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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7688


Senator BROWN (11:03 AM) —On the matter of the Herald Sun report, it is clear now that the government is saying that Mr Murdoch's editorialists are okay about the legislation, but the Australian Press Council has a different point of view. What we are hearing here is that it is not necessarily reflecting the widespread concern amongst journalists that this legislation puts them in an unprecedented and invidious position. It is legislation that Senator McCarthy, were he in this chamber now, would relish.

I am glad I asked about prior questioning, because the minister has changed during the course of this debate. Effectively, he said just then that the issue relates to a person subject to a direct approach for questioning who may be likely to tip off other people. I do not think that is going to be the norm at all. I think this legislation is going to be used to ambush people and secrete them and hold them in detention to get information. Any other direct approach to the person is going to endanger the questioning process. Remember, ASIO is being made into a police force for the first time. ASIO has been a surveillance force in the past but now it becomes not just surveillance force but a police force of itself. That is another extraordinary breakthrough involved in this legislation.

Finally, yes, the President, and therefore the world through the Senate, should be notified. The President has an obligation there to inform senators so the world will know if an MP is being arraigned under this legislation. But we get to the situation where MPs are in a privileged position here, as against the rest of the populace. Their arrest and detention under this legislation will become a matter of public information. But that applies to nobody else in the community.

There is a lot about this legislation that has not been thought through. It has come from the intelligence agencies and the mindset of the Howard government. However, it is wide open to abuse. Where you have legislation that is wide open to abuse and you give it enough time, it will be abused. Senator Nettle is absolutely right: there are sweeping powers under existing laws, including the criminal laws of this country, to detain people who are conspiring to commit a crime including a terrorist crime. We saw legislation go through the Senate earlier this year which greatly enhances the powers of the surveillance organisations to get the information they want.

This legislation crosses the boundaries of that dilemma of protecting our freedoms as against protecting ourselves against terrorism unnecessarily. As a minimum, more checks and balances should be written into this legislation. For example, there should be checks to protect the rights of the freedom of the press and the media, and to ensure that it is not used in the future by a Senator McCarthy or by somebody who allows political considerations to evade the implication from the minister that this would never be used injudiciously by a future government or minister. You must make sure that is the case. You must write in the checks to make sure, as best you can, that abuse cannot be undertaken under this law. However, there are no such checks in this legislation and that is why it should be opposed.