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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21564

Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (9:59 AM) —I rise to support the Telecommunications Interception and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2003. I support it, of course, along with the entire opposition because in our view it makes a very decent contribution to the fight against terrorism and also improves a number of areas concerning law and order. Firstly, it ensures that the Western Australian Corruption and Crime Commission and the parliamentary inspector who will oversee it will have appropriate investigative powers conferred by Commonwealth laws. This bill, among other things, amends the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979 to make the new commission and parliamentary inspector eligible authorities for the purposes of that act. This new commission and parliamentary inspector will therefore have greater powers. This will enable them to receive, for example, telecommunications interception products relevant to their functions. In addition the commission will be able to be declared an intercepting agency, enabling it therefore to obtain executive telecommunications interception warrants in its own right. This latter process may be initiated by a request from the Premier of Western Australia, and that would also require the Commonwealth Attorney-General to be satisfied that the new commission meets the appropriate record-keeping requirements and accountability measures.

Further to those amendments the bill amends the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988 and therefore allows the commission to be effectively a law enforcement agency for the purposes of the act, which will give it access to financial transaction reports information. In addition, the bill amends the Crimes Act 1914 to make the commission a participating agency for the purposes of the assumed identities scheme under part IAC of the act, which will enable the commission to acquire and use evidence of an assumed identity.

As you can see it is a very broad bill and it goes to a number of areas of law. I should indicate by way of context that this year the Western Australian government introduced legislation into their parliament to establish a new and better resourced Corruption and Crime Commission to replace what was the Anti-Corruption Commission. That law, passed by the parliament, was assented to in July this year.

The creation of the new body implements a recommendation of royal commissioner Kennedy, who was charged with the responsibility to investigate police corruption. In his report, delivered last year, he indicated that there were in fact quite serious flaws in the structure and power of the ACC. Therefore he considered that such deficiencies brought about a lack of public confidence in the current processes of the investigation. Therefore the commission's role now would be to investigate police corruption, to investigate the public sector corruption and also to play a vital role in examining and investigating organised crime.

The amendments made by this bill will ensure that this newly established commission has all the powers of the outgoing ACC to tackle corruption and organised crime. It is important that we commend the Western Australian government and in particular its Attorney-General on the establishment of this new body because it is certainly going to strengthen the powers for authorities to act when necessary.

Another purpose of this bill is to amend the Telecommunications (Interception) Act 1979, as I said, which would enable interception warrants to be sought in the course of investigating slavery, sexual servitude, deceptive recruiting and aggravated people-smuggling offences contained in the Criminal Code. The new offences applying to the smuggling of people—aggravated people smuggling—have been strengthened. They would now, for example, apply to the smuggling of people into a foreign country, whether or not via Australia, whereas previously offences of this type in the Migration Act had applied only to the smuggling of people into Australia.

Again, this is a very timely amendment to the law to ensure that the authorities have powers to prevent things such as this happening and indeed, if they were to occur, to ensure that people were properly charged. In respect of that offence of people smuggling—that is, when a person organises the illegal entry of another person—the maximum penalty would be 10 years imprisonment, and I think it is an appropriate sentence for such a heinous act. This bill has looked to improve the law in this area to respond to public concerns about such acts and therefore I happily rise to support those provisions.

As I said, there are also some references to other areas, including slavery, sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting. I think it is public knowledge that there have been many victims of this evil trade and indeed there has therefore been an important requirement that the law be enhanced in order to respond to those awful crimes. I think this bill goes some way to doing that and should be commended.

In respect of the interception warrants, we support this bill. But, as with all matters that go to potential intrusions on individual freedoms and people's rights, there always has to be the right balance between ensuring authorities have the capacity to undertake their duties and discharge them effectively and the government being conscious of not intruding upon individuals unnecessarily. Therefore matters such as this with respect to telecommunications interception should be reviewable, and we should monitor the way in which our authorities implement such laws. I note that the then Attorney-General, when commenting upon this issue and making reference to the report which was handed down, said:

The report shows that the use of telecommunications interception continues to be an important investigative tool which is demonstrating proven results. The figures contained in the report show that access to this tool is vital for law enforcement particularly at a time of such rapid technological change and advancement.

Those comments by the former Attorney-General were made in relation to the latest annual report on the telecommunications act. But, to reinforce my concerns about maintaining a balance, I note that the Sunday Tasmanian, in its editorial, indicated the following:

AUSTRALIANS are fast becoming the most spied-on people in the Western world.

Mail interceptions and telephone taps have soared.

... ... ...

The 2,514 court warrants for phone taps last financial year—almost double the number issued in the US—represent a tenfold increase in the past decade ...

The warrants apply to hundreds of thousands of individual phone calls and eavesdropping on thousands of people.

That paper may have gilded the lily a little and may have used hyperbole to make its point, but I think it is an issue that has to be properly monitored. I also note with respect to this matter that, in relation to the report, the then shadow minister for justice, Daryl Melham, stated in September last year in this place:

It is a striking fact that Australian law enforcement agencies are resorting to telecommunications interception much more than their American counterparts ...

He went on to note that, given the disparity in population between the two countries, it amounted to a per capita rate of telephone interception in Australia which is more than 20 times that of the United States. Clearly, if we were to use the United States as a benchmark for those things, then, in terms of rights to intrude into individual freedoms in order to discharge the powers that are needed in such insecure times, I think we have to be mindful of the fact that there has indeed been quite an extraordinary increase in interceptions in this country. The rate is far in excess of that which would occur in the United States and other comparable countries. Therefore, I think we have to take note and be mindful of that when we have this bill passed and assented to.

I will finish by saying that the Labor Party supports the bill. We believe that it should be passed. It does strengthen powers in a number of areas and that is a good thing. However, I think it is important that we review the way in which our authorities and, indeed, our executive governments, apply these quite powerful measures to intrude into people's homes. We must make sure that the balance does not fall against the individual unnecessarily when we are attempting to achieve a secure nation.