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Wednesday, 19 November 1997
Page: 10712

Mr KELVIN THOMSON(9.36 a.m.) —We have been discussing in consideration in detail the issue of natural justice and the opposition's proposed amendments to ensure that the natural justice requirement does not disappear from the minister's responsibilities. There are a number of precedents and I would like to draw to the attention of the House the observations made by the now Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Mr Ruddock) himself back in August 1995. Speaking on telecommunications interception laws, he pointed out:

The coalition, on the basis of natural justice, does have a general reluctance to support retrospective legislation . . .

That is something that this legislation does provide for in part. He quoted one of his colleagues, who is now the Attorney-General (Mr Williams), as saying:

It is a fundamental principle of our legal system that laws are made to have prospective operation and not retrospective operation. It is simply unjust and oppressive to subject citizens to a law they have no means of ascertaining simply because the law has not been conceived, drafted, debated or enacted.

Furthermore, in that same debate he went on to talk about the need for balancing the competing interests of privacy, freedom of speech and law enforcement requirements and expressed great concern that in his view there was in that particular legislation a circumstance where the courts were not going to be able to supervise the activities of those who were being authorised in relation to telecommunications interception. He also talked about the need for the safeguard of judicial oversight, the need for an independent mechanism by which these decisions would be oversighted under the legislation being proposed by the government. So I note that the minister has in the past had regard for natural justice issues, the need for a proper balance in the powers of those who are making decisions and the need to ensure that those decisions are made on a proper basis and that there are proper accountability and proper safeguards against abuse.

I also note that on that particular bill the minister urged the government to accept his amendments and pointed out that the issue would be the subject of further discussion in the Senate. I would encourage the minister on this occasion also, if he is keen to get the legislation through—and I think the legislation, by any yardstick, enhances the minister's powers dramatically and represents a significant change in this area of ministerial powers in terms of character and conduct—to reflect seriously on the opposition's amendments with a view to getting the legislation through. It was noteworthy that this morning one of the Queensland government members had expressed, in the context of the Wik debate, public concern about the government's hard line against amendments, saying that the Senate should not be disregarded in a democratic system. The member said that he was concerned about public perception that the Wik legislation was damaging the reconciliation process and that the prospect of a double dissolution was horrendous.

Just as with the Wik legislation, if the government is concerned about getting a bill through the parliament rather than the politicking of the issue and the political point scoring of the issue, I would urge the government to seriously consider the amendments. I understand that that would not happen now, but I urge it to seriously consider between here and the Senate the prospect of agreeing to the opposition's amendments with a view to getting a piece of legislation which certainly does provide the minister with enhanced powers but also maintains appropriate safeguards in relation to the issue of natural justice, in relation to the right to reasons and also in terms of making the function of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal workable when it is confronted with cases of that kind. Accordingly, the opposition will be dividing once on these amendments, and urges the minister to consider them seriously between here and the Senate.