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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7702


Senator ROBERT RAY (12:14 PM) —The minister has asserted that no other country accords that right. The most relevant countries for us are the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Going through their legislation I have seen no such right accorded to foreign nationals. The minister is right. Obviously, I have not read the Albanian security act, at least not for some time, so I can comment only on the like-minded democratic countries in the Western world, and none of them has accorded that right.

I say to Senator Greig, through the chair, that I am very reluctant to say extra rights will obtain to foreign nationals in Australia that do not apply to Australian citizens. I think you have to be consistent here. You might have had a vague point if the original bill went through in its original form, where, as we know, there was no seven-day limit. It could have been unlimited. It could have been like the Malaysian detention powers or some similar ones, but now we are moving from a detention regime, we hope, to a questioning regime. Therefore, it is not as though a foreign national is likely to be detained for an extraordinary length of time. Other than quoting what he regards as international obligations, I do not think Senator Greig can really make a case out for treating a foreign national differently from a permanent resident or an Australian citizen. I do not see his point and I think that we leave ourselves very open if we say we have a differentiated regime.

Given the likely circumstances of the application of this act, it is not likely to apply often to foreign nationals, just as it is not likely to apply all that often to suspects. The whole idea of this intelligence gathering exercise is to get material, quite often inadvertently known to someone who is not a terrorist and who never will be a potential terrorist. But our difficulty in all this is in trying to stop our knowledge of this being transmitted to other people. That is why there is a detention regime, to some extent, in this legislation. This is why, even though we argue a right to lawyers, we want to put in a provision which says that, if the lawyers disclose their involvement in this, they are involved in an illegal act. The fact is that there is not much point picking up someone who has information about terrorism if the terrorists instantaneously know.

I do not want to pick out any particular country, so let us call them country X. The moment they are contacted to say their national has been picked up, if they are a sponsoring country—there are not many around the globe, I concede—then automatically the terrorist network will know that we are onto them, and they will have an opportunity to modify their plans where we cannot. So I do think this is a bridge too far. I can understand where Senator Greig is coming from in terms of international obligations, but I think it is impractical to differentiate between foreign nationals, Australian citizens or permanent residents. I do not think it is desirable or necessary and I cannot find an example in a like-minded country where they have in fact found themselves obliged to do so.