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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2484

Senator VANSTONE (4.27 p.m.) —The coalition has indicated its support for the principle of the Crimes (Child Sex Tourism) Amendment Bill 1994, but there was a bit of argy-bargy about whether the government had the legislation in its proper form. It was suggested that the Democrats, the Greens (WA) and Senator Harradine would not have agreed, but of course they just did not have the chance to make any comments because this bill was introduced first in the other place.

  We said that we strongly support moves by Australia to do everything we can to protect children overseas from paedophiles who leave Australia, commit offences overseas and then return here. We made it clear that we would not tolerate such behaviour. To the extent that we can contribute to stopping such activity we will do so. We made the point at that time that it was important that the standards of justice to which Australians have become entitled should not be let slip by the desire of this government to act quickly with respect to paedophiles. It is all very well to have the intention to do the right thing so long as, in a rush to do so, one does not put at risk other people's rights and in that way do the right thing.

  I think I am correct in saying that this is the first bill that a House of Representatives standing committee has agreed to take as almost a bills reference in the sort of fashion that happens when bills are referred to committees on Fridays. Although it makes me nearly choke to do so, I wish to put on record that that committee has done a good job. On an earlier occasion I took the opportunity to chastise Mr Daryl Melham, the Labor chairman of the committee, for saying that he thought his committee was the premier committee of the parliament. Since that committee had not done anything very much in this parliament or the previous one, I thought that statement was a bit rich.

  Frankly, I did not have much expectation that it would do the sort of job that it has done. I am not happy to admit that I was wrong, but I am prepared to admit that I was wrong. It has done a sterling job with this bill. It is a unanimous report with 37 recommendations, most of which the government has to accept. So I congratulate Mr Melham for ensuring that his committee has done a very good job. I congratulate the government—

Senator Robert Ray —Don't give him your phone number. He will be on the phone every day.

Senator VANSTONE —We will see about that. I will give credit where it is due, and it is due in this instance. This is a case of parliament, in its other capacity, in the other place, for once doing its job—trying to fix legislation before it is sent here, instead of leaving it to us. That is, after all, what the taxpayers expect. They do not expect government members to just kowtow to whatever the executive says; a bit of forelock tugging here and there in order to advance their own position. They actually expect members of parliament to keep a check on the executive.

Senator Robert Ray —Like when you are in government.

Senator VANSTONE —I would hope so, minister. If he wants to get out of government and give me that experience, he will be able to tell me that I was wrong, but until I have had the experience of being in government, I will remain an idealist and believe that that will happen. I do not think that experience will be too far away, but that is another matter.

  The point is that they have done a good job. Whether or not it is the case when we are in government, this fact is correct: taxpayers do expect members of parliament to do their job. They do expect members of parliament, when they think a bill is either wrong in principle or wrong in some detail, but the principle is right—which was the situation here—to try to fix the bill. For once, the House of Representatives has taken on this task and, I have to say, it has done a pretty good job of it. As I said, it was we who indicated that this should be done. I freely admit that other parties in this chamber may well have supported that move, if they had had the chance.

  The point I want to make is this: the Attorney-General (Mr Lavarch), quite rightly, has picked up the cost of justice agenda. He has done so too late, but better late than never. He has taken just about every opportunity to chastise the legal profession and blame them for the high cost of justice. He has, on very few occasions that I can turn my mind to, acknowledged the role that government plays. I do not mean by that just his government; I mean the role that all of us play by adding to the pile of legislation daily, because that means that, when a taxpayer needs some legal advice, he has to pay someone to wade through the myriad legislation and regulations that we churn out of this place, to find out what the law is.

  We keep contributing to that. Maybe that would not be a bad thing if we kept contributing to it and got it right each time. I hope in this case by the time the legislation leaves this parliament we will have got this bill right. But one fact stares at us as clear as a bell: the government, in its desire to rush this legislation through, put a piece of legislation into the House of Representatives that was nothing short of appalling. If we go through the Hansard transcripts and look at the submissions made to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which looked at this bill, we find that witness after witness said, `Great ideal, but you're going about it in the wrong way. You are putting the rights of individual citizens at risk in the name of pursuing your ideal. You haven't got your legislation right in the first place.'

  I wanted to make the point that one way in which the executive can contribute to the parliament as a whole getting things right in the first place is by itself taking more time in framing the legislation in the first place—putting out exposure drafts and getting some broader consultation, so that we do not have to spend as much time and money fixing the legislation here. We spend a lot of time and money. These hearings are expensive, not only for the taxpayer but for the people who come along and contribute, many of whom pay their own air fares, give up their own professional time to draft submissions, submit them to a hearing and then come along and make a verbal submission as well. That all costs. We have had enormous costs in this regard. This committee had three public hearings—on 18, 19 and 23 May. The bill was referred to it on only 4 May and it was meant to report, I think, by 30 May.

