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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 548


Ms LEY (11:40 AM) —I am pleased to speak today on the Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2008. The main purpose of this bill is to facilitate Queensland’s entry into the telecommunications interception regime and also to remedy some significant errors in the act. It is worth noting the Attorney-General’s remarks in his second reading speech on this bill when he said:

The inclusion of Queensland agencies will mean that the interception regime established by the T(IA) Act will become truly national. Queensland is currently the only jurisdiction whose law enforcement agencies do not have interception powers.

We should note that it is actually not this bill itself which gives Queensland law enforcement agencies their access to interception powers; those powers need to come from the Queensland parliament. But, before the Attorney-General can declare that an agency is eligible under the T(IA) Act, the states need to have their own legislation in place to demonstrate their accountability and record-keeping requirements of Commonwealth law. For Queensland to be able to comply with these requirements, the Commonwealth must recognise in the law the existence and role of the Public Interest Monitor in Queensland. Once this is in place, Queensland can then enact its own laws relating to telephone intercepts without running into inconsistency problems between Queensland law and Com-mon-wealth law. Queensland will give the Public Interest Monitor the oversight role in the application process that is demanded by Commonwealth law and the Commonwealth must give specific reference to the Public Interest Monitor so that there can be that consistency between the two regimes. That is the main purpose of this bill and its main provisions reflect that.

In the Queensland parliament, in August 2008, the Premier announced in her ministerial statement:

Members may recall that there have been ongoing discussions between the state and federal governments about making phone-tapping powers available to Queensland law enforcement agencies. I am very pleased to advise the House today that the Prime Minister has written to me confirming that the Australian government will now support telecommunication interception powers for the Queensland Police Service and the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Kevin Rudd has accepted that these powers should be subject to the involvement of the Public Interest Monitor, an independent barrister who represents the public interest. Phone tapping (sic) is a highly effective law enforcement power, but it is also a highly intrusive one. We have always said that we would consider these powers, but we have also said that they had to come with appropriate safeguards for people’s privacy, and we make no apologies for that.

I would like to emphasise the opposition’s view that we understand the need for telecommunications interceptions, but we certainly recognise that there must be strong and appropriate safeguards for people’s privacy. That is a balance that all agencies need to strike. It is important that Queensland come into what needs to be a national regime, and a loophole such as has previously existed may have allowed for interceptions that could have led to detentions and arrests for serious and organised crime not taking place because of conversations that were unable to be intercepted in Queensland.

It is worth noting that the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act is an act that prohibits interception of communications passing over a telecommunications system. It does not allow it. It prohibits it in a general sense, but then it provides a number of exemptions. It is under these exemptions that the ‘phone tapping’, to use the vernacular, takes place. The exemptions under the T(IA) Act include to the officers of law enforcement and security agencies under warrant, if the Attorney-General is satisfied that the telecommunications system is being used by a person engaged in, or likely to be engaged in, or reasonably suspected to be engaged in, activities or purposes that are prejudicial to security. So a warrant needs to be obtained. The involvement of the Public Interest Monitor in Queensland takes place at that stage and there is appropriate supervision of the process. The bill also makes certain technical amendments to correct and clarify the definitions of ‘certifying officer’ and ‘appropriate authorising officer’. I do not feel that I need to elaborate further on those technical amendments.

In conclusion, the interception of telecommunications is an important weapon in the fight against serious and organised crime. This bill enables Queensland agencies, the Queensland Police Service and the Crime and Misconduct Commission, to use that weapon and it harmonises the regime with the oversight arrangements in use in that state. This bill has the support of the opposition.