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Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Page: 4076

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (6:58 PM) —in reply—I also thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and also the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010. Before I make my concluding remarks regarding the bill, I will just address some comments that have been raised during the course of what was overall a very constructive debate.

The member for Stirling referred to changes to the definition of a terrorist act and the creation of a terrorist hoax offence in the Criminal Code. The honourable member is correct that these proposals were included in the discussion paper released last year for consultation. However, I should clarify that while the government is still pursuing these amendments they are not included in the bill due to required changes to state and territory referral legislation that are being considered by the states. The process is ongoing and we will look to introduce these amendments in a separate piece of legislation in due course.

The member for La Trobe made some comments about criminal gangs and suggested that the Prime Minister had not been tough on crime. Might I draw the honourable member’s attention to the criminal association offences recently introduced by the government in the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill 2010 and Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Bill (No. 2) 2010 and, indeed, the range of measures in those bills which are now acts of parliament. Also, the member, with respect, should note the Commonwealth Organised Crime Strategic Framework, which I launched last year. I indicate that Australia, together with attorneys from the United States, Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand, is progressing the fight against organised crime at an international level. The government takes the threat of serious and organised crime very seriously. In addition to those measures, some $14 million has been allocated in this budget to the establishment of a new criminal fusion centre together with $23 million to improve the resources that are available to AUSTRAC to assist in the fight against organised crime.

More broadly addressing issues raised in the debate, I remind the House that the government provided in this current budget $1.1 billion over four years to strengthen Australia’s national security. That is part of a broader package of $4.3 billion in addition to funding incorporating national security, border protection, aviation security and measures in support of Australia’s Defence Force.

The member for Lyne raised more generally that any response to national security must be consistent with and, indeed, underpin the rule of law. In turn, of course, the rule of law is a hollow concept if it is not accessible. That lack of accessibility to redress grievances can itself be a source or cause of alienation of some sectors and individuals in the community, which in turn can be the start of the process of radicalisation. I do not think it is drawing too far a bow to say that the involvement of the government in providing legal services to communities is at the heart of an effective legal system and, indeed, one on which the rule of law is based. In that respect, the federal budget included $154 million for legal assistance services. I am informed that this is the largest and most significant injection of new funding into the legal assistance sector in well over a decade. I am pleased to report to the member for Lyne that the government will be allocating $200,000 per annum over the next three years to assist with the establishment of a community legal centre in the mid-North Coast region.

Mr Oakeshott —Absolutely fantastic!

Mr McCLELLAND —I note that interjection. In allocating the funding, I note the findings of the recent mid-North Coast legal needs analysis report, which was drawn to my attention by the member for Lyne. It found that the mid-North Coast region has one of the highest levels of social disadvantage in New South Wales. The population well and truly exceeds, by comparison, the population of the ACT or, indeed, the Northern Territory or, for that matter, for the member for Denison, Tasmania, where there are far more extensive services. In each of those three other locations there are far more extensive resources available for legal assistance. I commend the member for Lyne for being such a vigorous and effective advocate on behalf of his constituents for greater access to community legal services to improve access to justice on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales. It was certainly an argument that was well put and well advocated but also deserving.

In concluding my remarks, these two bills comprise a package of reforms to Australia’s national security and counterterrorism legislation aimed at ensuring our laws are appropriately targeted and accountable in their operation. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill will implement the government’s responses to several independent and bipartisan parliamentary committee reviews of Australian national security and counterterrorism legislation, which were tabled in parliament on 23 December 2008. I join with the member for Denison in commending the work of these committees.

The legislative amendments are designed to clarify and improve the operation of the treason and sedition offences in the Criminal Code; enhance and clarify law enforcement powers to investigate terrorism under the Crimes Act 1914; to provide for regular review of organisations listed under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945; to improve the processes for protecting national security information in court proceedings under the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004; and also to extend the role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to inquire into intelligence or security matters relating to any Commonwealth department or agency. As I indicated in the second reading speech, these measures will be in addition to, and operate alongside of, the government’s decision to appoint a reviewer of national security legislation.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill will establish the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement which will replace the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission. This new committee will be responsible for oversight of the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of the role of the parliamentary committees, as I have mentioned and as the member for Denison has, and in particular note the valuable work conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is responsible for reviewing particular aspects of our national security agencies and other matters referred for review by the responsible minister.

The PJCIS played a significant role in the legislation we have considered today by virtue of having recommended a number of changes in two reviews, which included the Inquiry into the proscription of ‘terrorist organisations’ under the Australian Criminal Code which reported in September 2007 and the Review of security and counter terrorism legislation which reported in December 2006. The establishment of the new Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement will not detract from the valuable work conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. I look forward to that committee’s continued contribution to Australia’s national security.

As members would be aware, both the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill and Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill have been referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for inquiry. I understand the committee is due to report on the bills on 15 June 2010 and I will closely consider any recommendations made by the committee in due course.

The government is confident that the reforms contained in both of the bills that have been debated today deliver strong laws that protect our safety while preserving democratic rights and protecting our freedoms, consistent with the principle of the rule of law—which was the subject of my opening discussion. These measures will help prepare us for the complex national security challenges of the future. This government’s concerted efforts to continually review and refine our counterterrorism laws will ensure that the legislation is effective. It is bolstered by strong safeguards and accountability mechanisms, and it is responsive to community needs, expectations and values. I commend this bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.