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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 446

Senator NEWMAN (5.08 p.m.) —We have gone through this debate once or twice already over the previous days but, as I heard Senator Harradine trying to interject, there is always a good argument as to why powers should be extended. The Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley) was saying that we have the duty here to do something different to deal with the current circumstances. That argument is always put up by executive government, often with very real justification for its concern. But we cannot simply allow the rights of citizens to be trampled in the process.

  We all recall that Senator Cooney was the chairman of the Senate committee that inquired into this bill. He and Senator Harradine have both joined with the coalition in expressing their concerns at the extension of these powers—I thought `function creep' was an effective way of describing it.

Senator Harradine —It's not original.

Senator NEWMAN —I have never heard it before. The minister just referred to the support of a number of organisations for this legislation, including the AMA. The coalition also supports this legislation. The purpose is very important: according to the government's figures, we are talking of something like $69 million of fraud in a full year. Nobody knows whether that is a correct sum—it might be more or it might be less. But the fact that we support the purpose of the legislation does not mean that we can go along holus bolus with the government's methods of achieving its end when it tramples on the rights of citizens.

  Like the AMA, we wish to give no more and no less power to the HIC officials than are currently available to the Australian Federal Police. Without our amendment being passed by the committee, the HIC officers would have more powers than police to take samples and photographs, inspect computer discs et cetera. The fact that these items are not being taken or investigated by force is another matter—forcible seizure and entry are treated appropriately in another section of the bill. Nevertheless, we support the commission being given the powers under certain circumstances—that officers must first get the consent of the occupiers and, if not the consent, then a search warrant from the courts. I do not want to labour the point any more. It is an unacceptable method of achieving a desirable end.