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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5785

Senator GREIG (6:58 PM) —When the Democrats first approached what was the suite of antiterrorism bills, some five or six bills, the bill to which the Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorist Organisations) Bill 2002 refers was one which we ultimately did not support. We argued at the time, amongst other things, that fundamentally and philosophically we had grave concerns about the notion of proscription itself and the way in which the bill proposed to do that. Philosophically we believe that proscription must essentially be based around the notion or the identity of behaviour rather than belief—a concern that we maintain.

Having said that, we acknowledged at the time and I acknowledge again that, having been through the comprehensive committee process, through the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee, the proposed ways in which proscription was deemed were significantly watered down and there were greater and stronger safeguards ultimately constructed within the bill—most particularly in ensuring that the Security Council of the United Nations was involved in the decision-making process about proscription and not, as the bill as it was then was designed to do, leaving that power in the autonomous hands of the Attorney or his or her nominee.

We acknowledge, however, that the legislation, although we opposed it at the time, is now law and we acknowledge also that it should therefore be given reasonable opportunity to work properly and effectively. It is very important to spell out exactly what the bill means. Senator Faulkner has done that for the most part, and others will too, I guess. There are many people in the community who would be very anxious—and I have taken some phone calls and emails already on this—to receive or to hear the perception that at the last minute, on a last day of sitting, late in the day, another antiterrorism bill is being pushed through. That is the perception, and it is very important that we take time to explain to those people that that is not exactly what is happening here and that the amendment bill before us is reasonable and does not fundamentally change the existing antiterrorism laws but for what might be described as a loophole in the timing of its operation.

Let us be clear, then, that the legislation we have before us provides for regulations which cannot come into force until the end of the 15 parliamentary sitting days that a disallowance period in both houses of parliament provides for. Let us also be clear that normally regulations would come into effect immediately they are signed and gazetted but that they can be disallowed by parliament if a notice of motion of disallowance is given in either house of parliament within these 15 days. The Attorney's office advises that, under the act in its present form, the regulations made now that list an organisation as a terrorist organisation will not come into operation, as Senator Faulkner has said, until 2003—that is, next year. That would mean— again referring to the Attorney's advice— that the government could not complete the listing of a terrorist organisation, such as one perhaps involved in the Bali bombings, until next year. As a result, even though there may be known members of the terrorist organisation here in Australia, that would limit the availability of authorities to investigate and prosecute them, if there were enough evidence, until well into 2003.

So in the spirit of goodwill and in cooperation, given recent events, we Democrats are happy to support this amending legislation, notwithstanding our original opposition to the initiating bill. We understand the need and urgency for this. There is no reason why members of the community ought to be particularly concerned about this. As I say, it does not fundamentally change the existing legislation; it merely facilitates it more appropriately, and so we are happy to lend our support to it.