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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 10533


Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (7:10 AM) —I indicated last night when I was speaking on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 that the Labor Party support tough legislation to counter terrorism in this country. We have always supported that and we have said so from the beginning. We have been prepared to enter the debate, consider the advice and make judgments based around it—and that is what the bill, which is continuing to come back from the Senate, is doing. I cannot understand why the government are not prepared to adopt all the amendments. There has been an indication this morning that the government are prepared to move on two amendments—one after we tabled advice from the former Solicitor-General, which the government now accepts. We still have not seen the government's advice as to why they were arguing unconstitutionality before. Now we have them tapping the mat on unconstitutionality.

Why do the government keep going to the brink but then only want to play politics? They do not want a solution; they just want to play politics. Also, we have now got them acknowledging that they will accept a sunset clause. What has taken them so long? If they are prepared to accept that this should be a bill that we trial, if you like, for the next three years, why do they not support the other amendments? It is because the other amendments go to fundamental principles. The first is that people who are being detained for questioning have access to lawyers. What is wrong with society having access to lawyers from a panel of lawyers that was recommended by a Senate committee, which members of the government agreed with? The Attorney-General is ignoring the advice coming from members of his own party, let alone the Labor Party. Why should people not be allowed to have access to lawyers if they are being detained? We accept that they should not be able to play around with the system and use it to delay. That principle has been attempted to be accommodated. It is a fundamental principle that they should have access to lawyers. Why will this government not accept that?

The second issue goes to the age at which people can be detained. Why should people aged 14 years be involved in this bill? As the member for Brand indicated, if it is a suicide bomber aged 17, you do not need this legislation; you use other legislation. Under this legislation we are talking about circumstances in which people can be taken in for questioning at the age of 14 and detained for up to seven days—and for 48 hours they do not have access to a lawyer. How could anyone in those circumstances accept that this government is serious about dealing with principle as distinct from playing politics?

Then we have the questioning regime which they insist should enable them to question for up to seven days. Under the amendments that we have put forward, there is the ability to question for up to 20 hours. That does not mean less than a day; it means 20 hours of questioning—eight hours more than is currently provided for under the Crimes Act. We recognise that the special circumstances of this case go beyond the provisions that pertain under the Crimes Act, but that is not good enough for the government. Do not tell me that the authorities, the questioning agency and intelligence-gathering agency, ASIO, cannot get an understanding after 20 hours of questioning.

We are saying that the government has the capacity to get the bill through today. That is the challenge to the Attorney-General. Instead of coming into this place and trying to explain away his guilt in this—he could not even explain it at a press conference yesterday afternoon—we say to the Attorney-General, `Change your mind and accept the amendments now' and we can have the bill through today.

That is the opportunity that faces you, Attorney. We can have this bill through before Christmas—a bill which is not just advanced by the Labor Party but supported by members of your own party. One can only assume that, if you reject this opportunity, you want to play politics with it. (Extension of time granted) We can only assume that, if the Attorney persists with the stance he is taking now, he is playing politics with it. He is denying the opportunity for his government to give strength and power to ASIO to deal with the threat of terrorism in this country. This is a unique opportunity, as I indicated before. These are powers that do not exist in other democratic countries in the world. These are significantly enhanced powers for ASIO, which we accept in the context of the war on terror. But we are not going to compromise on the fundamental principles, and we are not going to ignore the advice that was determined by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee on all the evidence that came before it.

Attorney, why is it that you think you are the one who is right on this when you have been proven wrong on the unconstitutionality? The fact of the matter is that you do not have the courage to stand up to people in your own party who want to play politics with this. The people who consider the issues understand why these amendments are important. We urge you again, given that you have made the concessions on two of the points we have been arguing at length for some time, to go the extra step. Concede the extra three points, because you will have a bill before Christmas—a bill that strengthens the hand of ASIO; a bill that looks after the interests of the Australian citizens but that does not put some in jeopardy. Your legislation does. It takes away their rights. It is not fair in these circumstances.

If you think the Australian public is going to accept a position in which you deny people the right to lawyers and in which you say you need to be able to detain them for up to seven days, it will not wear it. The Australian public does want tough new powers, but it also wants the rights of its citizens protected. That is where you have to get the balance right, and the bill that has come back from the Senate gets the balance right. You want to distort the balance, and you are not doing your role or the country any service. I urge you to consider again these amendments in the interests of better powers and the protection of our citizens. Have the capacity and the decency to get the balance right rather than just play grubby politics with this bill.

Question agreed to.