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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 77

Mr REID (9.57 p.m.) —It gives me pleasure to support my two learned colleagues, the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Williams) and the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) and to participate in this debate. I also commend the comments made by the honourable member for Banks (Mr Melham), who made a very honest appraisal of the Crimes (Search Warrants and Powers of Arrest) Amendment Bill. His contribution to the debate highlighted the importance of further debate, discussion and investigation of the concerns that have been raised not only by the honourable member for Banks but also by the New South Wales Law Society and the Law Council of Australia.

  I felt that the contribution of the honourable member for Banks was extremely honest. He indicated to the House that he had not read his correspondence since returning from leave and that he had not scrutinised the legislation. What he was saying to his colleague the Minister for Justice (Mr Kerr), who is at the table, was that, as one of the leading legal people on the government side of the House, the minister has not given proper consideration to this course of action and that he has not given proper consideration to the concerns that have been raised by very eminent people in the community. I ask the minister to take those comments into consideration. He is hearing them not only from his own colleagues, but also from our shadow Attorney-General, the honourable member for Tangney who has scrutinised the legislation and who has taken note of the concerns of the community and the people in the legal field in this regard.

  Bearing in mind the eminent people who have given their comments and concerns to the minister and to other honourable members of this chamber, I think that it would be absolutely out of order for him to proceed with this legislation without proper scrutiny. As he would be well aware, the time of honourable members prior to the House rising in December last year was fully occupied with a massive backlog of legislation—which the government introduced at the last minute of the session—as well as the native title legislation, which I am sure occupied the thoughts of the minister and the thoughts of many other honourable members in this chamber in the lead-up to that.

  Amongst that legislation under consideration was the bill that is under discussion tonight. Quite honestly, it appears now that government members have not given the proper consideration to this legislation that it deserves. I am not sure of the way in which the Labor Party operates in relation to its legislative committees but I envisage that it operates in a similar fashion to the way we do on this side of the House. We have backbench committees and honourable members are coopted to committees to discuss bills and legislation. They discuss a lot of the comments that they have received from their own networks as well as from informed sources throughout Australia and they arrive at a position on which they then make a recommendation to their minister who is bringing forward the legislation. That minister is very foolish if he does not take note of that backbench committee.

  I would imagine that the minister's party operates in much the same way as we do in this regard. I think the minister should take into consideration the views of one of his colleagues who is well qualified in the criminal law and obviously has been a practitioner in that field for something like 15 years—I think that was the comment—and someone who has grave reservations about supporting this legislation. But purely and simply he has to support it because he would be seen as breaking party ranks and would find himself—if the minister does not change his mind—having to vote for this legislation which in fact he does not personally support.

  I think the honourable member for Banks has given us a very wide insight tonight into the real reasons why this legislation should go to a committee for further examination, debate and discussion; to consider all of the points and the concerns that the Law Society of New South Wales through the Law Council of Australia has highlighted. The questions and concerns that it posed were whether the issuing officers should only be magistrates or should include a justice of the peace as well. I have some concerns about that because in many remote and isolated areas of Australia a magistrate is not always available to issue that warrant. My opinion as a lay person in the legal field is that it is necessary to include a justice of the peace but it needs to be fully debated. There may well be other reasons that could come forward from a committee properly constituted under the parliament to examine that, to allow for some spirited debate over that and to come up with a decision.

  There is no doubt in my mind that the parliamentary committee system in Australia is alive and well and does great service to the parliament of Australia in its consideration and deliberations on a wide range of topics. I think that here is an opportunity for a parliamentary committee to examine the ramifications of this legislation.

   There are also a number of other concerns which the Law Council of Australia high-lighted, and they are whether the police should be given the power to seek a search warrant to search an individual person, whether a warrant should be directed to a number of nominated police officers rather than the limitation of just two as in proposed section 3E(4)(d), whether there should be an offence of failure to supply a person's name and address to the police and whether police should have the power to enter premises without a warrant to arrest.

