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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5671


Senator LUDWIG (10:23 AM) —In speaking on the Crimes Amendment Bill 2002, we are now only too familiar with the terrible tragedy in Bali and its aftermath. Not only are the families and friends of the victims suffering the grief of loss but their loss is compounded by the process of identifying the bodies. Labor is committed to working with the government to find ways of speeding up that process. That means allowing the families to bring home the bodies to bury their loved ones and to grieve. The opposition has worked in a spirit of cooperation with the government to ensure that the bill currently before the Senate is expedited.

Australian officials are assisting with the identification of the victims of the bombing in Bali and with the investigation of the offences. This involves collecting and analysing forensic material. That material in turn provides DNA profiles that can be matched against other DNA profiles. We understand that the Australian Federal Police do not have the capacity to do all the DNA sampling, analysis and profiling of relatives, missing persons and deceased persons without assistance from the states and territories. To assist in this process, some state police forces have already started taking and analysing samples. However, under current legislative arrangements, the samples cannot be matched until enabling legislation has been passed.

Labor shares the government's concern to remove any delays in the identification and release of remains to families, and that is exactly what this bill aims to do. It is also necessary to clarify the disclosure provisions around the information that is gathered from DNA samples collected in Bali. In essence, this bill is about removing some obstacles that currently prevent DNA information from being entered into a newly created disaster victim database. That new database has been created alongside the national CrimTrac DNA database, but it is an entirely separate database. We have been given absolute assurances by the government that the two will be quarantined from each other and there will be no sharing of information between them.

The amendments in this bill are designed to override state and territory legislation— which requires ministerial arrangements to be in place—but they will only have immediate operation in relation to the Bali bombings. The legislation applies only to terrorist incidents overseas. It will act retrospectively to the date of the Bali bombings. The government has included in the proposed legislation some provisions that will allow it to use DNA from Bali in any criminal investigation aimed at finding the people responsible for the bombings. In the event of a similar incident overseas, it is proposed that the legislation may apply in future cases where the minister issues a determination.

I have noted that Labor supports any moves to help families and friends come to terms with their loss and to bury their loved ones. The DNA database will help in identifying the bodies. But the whole issue of DNA records and the storage of that information is an important one for the community. The Australian Law Reform Commission and the Australian Health Ethics Committee recently warned that we need a tighter system to control the collection and use of DNA records. On 28 August, these organisations put out a joint news release where they warned:

The revolution in genetic science means that Australia now requires a careful mix of strategies—stronger ethical oversight, stiffer regulations, industry codes, education campaigns, an independent expert advisory body, revised privacy and discrimination laws, and perhaps even new criminal laws—to ensure human genetic information is well protected and intelligently used.

It is in the context of these broader concerns about DNA testing and privacy, and the fact that we are still finding our way on this issue, that Labor suggested to the government on Monday night that the ability of the minister to use these powers in future should be a disallowable instrument. That is an effective tool to allow parliament to make sure that these powers are used properly. Labor also suggested that these new laws be reviewed in 12 months. The government has agreed to both these requests and they are incorporated into the legislation before us. I sincerely hope that this law will hasten the identification of bodies and allow those who have been left behind to grieve their terrible loss. I extend my sympathies to the families and friends of those who are still missing and those who died in Bali. This legislation will assist their grieving process. I commend the bill to the Senate.