  As I have said, the report of the committee indicated that if the bill were to be passed in its original form there would have been grave encroachments into the presumption of innocence. In the foreword to the report, the chairman of the committee, Mr Melham, indicated:

  If the Parliament accepts the recommendations made by the Committee in this report, the Bill will be a much clearer and more effective piece of legislation. It will provide a stronger deterrent than the current draft and it will be enforceable. The protection offered to children in countries outside Australia will be more powerful.

Why could the Minister for Justice (Mr Kerr) not get his act together and get the bill into the form in which we have it now when he introduced it in the first place? Would it not be a contribution to the cost of justice and access to justice if ministers and their departments spent a bit more time getting the drafting right in the first place? It certainly would be.

  As I have indicated, there were about 37 recommendations made. The government was forced to accept almost all of them. This bill, in one sense, is something that we should all be proud of because it is going to make a contribution to protecting children from paedophiles. We can all take some pride in that when this bill is passed. But the minister who originally drafted this bill has the pride that he can take in it tainted in one way, because the bill was introduced in such a sloppy and basically disgraceful way in the first place.

  We are talking about people going to gaol. They are quite serious crimes that we are constructing, and quite serious penalties on possibly innocent citizens. In the name of pursuing an ideal, the minister drafted a bill that needed very serious amending which was agreed to by his own party in the other place before we even had a chance to look at it. The recommendations that were made were to tighten the provisions for video link, and the provisions which would have otherwise made it possible for the court to establish the age of the victim. That was a very serious problem.

  The committee indicated in its report that the bill, in its original form, did not effectively translate intentions into sound legislation. The committee indicated that the bill's response to the problems of procuring evidence and prosecuting a case had been to short-circuit some of the traditional safeguards afforded to accused persons in Australia. How disgraceful is that?

  It does not matter how bad the crime is. In fact, it should be said that the time when the right of presumption of innocence should be most closely protected is when the charge is more serious. That is obviously the case. The more serious the charge, the more closely protected the presumption of innocence should be. This committee basically said that the original bill wanted to short-circuit some of the traditional safeguards afforded to accused persons in Australia.

  Mr John Dowd QC indicated that fairness for the accused is also fairness for the community. Mr Martin Sides QC, who gave evidence at the hearing, indicated that the right of the accused to a fair trial is paramount. What in heaven's name are we doing when we have ministers producing legislation that requires QCs to come and tell parliamentarians that fairness for the accused is fairness for the community and that we need to remember that the right of the accused to a fair trial is paramount? Should we not know that in the first place? Should legislation not be introduced in a form that indicates that we understand that? Every citizen in this nation, when they are charged with a crime under Commonwealth or state legislation, has the right to a fair trial, and that is a paramount right. There is no right that should be able to overstep that.

  Yet, we had a minister who—perhaps in a genuine desire to address this problem rapidly, or perhaps in a desire to catch the publicity that would flow from dealing with this legislation—cobbled together a tacky piece of legislation that required 37 recommendations for amendments to be made. He put the federal parliament—allegedly the highest court in the land—in a situation where we had QCs reminding us that our own citizens had a right to a fair trial and we ought not to forget it. How embarrassing is that for us? We can take some pride in the fact that this legislation will pass, but the minister can take no pride at all in the form in which he originally put this bill into the lower house—not one skerrick of pride. It is just a disgrace.

  I would be embarrassed to be the minister and have these kinds of remarks made about a piece of legislation that I put forward. I would be embarrassed to have people telling a parliamentary committee that I put in legislation that seemed to forget that the right of Australian citizens to a fair trial was paramount. It is a fundamental disgrace to have legislation originally put in that form.

  I know that other people want to speak on this bill. Were we not pressed for time—as we always are at the end of the session—I would go through the legislation piece by piece and further elaborate on the disgraceful condition in which this bill was first put to the House of Representatives. But I suppose fair is fair. Some of it has been fixed up by the committee and it deserves credit for having done that. I would like to go through the legislation piece by piece and point out where the minister had allowed a bill to come in, in his desire to address this matter, in such a tacky form that the paramount right of Australians to a fair trial was put at risk. That is just a disgrace. I will not say any more because I think other people might want to contribute to this debate. We will let the debate get under way so that this bill can be passed.