring some of those concerns in the committee process.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 28/10/21