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Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Page: 819

Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (6:29 PM) —in reply—I thank honourable members for their contribution to the debate on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010, these bills both being introduced for a second time. To address some of the points made in debate, the member for Stirling made some comments about funding for border security and national security agencies. It is of course tremendously important that these agencies be well resourced; ensuring national security is the highest responsibility of any government. I remind honourable members that the Australian government is committed to building a more secure Australia through supporting and resourcing our security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as by promoting an international environment that is stable, peaceful and prosperous, and by having a legal structure that is balanced and appropriate.

In terms of resourcing, the Australian government invested over $500 million in additional funding to further strengthen Australia’s national security capacity in this financial year, 2010-11. This $500 million investment is a key part of the first ever coordinated national security budget, which invested a total of $4.3 billion in national security, border protection, aviation security and supporting the Australian Defence Force. In fact, that investment this financial year builds on the $685 million in additional funding that was part of the national security package in the previous financial year, 2009-10. So very considerable funds are being applied to what is an area of priority for this government.

With regard to the specifics of the bills, after extensive consultation these bills were considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and passed by this House before parliament was prorogued on 19 July 2010. The two bills comprise a package of reforms to Australia’s national security and counterterrorism legislation aimed at ensuring our laws are appropriately targeted and also accountable in their operation. The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill will implement the government’s response to several independent and, indeed, bipartisan parliamentary committee reviews of Australia’s national security and counterterrorism 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 the oversight of the Australian Crime Commission and also the Australian Federal Police.

I thank the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for its detailed consideration of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Bill 2010 when these bills were previously introduced. The government has carefully considered the recommendations made by the Senate committee, and I can inform members that the government accepts or accepts in principle three of the committee’s five key recommendations. In response to recommendation 1, the explanatory memorandum now clarifies the reasons for including the proposed urging violence offences in chapter 5 of the Criminal Code. Recommendations 3 and 5 of the Senate committee were not related to amending legislation but were recommendations the government supports in principle. Recommendation 3 was that the Australian Law Reform Commission conduct an inquiry into the pre-charge detention regime under part IC of the Crimes Act. The government acknowledges that the detention of a person is a very serious matter and, indeed, it was touched on by my colleague the member for Moreton. The government acknowledges that and that it is important that the provisions of part IC be closely monitored to ensure that operationally an appropriate balance between the rights of the arrested person and the needs of law enforcement be maintained. The government is therefore supportive of the spirit and intent of the Senate committee’s recommendation. However, the utility of a public inquiry at this stage the government believes to be questionable, as it would not be able to assess the operational effects of the current amendments. Accordingly, my department will arrange a broader review of the pre-charge detention processes once there has been further operational use of and experience with the provisions.

In recommendation 5 the Senate committee recommended that I provide a ministerial direction or additional material to explain the circumstances in which the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Crime Commission and the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police should proactively report matters to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. The government accepts this recommendation in principle as well. Once established, the committee may wish to actively engage with the agencies and outline the types of matters that the committee would like to be kept apprised of. It is open to the new committee in accordance with the normal practices and procedures of parliamentary committees to request regular briefings from the agencies or to make open or specific requests for written submissions from the agencies on matters concerning the performance of the agencies’ functions. The government expects the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission to proactively engage with the new Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement by keeping the committee apprised of relevant and significant matters that relate to the general performance of the agencies’ functions, and I am committed to taking appropriate steps to ensure this occurs. I have no doubt that the agencies will cooperate in that respect.

The Senate committee’s recommendation 2 has not been accepted, as it is desirable, the government believes, to retain the good faith defence to the urging violence offences. Repealing the good faith defence would remove an explicit legislative confirmation that a court, in considering whether an offence has been committed, may consider any relevant matter and specifically whether the context of the act was in the course of an artistic, academic or journalistic work. It should be noted, however, that the defence is not absolute but goes to the discretion of the court.

Recommendation 4, which relates to the period of specified disregarded time in the investigation of terrorism offences, also has not been accepted, on the basis that a maximum cap of seven days is, the government believes, reasonable and appropriate.

In conclusion, the government is confident that the reforms contained in both bills deliver strong laws that protect our safety while preserving democratic rights and protecting our freedoms consistent with the principles of the rule of law. I thank members for their contribution and I commend these bills to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

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