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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7678


Senator NETTLE (10:00 AM) —I am wondering whether the Minister for Justice and Customs is perhaps not aware of the level of community concern about the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002 as the minister has not sat through committees and heard prominent QCs, SCs and legal representatives come before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee time and time again in two full committee hearings into this legislation. These people expressed their concern about the way in which this legislation curtails our civil liberties and, as Senator Brown read out, the impact that this legislation would have on journalists.

That is just one section of the community that would be impacted upon by this legislation. Equivalent impacts could be felt by the legal profession, or by parliamentarians who are aware of information through their constituents or however they happen to be aware of this knowledge. Impacts could be felt by innocent business partners. We heard examples about people who have rented a house to somebody and are not aware of the activities that are taking place in that house. It could affect people who enter into a whole range of different contractual agreements and are not aware that they also will then be impacted upon by this legislation and perhaps taken in for questioning.

Under the government's first regime— their ambit claim—these people could be held in detention indefinitely. There has since been an agreement to move that to seven days detention—seven days of detention for somebody who is not even suspected of being involved in a terrorist activity but who may just have information about those terrorist activities. The reason why we had over 400 submissions to the last committee that looked at this piece of legislation is that the legislation casts the net so wide. Almost all of those submissions listed serious concerns with regard to this legislation. They listed the ways in which our criminal justice system already has the capacity to deal with the concerns that the Attorney-General's Department and ASIO have outlined.

This evidence has come before the government time and time again. I think it is arrogance and pig-headedness on the government's part that it is not prepared to listen to these people from the legal profession who continually come up and explain the fundamental flaws with this legislation, whether it be through constitutionality or through the curtailing of civil liberties that exist in other countries in the ways that they have responded to the heightened threat of terrorism. We have heard evidence on so many fronts, from a range of people and groups who will be impacted upon, as to why this legislation is fundamentally undemocratic and should not proceed in a way that undermines our legal process.

The amendments we are debating at the moment have been moved by the Australian Labor Party. They purport to change the nature of the detention regime to one they describe as a `questioning regime' rather than a compulsory detention regime. I would be interested to hear from the Australian Labor Party how they would describe the ongoing detention, outside of the 20 hours that they are proposing, that would be necessary to deal with contact with lawyers, waiting for lawyers, rests and breaks in questioning.

We had people come before the committee and describe how they may want to question somebody brought in under this detention regime and then, in the time that they were doing the questioning, how they may want to go and get a warrant to search the detainee's premises. The people conducting the questioning may have more information come in during the process which they then need to digest before they continue with the questioning. What sorts of continuation of the detention are the opposition anticipating in this regime they are putting forward? They say they want it to be just for questioning.

Clearly, we sorted out yesterday that ongoing detention is part of the opposition's so-called questioning regime. What kind of extensions are we expecting to see? Why have we seen no time limits concerning how long people can be held under the opposition's supposed questioning regime? That was something that came up which the government responded to in earlier inquiries. That is something we have not seen from the opposition in terms of all of the additional time during which no questioning is taking place but when detention is ongoing. We are hearing the opposition—and we will hear more of it later—put up figures, such as those in the Crimes Act, about four hours, eight hours and then a further extension of another eight hours so we have the 20 hours.

We are not hearing from the opposition what they realistically and practically think will be the hours during which people will be detained, because there are all these other circumstances while people wait for interpreters to arrive, while people have a rest and while they sleep off their intoxication. We are not hearing the sorts of hours for which people could be detained and, in the opposition's proposed model of questioning, we are getting back into the realm of the sorts of detention regimes put forward by the government. So I would be interested to hear what sorts of lengths of detention they are anticipating in their so-called questioning regime.