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Thursday, 2 September 1999
Page: 9752


Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (9:54 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

The bill has two primary purposes. The bill's first object is to strengthen arrangements for dealing with investigations of corruption by public officials, paedophilia and organised crime. The bill's second object is to implement a recommendation of the Telecommunications Interception Policy Review to continue the provisions allowing interception warrants to be issued by nominated members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The interception of telecommunications by law enforcement agencies, and subsequent dealing with intercepted information, are regulated by the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979. That act provides a detailed scheme of control designed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of communications passing over the Australian telecommunications system. Intrusion into a communication, even by law enforcement agencies, is subject to strict control. Interceptions can only be carried out by declared Commonwealth and state law enforcement agencies and only under the authority of a warrant.

I now turn to the provisions in the bill that are directed against the problem of corruption by public officers, paedophilia and organised crime. The bill contains a number of provisions relating to the Queensland Crime Commission and the Western Australian Anti-Corruption Commission. The Commonwealth supports the government in Queensland in its moves to deal with paedophilia and organised crime and the Western Australian government in its efforts to excise corruption, crime and serious improper conduct of public officers. The Commonwealth is ready to assist in providing the Queensland Crime Commission and the Western Australian Anti-Corruption Commission with appropriate and effective powers. Experience has shown that covert surveillance is one of the most powerful investigative tools for uncovering and prosecuting crime.

The bill will amend the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 to permit these commissions to receive and use intercepted information originally obtained by other law enforcement agencies where the information relates to a matter the commissions may investigate. The amendments also open the way for a declaration to be made which will permit either commission to apply for warrants on their own behalf once the Attorney-General, as the responsible minister, is satisfied that the statutory pre-conditions of a declaration have been fulfilled in those states. These amendments will provide both agencies with the best tools for fighting crime. The amendments do not involve any effective widening of interception powers.

I shall now address the aspect of the bill which relates to the power of nominated members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to issue warrants. Section 3 of the Telecommunications (Interception) and Listening Device Amendment Act 1997 provides that the power of nominated AAT members to issue warrants will expire on 31 December 1999. Section 103A of the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 required a review be undertaken on amendments made by the Telecommunications (Interception) and Listening Device Act 1997. This included the provisions conferring a power on nominated members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to issue warrants.

The review found that the practice of nominated members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal issuing warrants has worked well. They bring to the task a seriousness of purpose and commitment to principles of accountability which serves the public interest well. The government believes that the nominated members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal have demonstrated both the independence and experience necessary for this role. In response to the review, the government will repeal section 3 of the Telecommunications (Interception) and Listening Device Amendment Act 1997, thereby allowing nominated members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to continue to issue warrants. The amendments have no significant financial impact. I commend the bill to the House, and I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Martyn Evans) adjourned.