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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17103


Miss JACKIE KELLY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (10:53 AM) —First, I will address the questions asked by the member for Banks earlier. Unfortunately, he has had to depart to go to a media interview. Hopefully, he will get a few of his questions answered by looking at the transcript. Mr Hicks and Mr Habib do remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The US has detained these two men. As ably pointed out by members on this side, they had links to al-Qaeda. They have been held in custody by US authorities with approximately 619 other detainees from over 40 countries around the world. The US continues to detain these people for security, intelligence and law enforcement purposes. Mr Hicks and Mr Habib remain the subject of Australian investigations, and Australia is cooperating with a number of countries, including the United States, to advance these investigations as quickly and effectively as possible. At this time, Australia is not in a position to commence prosecution of either man, but the Australian authorities do have access to Mr Hicks and Mr Habib for the purposes of furthering their investigations.

Like the member for Banks, I am aware of media reports that the US is considering constructing a death chamber at Guantanamo Bay which could be used to carry out executions pursuant to rulings of US military commissions. The government is unaware of such plans, but I understand that the Attorney-General's Department is attempting to confirm these reports with US authorities. Like the United Kingdom, our government is strongly opposed to the use of the death penalty. Our views on this are well known to the US authorities and we have taken every opportunity to reinforce our objections. I understand the government is undertaking discussions with the US; however, I do not propose to comment on the content of those discussions.

I want to return to the issues raised by the member for Lowe regarding the High-income Professionals Taskforce. That task force comprises representatives from the Attorney-General's Department, the Australian Taxation Office, Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia and the Treasury. It reported to ministers in January 2002. On 21 November 2002 the Acting Attorney-General announced the release of an issues paper inviting comments on a number of suggested changes to the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and the Family Law Act 1975 arising out of that task force report. The issues paper was sent to a number of stakeholders and, as the member for Lowe pointed out, it was released for public comment on the web sites of both ITSA and the A-G's department. The deadline for comments on that paper was 20 February 2003. A number of responses from key stakeholders, such as the Victorian Bar Association and the Law Council of Australia, were not received by that date. Officers from the Attorney-General's Department and from Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia are considering the comments received and are awaiting those outstanding submissions. They are going to provide a report to the Attorney-General in due course.

The member for Lowe also raised the matter of the prosecution of Dr Colston. It is a matter for the DPP. I know they were attempting to limit the tenure of the Director of Public Prosecutions for New South Wales to seven years. Just on the appointment, there was enormous outcry on that occasion about interfering with the role and putting pressure on the DPP in that circumstance to do things more favourably for government. It is an independent body; it should be such in matters such as this. The DPP has been informed that there was medical evidence that showed there was no prospect of the matter being able to proceed to trial, so the prosecution was discontinued. The DPP is currently conducting a review of Dr Colston's fitness to stand trial. The DPP has indicated that on completion of that review an appropriate statement will be made. At this stage, the DPP is not in a position to indicate when that will be. It is an independent statutory authority; it is inappropriate for the government to be pursuing political means by putting pressure on the DPP in such a way. All credit to the member for Lowe for his campaign; however, he should bear in mind that the DPP is an independent statutory body and there are some very fundamental principles for making it autonomous. (Extension of time granted)

The member for Batman raised the issue of the 15 per cent superannuation surcharge payable by judges. The Treasurer is discussing the issue of superannuation taxes for judges with the states and territories. I understand that this matter is primarily for the Treasurer and that these discussions are still under way. It is a tricky issue, as the member rightly raised, when you have got a High Court decision. It will obviously require some legislative intervention for that to proceed. It would be beneficial for it to be universal, but it is not a matter for the Attorney-General; it is something that the Treasurer will have to take up through his department.