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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23467

Mr BAIRD (5:17 PM) —I rise today to support the ASIO Legislation Amendment Bill 2003. I am very pleased to see that my neighbouring member, the member for Barton, has supported the bill on behalf of the opposition. That is appropriate. There was considerable discussion within our committee—I am a member of the AttorneyGeneral and justice committee—about looking at the civil liberties question. There have been some minor changes, and I believe we have a bill which everyone can support. I notice that the member for Cunningham is shaking his head in disagreement. He will not be supporting it. Are we surprised, as regards anything that the Greens would produce? But I am very glad to see that some pragmatism by the Labor Party has resulted in my neighbour the member for Barton supporting the bill today. This is an important bill. It is important in the operation of the ASIO bill that we do make some changes to ensure the security of Australia. I commend the AttorneyGeneral for continuing to look at ways in which Australia's security can be improved. This takes us a step further along the road.

I think all Australians are concerned about the security arrangements within this country. The recent events in Turkey and Saudi Arabia have brought to mind the issue of terrorism offshore. Of course, in my own electorate the questions regarding the issue of Bali lie deep within the community, as six young women from my electorate were killed in the blast in Bali. So we are aware, in my electorate particularly, of issues of terrorism. We are concerned about them. That is why I, on behalf of my electorate, very much support this bill. We cannot live in an Australia isolated from the rest of the world in terms of international terrorism, and these powers will strengthen ASIO in how they look at the threat of terrorism on our shores.

Constant vigilance is important. The appearance in Australia of Willie Brigitte, with his al-Qaeda links, emphasises not only the need to remain vigilant but also that these people are in the country. They are having discussions regarding terrorist links. They are trying to muster support. That is why the role of ASIO becomes particularly important at this time. It is the responsibility of good government to ensure that appropriate security agencies are armed with the appropriate powers to deal effectively with terrorism investigations. In July, the government introduced legislation that specifically targeted terrorists and terrorist organisations, and that really set out the framework for dealing with these organisations. It is important that the legislation is constantly upgraded. I recently spoke on the Criminal Code amendment bill, which had bipartisan support as well. We saw legislation passed to have Hamas and Lashkar-e-Taiba listed as terrorist organisations. It was further evidence of this government developing strong counter-terrorism initiatives.

ASIO is charged with gathering information and producing intelligence to warn the government about activities or situations that may endanger national security and to secure Australia from terrorists who act with violence as an answer and from people who otherwise seek to harm Australia's interests in order to further their own. The measures in the government's packages are all designed to strengthen ASIO's ability to protect a great nation from these clandestine organisations. The bill currently before this House is designed to provide ASIO with a more substantial legal basis from which it can collect and disseminate intelligence. The changes will aid the process of intelligence collection, with the sole purpose of combating terrorism. There are some areas of particular significance to the bill: extending the period of questioning time, minimising the flight risk of a person being questioned, clarifying the powers of the prescribed authority and secrecy provisions.

The bill's first aspect extends the length of time that a person can be questioned from 24 hours to 48 hours when an interpreter is required. Under current arrangements, the very need for an interpreter means that questioning time is effectively halved through the processes of translation. This amendment is designed to ensure that individuals are adequately questioned, whether or not they speak English or they refuse to speak English. It will not alter the format or structure of questioning; rather, those who need an interpreter will effectively get the same time as those who speak English. Questioning blocks will still remain of eight hours duration for the first 24 hours. A person being detained for questioning must be released from detention at the expiry of 48 hours, unless specific orders have been obtained from authorities; and the maximum period of detention is seven days. Following this time, a prescribed authority will then make a decision as to whether the subject requires an interpreter. Should that be the case, questioning would proceed for up to another 24 hours in the same structure as the first three eighthour blocks. Again, `prescribed authority' means independent of government, usually with judicial background—and this would be an appropriate way to go. So the first aspect of this legislation relates to the involvement of translators, and it is a sensible, pragmatic decision.

The bill's second aspect concerns minimising the flight risk of those who are subject to investigation and with whom ASIO wishes to have discussions. Obviously—as reflected in the case of Willie Brigitte when we found he had left the country very hurriedly—this provides the ability to obtain warrants, to cancel and ask for the surrender of passports and, of course, to prevent persons from fleeing the country. All these measures are aimed at curtailing this risk. Currently it is not an offence to retain your passport, even in circumstances where the subject of the warrant may be a flight risk. When dealing with such terrorist cells, we have to presume they will be a flight risk and may seek to avoid questioning by absconding overseas.

Under this bill, the subject of a warrant will be required to relinquish all passports in their possession—of course, there may be some with dual passports—as soon as is practicable following the notification of the warrant. The warrant ceases to be active after 28 days, after which all passports must be returned expeditiously to the subject. It is possible that the passport may be returned earlier if it is deemed appropriate. There is a maximum penalty of five years for not surrendering a passport; the second part of the offence is that of leaving the country, which also has a maximum penalty of five years. Those two are very much tied together. The subject of the warrant will not be able to leave the country during the 28 days without the authorisation of the Director-General of Security.

The bill's third aspect clarifies the powers of a prescribed authority. Questions of civil liberties have been raised in relation to this but, overall, questions relating to the broader interests of national security would mean that the definition of what is involved would seem more appropriate. This bill will give absolute qualification to the prescribed authority to detain a subject that they regard as someone who may seek to avoid further questioning or alert other people to the investigation. So it is really the passing on of information where in the process of investigation such information may be revealed in discussion. It is appropriate that a person not reveal, firstly, that they have been subject to investigation and, secondly, the nature of what was discussed. If a person who is subject to a warrant clearly disclosed or intended to disclose information about what occurred, they are subject to a penalty of up to five years imprisonment—and they are subject to that provision for up to two years.

Secrecy is also paramount when dealing with a warrant. With few exceptions, no information should be disclosed, such as the specific details of a warrant or the information that is discussed when a subject is being questioned. Secrecy obligations will also apply to people who are in receipt of information as a result of contact or disclosure from a source or a subject. However, disclosure of information from a secondary source involves `reckless disclosure', and the penalties involved come under separate prosecution. The planning and organisation that goes into terrorist attacks is very extensive. This bill proposes that secrecy obligations will apply to a subject for two years after the expiry of a warrant. The maximum penalty for offences of disclosure, as I have mentioned, is five years. The other provisions of the bill are of a technical nature.

In summary, this bill takes us forward in the fight against terrorism. It strengthens the hand of ASIO within this country. I think all members of the community would be concerned to ensure that information held within investigations be kept strictly limited, that provisions applying to the time of questioning where interpreters are involved be lengthened and that individuals who are subject to a warrant who are being required by ASIO for discussions about suggested links with terrorist organisations or knowledge that they might have not be able to leave the country and be required to forfeit their passports for a limited period. All these seem quite sensible proposals. The civil liberties issues have been addressed in terms of this legislation, and I believe it is entirely appropriate. All Australians would want to ensure that their country remains secure at a time of international terrorist threat. While the Left may want to make their own particular points, as I am sure we will hear from the member for Cunningham, the fact is that 99.9 per cent of all Australians see the need to make Australia a safe environment for their families, their children and their grandchildren. We are blessed in that we have not endured the terrorist incidents that we have seen occur offshore. We want to ensure that that remains the case, and this legislation will assist in that process. I commend the bill to the House.