  We really have some funny laws in Australia. I know that this particular bill relates to search warrants under the Crimes Act but, for example, in other fields of jurisdiction, there are public servants in Australia who can just knock on a person's door and walk in and who do not require any warrant at all. In fact, an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 10 June last year attracted my attention. It stated that the manager of the entry, compliance and systems division of the department of immigration can knock on a person's door and come into that house at any time of the day or night in search for the estimated 80,000 illegal immigrants in Australia. The manager of the entry, compliance and systems division of the department of immigration has the power to issue warrants ordering entry into any premises in Australia. I know it is in another jurisdiction and not in the criminal law area, but the unsuspecting public and people who are not skilled in all aspects of the law simply do not understand that. Maybe there needs to be greater debate and discussion on a whole range of aspects, not only of this bill going to that committee but maybe there is another opportunity for further scrutiny of some of the powers that some public servants have in this nation.

  In fact, the manager of the entry, compliance and systems division of the department of immigration also oversees the work of five area officers who are also able to authorise entry through search warrants under the power of the Migration Act. The manager of the entry, compliance and systems division said that before a search warrant is granted the officers have to make sure that they have done their research and got the address right. I hope they got the address right, too. He went on further to say that it would be very embarrassing if they got the address wrong. It would certainly be embarrassing under the Crimes Act if they got the address wrong and went to the wrong address.

  There is no doubt that there are powers available through not only the Immigration Act but also others. I raise that as something that certainly the general public does not understand. In New South Wales there are 12 other acts under which people can enter premises without a warrant. There is a power under the Annual Holiday Act 1944 which allows people to enter into premises without knocking on the door. There is the Bennelong Point (Parking Station) Act 1985, the Dividing Fences Act and the Funeral Funds Act—there are all sorts of acts.

  It appears to me, and to the lay people in the general community, that this is a very complex and vexed question where people perhaps do not understand or recognise the difference between the powers that a public servant could have under some of that state legislation and the Immigration Act and the powers under the Crimes Act and other acts when officials come to their door under those circumstances. People are confused by it all. There are many concerns about this legislation which I think need to be further examined.

  The contribution made by my learned colleague the honourable member for Tangney explored those issues with the minister. All I can say is that those issues, which have been addressed by bodies such as the Law Council of Australia, need to be fully addressed before this legislation is rammed through the parliament. We saw too much of the undue haste of the government in the lead-up to the end of the 1993 sittings when the guillotine was applied and legislation was forced through this House.

  I can guarantee that many of those bills will come back to the House during the current year of 1994 and will have to be amended again. Not only will they be amended but the government will also have the opportunity of seeing some of the undesirable effects that some of that rushed legislation has had. Legislation that went through the House in late December was not debated in this House at all because of the guillotine approach that was applied right through the last sitting weeks of this chamber.

  The legislation was then sent over to the Senate. At that time the Senate was extremely overworked and was sitting into the wee small hours of the morning. It was trying to examine legislation which the government had introduced so late in the parliamentary proceedings that no-one had a proper opportunity to consult with people out in the community on the effects of that legislation. The government also did not have the opportunity to canvass with the community many of the legislative processes contained in the bills that it brought before this House. The community was unaware of many of the bills that went through this chamber during that crazy month of December when the government decided to pull out all the stops and guillotine every piece of legislation that went through this House.

  I suggest to the minister that, in the spirit of good government—to which his Prime Minister (Mr Keating) lays claim that his government is attempting to lift the quality of legislation, the quality of debate which does take place in the parliament and the consultative process that should be embarked upon by the government—here is a very good opportunity for the Keating government to prove to the community that it has turned over a new leaf in 1994 and that it is prepared to send this legislation off to a committee for further examination. Without addressing the concerns that have been raised in detail I can tell the minister now that, even though the government might have the numbers in this House to force this legislation through, it does not remove the concerns that have been put forward.

  Those concerns will once again be raised with the minister in the period of the legislation moving from this House into the Senate for further debate. What we will have is a situation in the Senate where there will be a last ditch attempt, with a bit of wheeling, dealing and horse-trading, to come up with a bill which properly addresses the concerns of those people. Those concerns have not had the opportunity to have been properly considered in a non-confrontational atmosphere.

  I think that is really what the honourable member for Banks was saying tonight: show some wisdom in this piece of legislation, support the amendment that has been put forward by my colleague the honourable member for Tangney and allow this legislation to be fairly and properly considered by a committee. This would ensure that the bill is the best possible legislation that the government can produce. It would also ensure people in the community are given the opportunity to have more input into this legislation by having it opened up to proper discussion and debate through the committee process.