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Wednesday, 25 August 1999
Page: 7775

Senator COONEY (6:47 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This review was prepared by Peter Ford, First Assistant Secretary, Information and Security Law Division, Attorney-General's Department. It deals with the next stage in the issue of interception. Interception is an issue that this parliament has been dealing with for 20 years now and it has, over that time, sought to establish the proper balance between what is a legitimate intrusion into people's privacy in the attempt to gather intelligence for policing purposes against the right that we all have to carry out our lives in privacy.

It is a big issue, and it is an issue that we ought to take on board. The issue of interception is founded principally on the precept that people's telephones should be kept free of tapping and that people should be able to carry on conversation, to be intimate and to discuss issues without other people intruding. But, because of the law enforcement obligations that we have, we as a parliament have allowed certain organisations to intercept telephones, mainly for the purposes of gathering intelligence for the proper putting down of criminal acts or possible criminal acts.

This report follows a number of other reports and it makes some suggestions about how this parliament should allow further telephone tapping or, I suppose, further communication tapping and what protections ought to be accorded to people who want to use the phones. A number of recommendations are made. Recommendation 9 says:

The issue of resourcing the agency coordinator function should be considered following the conclusion of the review being conducted under the Telecommunications Act.

That deals with the resources that should be available. The last recommendation, recommendation 12, says:

Section 55(2) of the Interception Act should be amended to remove the need for Australian Federal Police involvement in interceptions at a PABX switch.

That is something that I would be against. The idea of having the Australian Federal Police there is to indicate that this is a Commonwealth activity, that this is a Commonwealth power that has been exercised—the power to intercept a communication—and that the Commonwealth should have responsibility to some extent for doing that, and that is right. If we are going to allow an intrusion into people's privacy then we as a federal body ought to take responsibility, which we do through the Australian Federal Police. That was a very big principle when a lot of this legislation was developed, and it should be a principle that remains.

Question resolved in the affirmative.