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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7691


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:19 AM) —I move opposition amendment (9) on sheet 2764:

(9) Schedule 1, item 24, page 8 (after line 22), after subsection (1A), insert:

(1B) The Director-General may not seek the Minister's consent to request the issue of a warrant under section 34D in relation to a person under 18 years of age.

This amendment goes to the very important issue of warrants for minors. At the moment, the ASIO bill envisages that some children who are suspected of criminal complicity in a terrorist activity may be subject to the detention warrants that are the subject of the act. The opposition has consistently taken the view that the use of these proposed additional powers with respect to children is not appropriate. We take that view even in relation to children suspected of a crime. Children suspected of criminal acts would normally, of course, be the subject of criminal investigations in any event. They would be given an interview by investigating police officers under normal police station conditions. If such interviews were preceded by long periods of questioning or detention under the provisions of the proposed bill then the provisions that currently exist in order to protect vulnerable people such as children in the course of a criminal investigation would be seriously undermined. We have to think of what the situation might be.

If a 14-year-old were detained at 11 o'clock at night under these provisions and not released until, say, 11 o'clock two mornings later, they would have spent 36 hours in custody being questioned by an ASIO agent, albeit with some breaks. If they were subsequently taken to a police station and put in front of a microphone in an interview room with their mother and a lawyer for the two hours or so that they are allowed to be interviewed by police in a criminal investigation, what use would the safeguards be for criminal procedures? The whole reason that criminal investigations concerning children have special safeguards is to avoid them being broken down by the sometimes oppressive conditions that can exist even in normal criminal investigations. If children, even suspects, were exposed to the provisions of the proposed legislation then it would make a mockery of the provisions that are meant to protect children in the criminal justice system.

Let me say very clearly what the government wants. The government wants children to be questioned by ASIO for up to seven days. In the view of the opposition, that is simply unacceptable. It is not just the view of the opposition; after all, the minister has at times quoted from the joint parliamentary committee report into this legislation. There is a very clear recommendation from that committee that has been reinforced by the other parliamentary inquiries, most recently the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee inquiry into this legislation. If anyone between the ages of 14 and 18 is suspected of committing a terrorist offence, they should be arrested, interviewed and dealt with by police, with all the protections that are offered under the criminal law. As is the usual case, ASIO should be able to access information from those interviews. It is important to remember that the PJC unanimously recommended that the provisions of this bill not apply to anyone under the age of 18. That approach and recommendation received bipartisan support in the recent Senate references committee. I commend this important amendment to the Committee of the Whole.