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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26227


Senator HARRIS (9:01 PM) —The reason for asking for this information goes to my next question to the minister, because it becomes quite evident that the powers granted to these verification officers lead to quite significant powers. I would appreciate absolute clarity in answer to the question relating to (b) `during a specified period'.We need clarity for businesses that may be asked to grant access to these officers. It would help them, I am sure, in relation to the legislation. I will give a couple of examples. On page 27 of the bill, subclause (2) of clause 214BAH, `Verification officer may ask questions', says:

The occupier is not obliged to comply with the request.

If we look at clause 214BAJ, `Verification officer may disclose information to US', the question to Senator Hill is: will there be a formal process of the person being advised of that right? It is one thing for us to agree to grant a power to a Customs officer. There is also a responsibility on us. If the legislation shows an intention that a person is not obliged to comply with the request, there must be some form of process to ensure that that person is made aware.

Further back in the bill, there is a requirement for the officer to show the person their identification. That does not mean walking in and saying, `I've got a shoulder pad on my coat.' It must be the officer providing their official ID. The bill is specific about that. If they are obliged in the legislation to ensure that the person sees their accreditation, it is also important that that person is made aware of that right. Clause 214BAK, `Operation of electronic equipment at premises', states:

A person may operate electronic equipment at premises in order to exercise a power under this Subdivision only if he or she believes on reasonable grounds that the operation of the equipment can be carried out without damage to the equipment.

That clause does not carry the rider that is in the two preceding clauses. In other words, it does not carry a subclause which says, `The occupier is not obliged to comply with the request.' Therefore, it is very clear, as set out in the previous two clauses, that a person is not obliged to comply with the request. As I understand the structure of this particular segment, not only does the occupier not have the right to object or refuse but the clause also empowers the officer to operate the equipment. This may have been a bit of a walk around, but I am concerned that, when the CEO has the power to authorise an entry, we have a very open wording in clause 214BAD, which on page 24 states:

(3) An authorisation may apply:

(a) generally—

that is totally open—

or

(b) during a specified period.

So we have the situation now where the CEO can authorise a Customs officer to enter a premises if it is outside business hours, and that authorised officer carries the ability under this clause to operate the computers in that business. That is where the real concern comes: whether the entry can be outside of business hours.