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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30993

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (8:54 PM) —in reply—I thank the honourable member for Blaxland for his short but succinct remarks and his excellent understanding of the nature of the problem we face—and there is a problem; let me just make that very clear. We have been treating this over some time, particularly with the Senate as they have trawled over the matters and have made a number of suggestions. I make no bones about it: this is a short-term measure to ensure that the Australian Federal Police are able to access telephone intercepts for what we regard as the normal procedures, where you are tapping a voice, in effect. For anything else—such as texting, email and so on that you have to read—you go and get another sort of warrant.

We are going to have a longer term inquiry. That is why we have a sunset clause: so that it fixes an end to it. That is really why I am disappointed that, while the amendments have been applauded because they meet urgent operational needs, the potential for delay in the Senate is nevertheless foreshadowed. If the Senate could deal with it on Friday—get the Australian Federal Police in—and pass it on Monday, perhaps it would not be a problem. But the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee has twice considered proposed amendments to the Telecommunications (Interception) Act in relation to stored communications. On the last occasion, the committee recommended that further consideration of the amendments be deferred until the questions surrounding the interpretation and the proposed amendments had been resolved. Those issues have been resolved.

The amendments have been developed by my department in close consultation with the Australian Federal Police and they should be passed without delay. Not only do the AFP support the amendments; they have called for the amendments to be passed as quickly as possible to meet their operational needs. The amendments are subject to a sunset clause, as I have mentioned, because they are interim in nature and they address immediate operational issues. The need for similar provisions in the long term will be considered as part of a comprehensive review of the communications interception policy that I have asked my department to carry out.

I emphasise again that the amendment is urgently required to ensure the effectiveness of the AFP investigations into serious Commonwealth offences. The amendments address those operational concerns surrounding the lawfulness of means of accessing stored communications. This is an opportunity for the opposition to retain—I hope—some credibility when it comes to matters of national security. It is not enough to suggest that you are supporting stronger intelligence and security law enforcement agencies if you put roadblocks in the way. So I would like you to have another look at it, if you can, and to see whether or not this bill can be approved in the Senate during the course of this week. I commend the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment (Stored Communications) Bill 2004 to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.